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Animation of the Greater Kyz Kala

Greater Kyz Kala Information

This immense structure stands on the east side of the Hormuzfarra canal.

The Great Kyz Kala is the largest in a group of buildings outside the west wall of Sultan Kala, which includes, the Lesser Kyz Kala, 250m to the south, the Kyz Bibi complex, approximately 300m to the north-east, and two more köshks to the north. The immediate vicinity has been protected and the ground surface shows little sign of disturbance. The remains of a ruined structure of uncertain plan survive to the north-east of the main building, though these have been cut by a road.

The Greater Kyz Kala is the largest köshk in the Merv oasis, only a little smaller than the Palace in Shahriyar Ark. Although internally in a ruinous condition, its general form and many details of the architecture are still visible. This two-storey köshk, approximately aligned north-south, consists of a rectangular platform with sloping sides with corrugated walls above.

In 1937 Pilyavsky recorded the maximum dimensions as 42.20 x 37.20m, in 1998 these were recorded as 45.30 x 37.80m, and the new scan data provides dimensions of 46.53 x 36.20m. The platform is c. 4.00m high and the building survives to a height of c. 12.00m. The walls of the upper storey are c. 2.00m thick.

The north and west walls are eroded, although runnels indicate the original position of most corrugations. The central section of the east wall has collapsed since 1974 (Atagaryev and Pilyavsky 1974, 117). Originally there were 22 corrugations with an arched entrance at upper storey level, visible in both Zhukovsky’s and Pilyavsky’s photographs. Zhukovsky suggested that this entrance might not have been original (1894, 163). Since there is no sign of an entrance at ground level, the platform is relatively complete, and breaks in the north and west walls do not have original edges, it seems probable that this was indeed the entrance, particularly as Zhukovsky noted rubbish below the entrance which he thought may have been the ruins of a staircase, or more probably a ramp. The best preserved corrugations are on the south facade, where they have been protected from the prevailing wind. Eighteen survive: each corrugation is half octagonal in plan with a diameter of c. 1.30m. They rise from a pointed base in the platform to form the crenellated parapet. The corrugations at the corner have a pointed profile.

The lower storey or basement rooms are inaccessible, although they were once reached by a stairway at the north end of the köshk: their presence is implied by the windows at the base of the corrugations. Today four windows survive on the south wall, four at the north end of the east façade with an eroded area at the south end probably indicating the site of a fifth window, at least one more on the west, and two on the north at a higher level lighting the stairway. These narrow windows measure approximately 0.90m in height, and widen from a top of c. 0.15m to a base of 0.26m: the roof slopes downwards into the interior and is formed of a single line of bricks.

The interior of the upper storey is a vast, sloping open expanse, 38.55 x 32.10m: the southern end is higher than the northern, suggesting that the southern rooms of the lower storey were taller than those at the north. Fragments of walls indicate that there was a minimum of 16 rooms built around a central space. The best preserved traces are against the west wall. From south to north, Room 1 measured 3.50 x 5.50m in Pilyavsky’s time, although only a 1.40m stump of wall survives today; it was barrel vaulted and aligned east-west. Room 2 is poorly preserved with only traces of the side walls visible. It was built at a lower level than Room 1 and is c. 3.55m wide. Traces of a zone of transition and a squinch at the south corner, not previously noted, prove that it was domed. The floor of Room 3 was probably about a metre lower than that of Room 2; a squinch in the north-west corner indicates that this room, width c. 4.80m, was also domed. The well-preserved squinch is composed of seven concentric arches set within a recessed rectangular panel, 1.70 x 0.85m, over a projecting string course, three bricks thick. The walls on either side of the squinch are slightly curved to form the drum of the dome, a feature repeated in the Lesser Kyz Kala and the Kyz Bibi mausoleum. Room 4 is a large rectangular vaulted room, 7.00m long, the vault formed with bricks laid horizontally. There is a panel of appliqué decoration above the zone of transition consisting of a series of tri-lobed, blind niches. In the centre of the wall below the decorative frieze are the remains of a large, poorly preserved niche, width c. 1.10m, orientated W.W.S. Room 5 in the corner measures 5.35 x 4.93m and was roofed with a quadripartite lanceolate vault, springing from a three-brick string course. The bricks of the vaults are laid radially, edge to edge, either at 90 degrees to the axis of the vault or slightly oblique to it (Pugachenkova 1958, 137). The outline of the floor of the parapet can be made out about a metre below the triangular tops of the corrugations/crenulations on the interior of the west wall.

Little survives on the north side, although it was better preserved in Zhukovsky’s photograph and when planned by Pilyavsky in the 1930s. The stairway is located next to Room 5. One flight of stairs, roofed with a series of stepped tunnel vaults, led down to the basement, and the other, lit by a narrow window, led up to the roof. The stairway measures 1.05m in width. Of Rooms 7 and 8 to the east only stumps of walls survive next to the central break in the north wall and 7.20m to the east.

Rooms 9 and 10, both barrel vaulted and aligned east-west, survive at the north end of the east wall; they measure 5.32 x 2.85 and 2.90m respectively. Finally, a stump of wall, 1.25m in length, survives 9.30m from the south wall. The interior of the south wall is too poorly preserved to suggest the original arrangement of the rooms. The internal walls of the upper storey measure c. 1.00-0.85m, with the exception of the stump, width 1.70m, in the southern end of the west wall.

In 1998 a glass rim sherd of early Islamic date was recovered from a brick in situ on top of a crenulation, clearly residual. Sherds including ishkhor ware, a black and yellow slip-painted glazed ware, were found during preliminary cleaning prior to conservation work. This ware is quite common at Merv, examples were found in our excavations in the furnace area in Gyaur Kala (Iran XXXV, 1997, 14-5) in levels dated to the ninth to tenth centuries.

Some conservation work has been carried out since 1960 by the Archaeological Park ‘Ancient Merv’, in particular the construction of two mud brick buttresses on the interior of the east wall: some underpinning was undertaken in the autumn of 1998 to try to prevent collapse of undercut walls, and significant work has taken place in the 2000s, especially on the wall under-cutting.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London

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