Turkmenistan is rich in architectural monuments and one of them is Nisa fortress, the capital of the Parthian state of enlightenment in ancient times. This unique historical monument of antiquity is located 18 km to the west from Ashgabat, on the plain at the foot of Kopetdag Mountains, on the outskirts of the town of Bagir. Nisa is first mentioned in the oldest cuneiform texts and Zoroastrian Avesta, which tells about Nisa, through which the Aryan tribes passed to the south-west, and about its green pastures, where Akhalteke horses, famous throughout the ancient East, were bred.
Nisa itself consists of two fortresses and two settlements – the Old Nisa – a palace and temple complex from the Parthian state, I – III centuries BC and the New Nisa – an ancient settlement with slave dwellings and a large natural area from I – XVIII centuries.
Nisa was founded in the third century BC and was the most important city of the Arshakid Dynasty, and for a time was the capital of the Parthian Empire, bearing the name of Mithridate, given in honor of King Mithridates I. who presumably founded the royal fortress of Old Nisa. Many temples and palaces, treasuries, reservoirs, warehouses and houses were built in Old Nisa. The powerful fortress walls, nine meters thick, were fortified with forty-three tall towers.
In 226 AD, the Parthian state collapsed under the Sassanid onslaught, and Nisa was completely destroyed and fell into decay. According to medieval written sources in the second half of the fifth century, assessing the convenient location of Nisa, the Sassanid king Firuz rebuilt the city and fortified it. As early as 651, Nisa was conquered by the Arabs and became part of the Arab Caliphate.
In the first quarter of the ninth century, Nisa was part of the Tahirid domain. In those days, Nisa was a rich city that owned extensive fertile villages in the midst of the mountains.
In the tenth century, the city was taken over by the Samanid dynasty. In 992, the Samanid Nuh II presented Nisa to the emir of Gurgandj. Then, in 996, the city belonged to Mamun, the ruler of Khorezm. By 1017, Nisa was annexed to the possessions of the Turkmen dynasty of the Ghaznevids. Thus, in 1035 the city became part of the Seljuk Sultanate.
In the twelfth century, Nisa was taken over by the Anushteginids, a new dynasty of Khorezm shahs. The city remained in their hands until the Mongols conquered it in 1220. After the Mongol invasion, Nisa became an arena of internecine wars and changed hands from Tamerlane in the fourteenth century to Nadirshah in the eighteenth century. In doing so, the city gradually fell into decline. Moreover, when in the twenties of the nineteenth century the Teke-Turkmens established themselves here, Nisa by that time had already been almost completely destroyed.
Today, the site of the Old Nisa is the remains of a royal residence fortress. It was erected on a natural elevation, which was additionally raised using clay and turned into a platform of 17 hectares. The residence was in the shape of an irregular pentagon, was surrounded by walls with numerous towers, was built up with palaces, offices and other buildings, and had several pools and small gardens. There are several statues in the Old Nisa: the “Square House”, which was the royal treasury, the “Square Hall”, which was the ceremonial room of the royal residence, and the “Round Temple”, a circular building 17 meters in diameter.
New Nisa is an elevated fortified settlement with an area of approximately 25 hectares, situated on top of multi-metre high cultural layers and surrounded by a strong, up to 9-meter high fortress wall with towers. Archaeological finds date back to the Mesolithic. During Parthian period, when the city was at its most prosperous, it was divided into “ark” – citadel, which occupied the higher ground and was separated from the rest of the city by the inner wall – and “shahristan” – the suburb situated slightly lower. The entire territory inside the walls was densely built up. Among the ruins stand the remains of an II century BC rectangular temple with porticoes on wooden columns and a group of royal storehouses.
Unlike the Old Nisa, the New Nisa survived the fall of the Parthian Empire. The space between Old and New Nisa during the period of prosperity of the city was also built up and partly occupied by vegetable gardens, forming a craft “rabad”, which had a fence in the form of a low earthen rampart. Thanks to the research of the archaeological expeditions carried out on the territory of the Nisa fortress, a lot of interesting information about the history of the peculiarities of the construction of its structures and about the life and culture of the people who lived here has been collected.
During the archaeological excavations the remains of fortress walls, temples, a palace hall with monumental clay sculptures, economic and residential buildings and the royal treasury were discovered, where marble statues, horn-shaped ivory vessels-rhytons, jewelry, small plastics, weapons, utensils, documents written in Aramaic letters in Parthian language and much more were found. Of these, the rhytons made of ivory attracted particular attention. They were polished on the inside and lumpy on the outside with various shapes.
These artistic works served the Hellenic culture that flourished in ancient times. The clothing of the people depicted on the rhytons combines signs of Oriental and Greek clothing, and the upper part of the rhyton is a kind of border. On this border, you can see the people’s faces and bells arranged in alternating lines. Its lower part is called the part with depicted scenes. These depicted scenes are related to the history of the Parthian era with its culture, traditions, customs, and celebrations. Turning to the lower part of the rhyton, it is called the main part because it is the part, which is filled with liquid.
Rhytons were the main decoration of festive dastarkhan residents of Nisa, all this shows the high craftsmanship of Nisa inhabitants as well as the fact that people were engaged in craftsmanship at that time. The Parthian art, which flourished in the ancient period on the territory of Turkmenistan and is a priceless cultural treasure of the Turkmen people, inspired and inspired not only our people, but also attracted attention of all peoples of the world.
In order to study every little fragment of the rhyton, which absorbed all the beauty and astonishing splendor of Hellenic art, scientists around the world carry out scientific research. Ancient rhytons carefully kept in the museums’ expositions as valuable historical sources have absorbed the history and culture of the Turkmen people. Looking at the images, inscriptions and signs on rhytons one becomes a witness of the bright visual information about the rich national heritage of the Turkmen people. The ancient fortress of Nisa is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List for its antiquity and richness.