BOOK TEMPLE ON THE SOIL OF ANCIENT MERV
The Mary regional library celebrated its 110th anniversary this year. It was in 1912 that the Mary regional library was established on the basis of the Merv district library. This date was registered by archivists as the year of establishment of such an important educational organization.
The majestic building of the regional library occupies a special place in the modern architectural ensemble of the city of Mary – the administrative center of Mary province. It was built on the right bank of the Murgab river at the crossroads of the main city highways close to such iconic facilities as the Gurbanguly-Haji Mosque, the Kemine State Drama Theater, the Rukhyet Palace and new Mary hotel that was erected on the left bank of the river.
The library building is noted for its totally original architecture. There is nothing like it anywhere else. Architect Bezirgen Shadurdyev put all his skills into this project and achieved a brilliant result. The traditional patterns and design motifs are combined with bold avant-garde forms and constructions, and this subtle synthesis makes the Mary library the unique phenomenon of modern architecture of Turkmenistan. Square in plan, with corners shaped like massive reclining pylons, the building is surrounded around the perimeter by a colonnade consisting of 62 round columns and crowned with a gilded dome of an astronomical observatory, which opens at twilight in the form of tulip petals. The white marble facades of the library emphasize the noble facing of columns made of polished gray granite slabs. The gilded stained-glass windows also go well together with the decoration of the dome.
The library can store three million books and accommodate six hundred readers. It has a spacious storage room with an automatic temperature and humidity control, a book restoration workshop, nine reading rooms with computer equipment, Internet rooms, a separate reading room for honorable elders, offices of special departments, conference rooms, cafes.
Upstairs, under a retractable roof, there is a planetarium with a powerful telescope that makes it possible to hold lectures on astronomy and observe celestial bodies. This is deeply symbolic because it was Merv under the Seljuks that boasted a famous observatory one thousand years ago, where dozens of scientists studied the sky, including the great Omar Khayyam. It is also symbolic that a new treasure of knowledge, so perfect in design and execution, appeared in the city that once was home to the ancient repositories of wisdom, famous throughout the Islamic world.
There is also the Museum of History of Turkmen Book at the library that exhibits rare editions and old manuscripts donated by local residents. Almaz Yazberdiev, a well-known bibliographer, doctor of historical sciences, proved in his numerous works that the emergence of books on the Turkmen land is connected with the Avesta – sacred scripture of Zoroastrianism. There was a record of the texts of this scripture in Merv of the Parthian era. King Vologez I, who ruled in 51–78 AD, was the first “publisher” of the Avesta. It is also known that the last Sasanian king, Yazdegerd III, who lived in the 7th century, brought one thousand Pahlavi handwritten books to Merv.
However, the book culture reached the highest level in this historic city in the era of Islam. From the time of the Arab conquest, intellectuals, theologians of Western Asia and Persia flocked to Merv and this led to the formation of the largest repositories of spiritual values in the city. The rulers generously paid scientists for their work and invested a lot in the maintenance of several madrasahs. The philologist and author of the genealogy of the Arab tribes, Omar ibn Mutarrif, grew up in Merv in the VIII century. He later held a high state position in Baghdad. He was a great master of the epistolary style. One of his famous works include the work on geography “Stopping places of the Arabs, their borders, and where each tribe was located, and where it moved.” His contemporary, caliph Harun ar-Rashid, used to visit Merv to get acquainted with rare books stored in the libraries of Merv.
The geographer of the 10th century, Abu Ishak al-Istakhri wrote, “most of the military leaders of the Caliphate and officials of Iraq, the rulers of Khorasan, as well as many outstanding jurists and philologists came from Merv. These people stood out among all the countries of Iran for their talents and education. For example, a doctor known by the name of Barzuye excelled other Persian physicians, and a musician named Barbud excelled others in singing and music. A native of Merv, Ali ibn Sahl Rabban, who lived at the turn of the 8th–9th centuries, gained great fame. According to Arab author Ibn al-Kifti, he was a philosopher, doctor and mathematician. He also translated many books, including Ptolemy’s Almagest in Greek.
In the 9th century, an outstanding mathematician and astronomer Ahmad ibn Abdallah al-Merwezi, nicknamed Khabash the Calculator (Khabash al-Khasib) lived in Merv. His discoveries in the field of mathematics went down in history of world science. He was the first in the world to introduce the concept of tangent and cotangent into trigonometry and compiled tables of these two functions. Khabash al-Khasib was one of the first in the world to formulate the cosecant function. His astronomical tables (zidzhi) enjoyed exceptional reputation among the astronomers of the Middle Ages. Abu Reihan al-Biruni used them in his calculations. The famous Merv Observatory was also of great help to scientists. Sultan Mansur ibn Talha from the Tahirid dynasty often conducted astronomical calculations there, observed the stellar sky that resulted in his work “In Clarification of the Sphere.”
The Merv geographer, Abu-l-Abbas Jafar ibn Ahmad al-Mervezi, who also lived in the 9th century, was the founder of the genre of travel sketches in the Arabic geographical literature. Unfortunately, his works have not been preserved to this day, although some excerpts are cited by other authors. It was in the same period that another native of Merv, doctor Ali ibn Sahl Rabban, became famous. “Paradise of Wisdom” is the most famous of his six major works. This is a natural-philosophical encyclopedia with a medical bias, touching on the philosophy, psychology, zoology, embryology and meteorology. Another Merv doctor of the 9th century, Ibn Masa, who left behind numerous works on the diet, the effect of certain types of food on the body, the importance of water procedures for health and the rules of bloodletting, was widely known in his time. He was a great connoisseur of pharmacognosy and botany, describing a number of medicinal plants. At the end of the 10th century, jurist, philologist and poet Abdul-Kasim Ismail al-Baykhaki came to Merv for permanent residence. He earned honorary nicknames of the Sun of Imams and the Sun of Bayhak.
The school of Merv historians and philologists from the Samani clan was known beyond Merv. It was founded by Abu Sad Abul-Muzaffar as-Samani. A prominent historian and linguist Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Qasim al-Ahsikati came from Fergana to study under him. After graduation, he stayed in Merv forever and left a significant mark on the scientific world. The Samani clan kept two libraries in Merv, whose books were also used by visiting scientists. The 12th-century author, Abul Sad Abdulkarim al-Samani, is one of the brightest representatives of this clan. His “Book of Genealogy” – an indispensable source of information on the history of culture and historical geography – is highly valued by Russian orientalists. He produced over 40 works, including 20 volumes on the history of Merv.
The works by famous Merv philosophers of the brilliant XII century Qutb al-Zaman Muhammad ibn Abu Tahir at-Tabasi al-Mervezi and Mahmud ibn Aziz al-Aridi al-Khwarizmi have not come down to us. It is known that the latter was nicknamed the Sun of the East. Baha-ad-din Abu Muhammad Abdaljabbar al-Kharaki from Merv, who died in 1138, did a lot in the field of astronomy, mathematics, geography. He left behind three great works in astronomy and one in mathematics.
Abul-l-Fath Abdurrahman al-Khazini, who worked in pre-Mongolian Merv, is considered the greatest physicist of the entire Medieval East. He was one of the first in the world to study the physical properties of air (its weight and density). He used a hydrometer of his own design to determine the density of liquids. Al-Khazini achieved the results in the field of determining the specific gravity of substances that still amaze with their accuracy. In the field of mechanics, he was also one of the first in the East to pay attention to the problem of acceleration. He left his mark in the astronomical science.
A lot of poets also lived in Merv. The most famous of them were Abbas, Hasan Gaznevi, Enveri and the already mentioned Omar Khayyam. The Merv school of linguists processed and translated old manuscripts into the Khorasan and Turkic languages. Firdousi, the author of “Shahname”, used the materials of the local epic in his work that he derived from the songs of the Merv bakhshi-singers Azade-Serv and Masudi Mervezi.
The inhabitants of the Murgab oasis are justly proud of the fact that their compatriot Mollanepes, who is considered an unsurpassed master of the lyric genre, became one of the classics of Turkmen literature of the 19th century. Although other classics of Turkmen poetry also wrote about love, the patriotic, military, Sufi themes, problems of social injustice and understanding of history took, as a rule, the central place in their works. Well-read, with an excellent command of several languages, Mollanepes not only put love in the center of his lyrics but also gave new impetus to the development of the chosen genre, using both the experience of his compatriots, especially the great Magtymguly, and the literary heritage of neighboring peoples. Writers from many countries of the world came to Mary in 2010 to celebrate the bicentenary of the poet’s birth, turning the anniversary celebrations into the unforgettable celebration of poetry.
The centuries-old Turkmen traditions of careful and even reverent attitude to the handwritten text are now vividly embodied in the beautiful building of the regional library of the present-day Mary. This is not just a capacious repository of knowledge both in its unique appearance and the beauty of the interiors. In its essence, this is a true temple of high culture.