Old Nisa – A Parthian Capital near Ashgabat in Turkmenistan

Ruins of the Red Building in Old Nisa

At the turn-off to the archaeological site of Old Nisa in Turkmenistan, there is a small hut. The caretaker comes out, a friendly old man with only one tooth as far as we can see, and sells us the admission tickets. It seems individual tourists are rare – he invites us for a cup of green tea and from one of the desk drawers he even produces some chocolate. In summer – the temperature was around 36° C! From the hut it is still a 1.5 km walk to the ruins.

Ancient town of the Parthians

Ruins of Old Nisa with mountains in the background 20150611 Aschgabad Nisa Tower like Building Iwan P1170918

Nisa was a town since the Parthian era (3rd c. BC) and abandoned in the middle ages. The famous trade routes of the Silk Road ran through Parthian territory, and the Parthians earned good money from taxes on the merchandise, as well as from the infrastructure they provided for the traders, such as restaurants, caravanserais, stables and guides.

The Parthians were also famous and brave warriors who clashed with the Roman army several times. Their speciality was the so-called „Parthian Shot“ – a trick involving a feigned flight. When the pursuing enemies least expected it, the “fleeing” mounted archers would suddenly twist back in full gallop and shoot their arrows backwards.

corridor between the crumbling ruins of Old Nisa

Archaeologists are still debating for what purposes Nisa was actually built. It might have been an early capital town of the Parthians or a ritual mourning place for the dead Parthian kings.

Walking around Old Nisa as an individual traveller

Woman in unbaked bric courtyard, Nisa

There is a round course you can (and should) follow, but no further explanation. Obviously, the majority of visitors arrive in groups and not as individual travellers. Since 2007, the two archaeological hills of Old and New Nisa have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The town walls are still impressive (albeit ramparts rather than brick walls these days), and some of the excavated buildings have been partly restored.

Otherwise, you mostly see crumbling adobe walls and corridors, some pillars. To see temples, audience halls, a domed round hall and pillared square buildings, you need quite a bit of imagination (and a guidebook, perhaps).

Do you think you would enjoy a visit to Old Nisa?

Is Old Nisa worth visiting?

view over the archaeological site of Old and New Nisa

In our opinion, yes. But then we love everything remotely connected with the historical Silk Road and Central Asian historical sites in general. If you go without a guide, you will need a good description to get the grip of the layout. Try to find Mr. Batia, who can open a small “museum“, actually just a room with a useful model of Old Nisa. He can also explain about the site (only in Russian).

How to get to Old Nisa

Ruins of Old Nisa with mountains in the background

Nisa is situated around 18 km to the west of Ashgabad. We went there by taxi from the city centre (15 Manat one-way) and found a public bus for the way back into town, which took more than one hour, but was much cheaper (0.30 Manat per person).

NB: Our travels to Isfahan were not sponsored in any way. We paid all travel expenses ourselves.

1 Comment

  1. Wow, seems pretty remote – not one tourist in sight.
    I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that part of the world but find it interesting reading your stories about it!
    Frank (bbqboy)

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