Mary is the third largest city in Turkmenistan. Lying in a large oasis of the Karakum Desert, on the Murghab River delta, Mary arose in 1884 as a Russian military-administrative centre 30 kilometres from the site of ancient Merv and was called Merv until 1937. Now Mary is the centre of a rich cotton-growing area. It is a rail junction and carries on extensive trade in cotton, wool, grain and hides. The city is also a major centre of the natural gas industry.
There is a Museum of History in Mary with a display of archaeological finds from sites excavated in the Merv oasis, including those from Bronze Age. There is an informative and attractive display of the world-famous Turkmen carpets, of national dress and domestic equipment. Magnificent Turkmen jewellery of silver, sometimes chased with gold and inlaid with carnelian, is also on display, as well as a fine range of the superb embroidered silk garments worn by the various Turkmen tribes. One can see displays of the local flora and fauna, silk weaving, the nomads’ yourt and the style of life brought to the oasis by Russians in the latter half of the 19th century.