Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan: The history and sights of the city.

Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan: The history and sights of the city.

It is a quite peculiar city, like a mixture of North Korea’s Pyongyang and Disneyland. According to statistics the city has about 1,250,000 inhabitants. What is unique and strikes everyone in it are deserted streets and buildings, as well as buildings of white color or with white marble facades.

History of the city

The city is divided into the old part and the new part . In the latter you can find modern buildings, conference centers, luxury hotels, casinos and office buildings sandwiched right in between. This marble Islamic Stalinist collage, rarely found anywhere else in the world, looks truly cosmic.

Ashgabat is a rather young city, created from a village of the same name and rebuilt from the ground up after a tragic earthquake in 1948, but the written history of this land dates back to Parthian times from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD and the Seljuk Turks. in the 11th-13th centuries the city was completely destroyed after a bloody Mongol invasion.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan: History and Sites of the City - photo 2

History of the city

Only in 1881 the Russians built their military dormitory on the banks of the river, which attracted merchants and craftsmen. Three years later the tsarist Russia occupied this region, and in 1917 the Bolsheviks came to the town, giving it the name of Poltoratsk.

The tragedy of the city

The original name Ashgabat was restored in 1927 . From then on, the city grew rapidly and industrialized, but in 1948 this process was interrupted by an earthquake.Then the city turned into dust, all buildings such as schools, theaters, hospitals, offices and the railway station disappeared. The only monument left in the city, erected in 1927, was the monument to Lenin. The earthquake lasted fifteen seconds, killing 110,000 people. Residents, that is, more than two-thirds of the inhabitants of what was then Ashgabat. In July 1941 the famous singer Hanka Ordonuvna and her husband Michal Tyszkiewicz organized a Polish orphanage in Ashgabat. Children were sent there from all over the Soviet Union, many of whom had been evacuated to Iran, India and Pakistan as a result of the fighting.

Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan: History and Sites of Ashkhabad - photo 3

The tragedy of the city

How Ashgabat works

The entire center of Ashgabat consists of wide avenues, large squares, palaces, dancing fountains, and green parks-all sprawling, sterile, and symmetrical. Moving around the city on foot is pointless, because it is located on a vast area, surrounded on three sides by expanses of desert, and on the fourth side, from the south, by the Kopetdag mountain range, which is a natural landscape and the border with Iran.


There are some absurd but still interesting buildings in the city:

  • An important site in the city is the Neutrality Arc . It is a gilded marble monument with glass elevators on both sides. You can go up the arch in an elevator and admire the panorama of the city. On the one hand, the whole arch looks like an amusement park; on the other, it looks like a tub of water: you can see mirages here in the heat.
  • A statue of a bull, with a woman and child standing behind her. It is a symbol of the mother of the former leader who was killed in the 1948 earthquake. The largest mosque in Central Asia was built on the site where Niyazov’s mother and two brothers were killed in the earthquake.

Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan: Sights and history - photo 4

  • In the center of Ashgabat it is worth visiting the National History Museum. It is a huge palace of marble and hewn stone, spread over an area several kilometers wide, with tall columns topped with five-headed eagles and flying horses. According to the descriptions, within the walls of the museum there are more than 500,000 archaeological and ethnographic exhibits and numerous works of ancient art: paintings, drawings, sculptures, carpets, fabrics and clothes. There are also household items, musical instruments, weapons, jewelry, medals, historical documents, horny ivory vessels and even colorful Buddhist vases.
  • There are many fountains in the center . The tall fountain is peculiar for a desert country.
  • You should visit the giant book monument . There is Rukhnama book – the greatest work of Turkmens – the book of life and wisdom.
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Photos of Turkmenistan: History and Sites of Ashgabat

  • The Way of Health . Nowadays it is closed, but used to be very popular. It is a staircase several kilometers long to the top of Kopetdag Mountain. It was built during the time of the previous president to spread the idea of sports. Once a year, the president made the entire apparatus of power in ties and jackets run up the stairs. This was probably due to numerous heart attacks. Those who went the whole distance looked like victims of a mass execution. The president did not participate in the race, hiding behind his duties or his health.
  • Also worth a visit is the Ferris wheel, at the foot of which is an indoor amusement park. From the window of the Ferris wheel one can admire the panorama of this peculiar city.

Ashkhabad, though heavily modernized, hides picturesque bazaars in its alleys :


Ashgabat is the main city of Turkmenistan. The picturesque capital is situated in the foothills of the Kopet Dagh, 25 km to the north of the border with Iran. Just over 900 thousand inhabitants or 13,4 % of the total population of the country live in Ashkhabad. Like most Central Asian cities, Ashgabat grew out of a small settlement of the Turkic-speaking Tekin tribe. People settled in the place where big caravan routes crossed in the middle of the III century B.C. and began to call their aul “Eshg-abad”, which means “arranged by lovers”. In 1881, the troops of the Russian Empire came here. They put up a frontier garrison here, laid a railroad line, and by the beginning of the last century, Ashgabat was populated by 30 thousand citizens.

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Video: Ashgabat


Nowadays, the Turkmen capital strikes with the whiteness of its modern buildings. Ashgabat is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the city with the world’s largest number of buildings decorated with white marble. There are 543 such buildings here.

The city organically combines centuries-old traditions of the East and modern technologies, giant pompous monuments and green squares, spacious avenues and beautiful fountains. Tourists come to Ashgabat to see the flavor of the oriental bazaars as well as to enjoy the beauty of modern architecture.

Oguzkhan Palace Complex in Ashgabat Wedding Palace in Ashgabat

Among the sights of the capital of Turkmenistan are the residence of the President of the country – the palace complex “Oguzkhan”, the mosque Ertogrulgazy and the Cathedral of St. Prince Alexander Nevsky of the 19th century. The Mekan Palace, the Ashgabat Conservatory and the Academic Drama Theater are also considered famous architectural monuments.

The destructive earthquake of the mid-20th century

In 1948, Ashgabat was sorely tested. In early October a strong earthquake measuring 7.3 points hit the city. Its origin was located directly under the city at the depth of 18 km. The earthquake shocks happened at night, when the citizens were at home and sleeping. As a result of the disaster over 90% of all buildings were destroyed and more than 100 thousand people died under the debris – about 2/3 of the city citizens. After the catastrophe, the capital of Turkmenistan was virtually wiped off the face of the earth.

Besides Ashgabat itself, nearby settlements in neighboring areas of Turkmenistan and Iran suffered a lot. Dwelling houses, especially buildings made of mud bricks, were destroyed. The earthquake destroyed industrial plants, communications, water and sewage systems, power lines and roads. Cultural treasures and archives perished under the ruins.

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After the terrible earthquake Ashgabat was reconstructed and rebuilt, so no old architectural monuments have survived. Since 1995, October 6 is celebrated as a Memorial Day in Turkmenistan.

Sights of Ashgabat

Ashgabat is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records not only for the large number of white marble buildings. The highest flagpole on the planet – 133 m – stands here. The citizens and guests of the capital can take a ride on the biggest closed Ferris wheel on the Earth.

And that’s not all! In 2008 a huge fountain complex dedicated to the legendary founder of all Turkic tribes Oguzkhan and his six sons was built in Ashgabat. Twenty seven fountains illuminated by solar energy operate in the 15 hectares of the complex. The fountain complex is decorated with statues of epic heroes and stands near the highway that connects the airport and the city quarters.

One of Ashgabat’s unusual landmarks is a monument to a book written by Turkmenbashi. The book Ruhname, which means “spirituality,” is especially revered by everyone in the country. In this work the first president of Turkmenistan described the history of the state, his biography and outlined moral and ethic precepts that Turkmens should follow.

The monument has the height of a two-storey house and is located on the southern outskirts of Ashgabat, in Independence Park. At nightfall, the pages of the book “open” and visitors can see documentaries about the achievements of Turkmenistan. Interestingly, Turkmens have dedicated a separate state holiday to the book written by Turkmenbashi. Every year on September 12 Rukhnama Day is celebrated all over the country.

The Park of Independence spreads over an area of 140 hectares. It is a beautifully decorated green area with neat walking paths, benches and fountains. The Independence Monument, situated in its center, is a column rising 118 meters upwards. It is decorated with the crescent moon and five stars symbolizing the unity of the five main Turkmen tribes. At the bottom of the column is a yurt-like structure, the Independence Museum, and opposite the gigantic monument stands a gold-plated statue of Turkmenistan’s first president.

Monument to the Soviet Soldier in Ashgabat

In Independence Park there are many monuments to national heroes and a large amphitheater where concerts are held. In the north of the park stands a pyramidal building, the first floor of which is occupied by stores and the second by office space. The modern shopping center rests on an original five-pointed base, and the locals call it the “Five Pins”.

In Ashgabat you can see one of the tallest structures in the country, the giant Neutrality Monument, rising 95 meters into the sky. It is located on Bitarap Turkmenistan Avenue, in the south of the city. The huge monument is crowned with a gilded sculpture of the country’s first president, which is 12 meters high. Thanks to a rotating mechanism, the sculpture rotates with the movement of the sun, and from the circular observation decks you can perfectly see the city blocks.

Inside the unusual monument there is a Museum of Neutrality, three halls of which are devoted to the life of modern Turkmenistan. The adjacent park is equipped with beautiful cascading fountains, picturesque pavilions and small cafes.

Capital entertainment

In Ashgabat there are several cinemas and theaters, the Turkmen State Puppet Theater and the Circus. There are a lot of equipped walking zones and squares in the city. Parks in Ashgabat are very popular among the locals and tourists, the oldest of which was laid out in 1887.

In the center of the capital there is a beautiful art and entertainment complex, which is called the Alley of Inspiration. Along the course of the artificial river, trees have been planted and picturesque flowerbeds created. There are many monuments erected in honor of famous Turkmen writers, thinkers and scientists.

Ashgabat’s version of Disneyland is represented by an amusement park located in the center of the capital. It is called “The World of Fairy Tales of Turkmenbashi”. The park was opened in 2006 and cost state treasury 50 million dollars. On 33 hectares created open and closed entertainment areas, decorated in the traditions of national folklore. To make it more convenient for visitors to move around the large area, the park plying on the “Karakum express”, which seats 72 passengers.

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In the park you can see miniature images of the main historical and cultural monuments of the country, its natural sights, as well as animals living in Turkmenistan. In the “World of fairy tales Turkmenbashi” there are many attractions, an indoor park in the form of a magic mountain, as well as the Ferris wheel, stylized as a female Turkmen ornament “guliak”. The “Gallery of World Peoples’ Villages” displays ethnographic sights of different countries and peoples, and the “Paradise River” presents the park’s guests with a large aquarium, where Caspian Sea fish live.

Another place in Ashgabat where you can spend an interesting time is the giant cultural and entertainment center “Alem”. The stepped pyramid of the center is 95 meters high and has a big Ferris wheel with 57 meters in diameter inside. The interactive Space Museum is located in the basement of Alem.

Museums of the capital of Turkmenistan

The largest museum of Ashgabat has an ornate name “State Museum of the State Cultural Center of Turkmenistan”. It used to be called the “Main National Museum”. It was established in 1998 on Archabil Avenue and is now open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on any day except Tuesday.

The three-storey museum complex covers an area of 15 thousand square meters and is a striking example of modern Turkmen architecture with expensive finishing materials, plenty of decorative elements, delicate metal bars and stained glass windows. The area adjoining the museum is richly decorated with flower gardens, fountains and colonnade with sculptures of winged horses.

Museum’s expositions are devoted to the history and ethnography of the Turkmen people and presidential power in Turkmenistan. Over 165 thousand unique exhibits are exposed in seven thematic galleries. There are artifacts found during archaeological excavations in ancient Turkmen cities, rich collections of national clothes, skillfully made arms, colorful carpets and jewelry there. Several halls devoted to the country’s presidents exhibit their personal belongings, the most valuable gifts, rare photographs and documents.

Many tourists coming to Ashgabat try to visit the unique Museum of Turkmen Carpet. It was created in 1993 to preserve the history and unique traditions of local carpet weaving. The museum halls have a collection of rare handmade carpets, the oldest of which was woven in XVII century. Here you can also see a carpet made in 2001. It has the status of the largest in the world. The rug weighs more than a ton and has an area of 301 square meters. The smallest rug on the display is made as a key ring. The museum collection consists of more than 2000 items and is constantly replenished. Experienced masters in a specially created restoration workshop restore old rugs and carpets and bring them to the museum.

Among art museums of Ashgabat the Museum of Fine Art is especially notable. It was established in 1927 and nowadays is considered the biggest museum in Central Asia. It is a spacious three-storey building in the city center, next to the government quarter. Paintings are displayed in 11 halls. Besides works by Turkmen painters, there are pictorial and graphic works by Asian and European masters in the museum. Museum is open from 9:00 to 18:00, except Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

In the Ashgabat suburb of Gekdere, on an area of 40 hectares, there is a city zoo, which the residents of the Turkmen capital call “the National Museum of Wildlife”. It was built in 2010. There are aviaries with animals of African savannahs, predators, ungulates and birds, as well as aquariums with fish of the Caspian Sea. The zoo is full of greenery, has fountains and large artificial ponds.

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Excursions around Ashgabat

Ruins of ancient settlement Nisa, built by King Mithridat I are situated 18 km to the west from the Turkmen capital, in the outskirts of the ancient settlement Bagir. Nisa was the capital of the mighty Parthian Kingdom from the III century BC to the III century AD.

Among the ruins of the ancient city are the remains of two fortresses, temples, the royal residence and the treasury, as well as burial places of the rulers of Arsacids. Old Nisa has a distinctive architecture that has no analogues in Central Asia. The fortress walls at the base are 9 m thick and along the perimeter they were fortified with powerful quadrangular towers.

Fifteen kilometers east of Ashgabat is the village of Kipchak, the birthplace of Turkmenbashi. In 2004, a huge white marble mosque was built in the small village, named in honor of the “head of the Turkmen. It has a height of 55 meters and four minarets rise to 92 meters. The area of the Muslim temple exceeds 18 thousand sq. m, and 10 thousand worshippers can be accommodated in the giant prayer hall simultaneously. The floor of the building is made in the form of an eight-pointed star, is heated and covered with a huge handmade carpet. In terms of size Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque is considered the biggest single-domed Moslem temple in the world. Its construction cost the state treasury 100 million dollars.

A mausoleum with five sarcophagi was built next to the temple. In the center of the burial complex there is a sarcophagus with the body of the first President Saparmurad Niyazov, and in the corners there are the graves of his mother, father and two brothers in four sarcophagi. Opposite the mausoleum is a memorial erected to commemorate the Turkmen who died in the devastating 1948 earthquake. Kipchak village is often visited by foreign delegations and tourists.

In the outskirts of Ashgabat, on the slopes of the Kopetdag Ridge there is an unusual Path of Health. It is 36 km long and 5 meters wide. The footpath is covered with concrete and equipped with lampposts and sources of drinking water.

Local Cuisine

A trip to Ashgabat is a gourmet’s dream. In the Turkmen capital you can try almost all kinds of meat. The exceptions are pork, which is prohibited by the laws of Islam, and horsemeat – it is not allowed for public catering by sanitary norms. The city’s restaurants serve lamb and beef dishes. You can also try camel meat, mountain goats and other wild cloven-hoofed animals.

The most popular dishes in Ashgabat are manty and pilaf. Interestingly, the restaurants of the national smithy offer not one but several kinds of pilaf, including fish pilaf “balikly yanakhly-ash”. White fish caught in the Caspian Sea is very popular with tourists. Turkmen prefer to cook fragrant shashliks of red fish.

Nourishing meat soups – shurpa, bean soup with noodles and light Ashgabat okroshka – are cooked in any restaurant. When visiting the capital of Turkmenistan, one should try “pishme” doughnuts made of yeast dough, fried in oil, and “heigenek”, a Turkmen-style omelet.

There are many places in Ashgabat where one can try the main Turkmen drink – well-brewed green and black tea. Tea with pieces of meat – “chorba”, tea with camel milk and tea drink made of camel prickles are very tasty.

Besides the national cuisine, the institutions of Iranian, Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Italian cuisines are popular in Ashgabat. And, of course, as in any modern big city, there are chain cafes and restaurants such as Bellucci, Baskin Robbins, Fitçi House, SubTime, AST and Pizza House.

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Shopping and Souvenirs

Not far from the airport of Ashgabat on Saturdays and Sundays work bazaar “Altyn Asyr” or “Golden Age”. It has been built quite recently on the place of the lively oriental market that the locals used to call “Tolkuchka” (a flea market). Market rows stretch on the area of 154 hectares and contain more than 2,100 stores and benches. This place is interesting because from a bird’s eye view, it looks like a huge carpet. In the center of the bazaar there is a prominent landmark – a clock tower visible from afar.

“Altyn Asyr is a place where you can buy inexpensive souvenirs, handicrafts and works of arts and crafts. The noisy bazaar sells colorful skullcaps, colorful robes, dressed lamb skins and carpets, which are brought here from different parts of the country. There are many cafes and snack bars, there is even its own hotel and high-speed Internet access. Altyn Asyr is open until 2 p.m., so it is better to go to the market early in the morning. It is convenient to get here from the city by cab.

Another popular place for shopping is the Gulistan trade center, called “Russian bazaar” by locals. It is located in the center of Ashgabat. One can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, inexpensive shoes and clothes and various souvenirs there. Gulistan complex is covered with white marble and there are many eateries inside. In addition to Altyn Asyr and Gulistan, there are a few more oriental bazaars in Ashgabat – Teki, Lelyazar, Ak-Yol, Parahat, Tashauz, Jennet and others.

Lovers of carpets should come to the Turkmen capital’s most lively “carpet” store, which was created in the Turkmen Carpet Museum in Ashgabat. The range of goods displayed here is astounding. Simple felt mats, mats and skillfully woven handmade carpets are sold in the store.

In the center of the city, near the university, there is a store at the Turkmen Ministry of Culture. It sells many beautifully published books about Ashgabat, postcards, booklets and photo albums with views of the capital city. Those who are interested in painting and graphics should go to a private art gallery called Muhammed, at 83, Gerogly Avenue.

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Cabs are considered the most convenient means of transportation for tourists within the city. Cab rides in Ashgabat are not expensive, and there are a lot of cars with “checkers” on the streets. One just needs to remember that it would be better to agree on the fare with the driver in advance.

One can also travel around the Turkmen capital by bus. The fare is much lower, but the speed of the public transport is not too high.

There is an aerial ropeway that runs from the south of Ashgabat. It connects the city with the Kopetdag foothills.

The “Olympic town” was built in Ashgabat for the upcoming Asian Games in 2017, with an area of 157 hectares. In it since 2016 operates a monorail, with a length of more than 5.1 km, on which there are eight stations.

How to get there

There are regular flights to the capital of Turkmenistan from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Frankfurt am Main, Minsk, Kiev, Baku, Dhaka, Almaty, Ankara, Bangkok, Beijing, Birmingham, London, Paris, Brno, Delhi, Amritsar, Umurchi as well as Turkmen cities – Turkmenbashi, Balkanabad, Mary, Dashoguz and Turkmenabat.

Ashgabat International Airport is located 10 km northwest of the city and looks great. Its new terminal looks like a big soaring falcon with its wings extended. From the airport to the center of Ashgabat you can take a cab. In addition, buses No. 1 and No. 18 as well as private minibuses run along this route.

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