Ashgabat : The City of White Marble

Ashgabat is a beautiful city in Turkmenistan located between the Karakum Desert and the Kopet Dag mountains. It is the largest city in the country and also serves as the capital city. A magnificent and clean city with lavish palaces and mosques surrounded by vast expanses of manicured parkland, the city holds the Guinness World Record for having the highest number of marble-clad buildings. The city was founded in 1881 and later became the capital of Turkmen Socialist Republic in 1924. Although largely destroyed in a 1948 earthquake, the city has been redeveloped over the years courtesy of the country’s vast oil and gas reserves becoming an iconic city known world over. From grandiose monuments to modern enclaves, it is a city rich in history with a modern touch.

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Ashgabat : The City of White Marble:table of contents

1. Turkmen Carpet Museum

Photo by John Pavelka

Carpet weaving is one of the oldest arts in Turkmenistan that has been passed down from generation to generation. Carpets were an important item to the Turkmen nomads used for making collapsible walls and covering floors, protecting them from the cold. So vital is the art that the most common designs are incorporated in the State flag and emblem. The Turkmen Carpet Museum was established in 1994 to showcase this intricate art becoming a top attraction ever since. There are many carpets in the museum some dating back to twenty centuries ago. It is also home to the largest handmade carpet in the world measuring 14 by 21 meters. There are also two-sided carpets featuring different patterns and designs on each side. As the largest collection of Turkmen rugs, the museum is a must visit while in Ashgabat.

2. Nisa Ruins

About 18 kilometers to the West of Ashgabat lie the ruins of Nisa, an important city of the ancient Parthian Empire. The site consists of Old and New Nisa, with the latter having been developed in the 3rd Century BC. The two sites tell the story of an ancient civilization that incorporated foreign and traditional cultural elements to create fascinating items. Archaeological evidence points to the ruins having been used for religious and state functions. The strategic location of the ancient city at the crossroads of regional trade routes gave it political significance in addition to being a major trading and communication hub in the region.

3. Gypjak Mosque

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The Gypjak Mosque, also known as the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque is the main mosque in Turkmenistan and also the largest of its kind in Central Asia. It was commissioned by Saparmurat Niyazov, the first president of Turkmenistan in 2002, and was built in his home village of Gypjak about 10 kilometers from Ashgabat. The white-marble complex was built by a French company and completed in 2004 becoming an iconic landmark visible from miles away. The mosque is a single-domed building surrounded by four minarets and is accessible through nine arched entries. Numerous fountains surround the mosque which also has underground parking. Its interior is as exquisite adding to its appeal making it a must-see while in Ashgabat.

4. Alem Cultural and Entertainment Center

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The Alem Cultural and Entertainment Center in Ashgabat is home to the world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel. Officially opened in 2012, the 95-meters tall structure contains six floors, two of which are below ground. The highlight of the center is the 156-foot Ferris wheel with 24 six-seat cabins enclosed in a glass and white-steel casing on top of the building. The center also houses a bowling alley, planetarium, cinema, and a restaurant. Constructed at the cost of $90 million, the center has a variety of entertainment options making it the perfect location for a family outing. The Monument to the Constitution, the second tallest building in the capital, is located down the road and is also worth a visit.

5. Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts in Ashgabat was founded in 1927 by A.A Karelin, a Russian sculptor, and is home to the greatest collection of Soviet-Turkmen artwork. It is located in an equally impressive gold-cladded two-tier building with a big rotunda. The museum’s vast collection includes over 6,000 graphic works, sculptures, and paintings by local and international artists. There is also a fine collection of Turkmen traditional costumes, tapestries, ceramics, and jewelry. The museum also houses archaeological artifacts excavated within the area. It is advisable to have an English speaking guide with you to dish you the facts and historical background of the items on display.

6. National Museum of Turkmenistan

Photo by ru.wikipedia.org

The National Museum of Turkmenistan covers an area of approximately 15,000 square meters and is home to more than 500,000 items. Established in 1990, it consists of seven galleries each exploring a different facet of Turkmenistan history. The most interesting of these exhibits are found within the archaeology and ethnography departments with rare items and artwork dating back thousands of years. The museum also reveals the variety of Turkmenistan’s flora and fauna through many fossils and rare geological finds. The museum also has a unique collection of Turkmen art, weapons, jewelry, and historical documents. If you want to learn the history of Turkmenistan, the museum is the go-to place.

7. Independence Park / Independence Monument

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One place you have to visit while in Ashgabat is the main park in the capital, the National Independence Park. It is located in the southern part of the city occupying around 140 hectares, which encompasses almost half of the green space in the city. The park has all the attributes of a recreational park with vast groomed lawns and paths, flowerbeds, and comfortable benches making it the perfect spot to relax in the city. The Independence Monument with a height of 118 meters, however, is the main attraction in the park casting a dominative presence over the park. It houses the Museum of Independence while a nearby outdoor amphitheater regularly hosts concerts and other public events.

8. Wedding Palace

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The City of Ashgabat is packed with iconic architecture, and the Wedding Palace is another outstanding example. Built in 2011, it is a civil building that serves as a center for the registration of marriages. The complex has eleven floors all devoted to the marriage process hence the name. The lower floors are star-shaped and arranged such that the points do not overlap. It is topped by a frame of eight-sided Turkmen stars within which a large disco ball globe is geometrically-caged. The place contains a hotel, cafes, an underground car park, and bridal rooms. The grandest hall, the Shamchyrag, is located right in the middle of the giant globe and is a must-see attraction.

9. Ashgabat Zoo

The National Museum of Wildlife in Turkmenistan also known as the Ashgabat Zoo is a modern zoo occupying around 40 hectares at the foothills of the beautiful Kopetdag Mountains near Ashgabat. The new zoo was opened in 2010 and has been equipped in per international standards and requirements. It presents all species of fauna native to Turkmenistan as well as many more from around the world. In total there are over 250 species of animals, some of which are endangered, housed in four distinct zones: the African Savannah, Bird Market, Territory of Ungulate, and the Animal World. The grounds of the zoo are well-kempt with lush greenery, fountains, and artificial lakes making it a beautiful family attraction.

10. Altyn Asyr bazaar

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The Altyn Asyr Bazaar is an extensive market in the outskirts of Ashgabat noted in particular for its sale of large Turkmen carpets. It was built in 2010 to replace the demolished Tolchuka Bazaar and covers over 150 hectares. It is the largest open-air market in Central Asia with magnificent architecture that resembles a carpet pattern from a bird’s eye view. There are over 2,000 shops in the markets selling an assortment of wares including handicrafts, jewelry, clothes, and foodstuffs. There is also a hotel opposite the bazaar, and several cafes and bistros. As the best shopping destination for authentic Turkmen products, it is a must visit particularly on Sundays, its busiest day.

◎ Closing

Ashgabat is, without a doubt, one of the most magnificent cities in the world. It is one of those places that capture your senses from the moment you first lay your eyes on the city to the moment of your departure creating memories that last for a lifetime. It is not a crowded city making it easy to get around while enjoying your stay at a leisurely pace. If you are looking for a quiet, beautiful and tranquil place to relax and explore, Ashgabat is your best bet providing just that and much more.

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