The Great Marble City
Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
230Trip End Dec 16, 2012
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Situated in the south near the mountain range that acts as the border with Iran, Ashgabat is the capital city of Turkmenistan. Once a city of both Turkmens and Russians who were living in soviet style apartment blocks, Ashgabat was a city which was devastated by an Earthquake in 1948, and therefore rebuilt during the times of Stallin. But since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ashgabat found itself as the capital city of the newly independent country of Turkmenistan
As we arrived in Ashgabat from the nearby Iranian border, our eyes lit up as we approached this unexpected great marble city. At this stage we really didn't know what to expect of the city or this country, but we had been warned that it was simply weird. Massive apartment blocks, clean sidewalks, grand roadways, and white marble as far as the eye could see is actually the introduction we got when we arrived in Ashgabat. We were dumbfounded by the modern surroundings, and suddenly our jaws started to drop, as our guide pointed out buildings and monuments that we weren’t allowed to take photos of.
This great marble city was controlled by military and police on each and every corner. Monuments were guarded twenty four seven, and we, tourists who were still trying to get our heads around this city, were quite simply confused. From previous readings in guide books, we had been warned that Turkmenistan was the 'North Korea’ of Central Asia, now it made sense. As we tried to explore the city centre on our own, we were awakened by the strict guidelines of tourism
Peering over our hotel balcony the next morning, we could see streets guarded at every corner over the white marble skyline. We still felt that weirdness vibe of this city, however we were ready to give it a chance as we were looking forward to our guided tour of this great marble city.
Just as we had witnessed on our drive in, Ashgabat was full of grand marble buildings, gold statues, and its national flag flying everywhere with pride. This city was all about meaning. Everything symbolised something. From the five carpet patterns of the five regions of Turkmenistan, to the height of the monument of independence rising to 91 metres, symbolising that is was in 1991 that Turkmenistan got its independence
Ashgabat was definitely an elaborate, over the top city. It was clear that this country had recently come into wealth, and it was seen fitting to make everything in this capital look new, shiny, and extravagant. Long gone was the soviet style architecture, as Ashgabat was full of new, world class architecture. The building of a local gas company was designed in the shape of a cigarette lighter, the ‘one stop’ wedding palace was designed with a gold map of Turkmenistan, the Ministry of Education looked like a giant book, the Ministry of Oil was in the shape of an oil rig, and the futuristic ferris wheel was at first unrecognisable
Bright domes of the presidential palace reigned over the city skyline. And the minaret of the cities beautiful mosques weren’t hard to find. The Ertogryl Mosque was designed to be similar to Turkey’s Blue Mosque. But it was the Turmenbashy Hajii Mosque and Mausolem that really had gone the extra mile. Built to house the first president and his deceased family, it was built before the president had even passed away. But the mosque itself was the real highlight. With the biggest dome in Central Asia, and a prayer capacity of 10,000 people, this grand mosque summed up the overall elaborance of this great marble city.
Ashgabat was a controlled, grand city, that was living it up due to the recent financial boost of this quiet Central Asian country. Ashgabat had it all, five star hotels, fast internet, Russian markets, and a Guinness World Record for the city with the highest number of fountains. Yet, it was a strict city, with an 11pm curfew, photography limitations, a US$10 fee for photos at the National Museum, and military and police presence everywhere
Venture out of the great marble of city of Ashgabat, and reality hits you in the face. Turkmenistan is a developing country outside of its capital. Crumbling roads, villages that time has forgotten, and lack of infrastructure in parts, Turkmenistan is investing all its money into its capital and other its other big cities. Maybe the Turkmen government needs to branch out into the rest of its country, and share the love outside of the great marble city.
After several nights in Ashgabat, we finally got a good feel for this great marble city. For a country who was given independence when it was not ready for it, Turkmenistan has come a long way. Yes, it still has some need for development in other parts of the country, but if Ashgabat is any indication, Turkmenistan will rise as a great marble country, with the great marble city of Ashgabat leading the way.