The land of the Karakum Desert and the Great Silk Road of Turkmenistan is now one of the popular tourist destinations in Central Asia. Oases, deserts, caves, Muslim shrines, dinosaur plateaus and national parks harmoniously coexist here. History, culture and traditions of the country have been passed down from generation to generation. Besides countless monuments of antiquity, tourists are also attracted by natural attractions such as the Darvaza Gas Crater, the Karakum desert, the Caspian Sea and the picturesque mountain ranges. This eastern state surprises and delights at the same time, and is capable of falling in love with connoisseurs of colorful Asian culture.
Ashgabat is situated in the south of Turkmenistan, 25 km to the north of the border with Iran, in the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountains. About 1 million people live in Ashgabat, which is more than 14 percent of the population of the republic. Today Ashgabat is the economic, intellectual, cultural and political center of the independent state. Nevertheless, not everyone is familiar with the history of this country. The name Ashgabat comes from the Persian word “eshg,” which means love, and “abad,” which translates as well-to-do, inhabited. There are many conjectures as to exactly how the name of the capital came about. The most widespread of them is that a long time ago, a girl fell in love with a poor young man in a Turkmen village. Her parents were against their marriage and the lovers had to run away. They took refuge in a small village in the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountains in the center of the Ahal oasis. Since then the village has been called Ashgabat.
Ashgabat was founded in 1881. The history of Ashgabat can be divided into two periods – before and after 1918. Until this year, the settlement was part of the Russian Empire and was the main city of the Trans-Caspian region.
From 1921 to 1927, Ashgabat existed under the name of Poltoratsk. However, by April 7, 1927 the city had regained its historical name, Ashgabat. By that time, Ashgabat was already quite a comfortable and peaceful place to live. It was the first time streets in Ashgabat were covered with asphalt. Trees grew, restoring and expanding the former green fund of the city. The city’s water supply also improved. The country slowly began to come alive. It seemed that everything was improving and no misfortune foretold. However, Ashgabat’s history knows many other less joyful events.
In 1948, on the night of October 5-6 Ashgabat suffered a terrible earthquake. In an instant the city turned into ruins, dozens of thousands of people found themselves under the rubble. Trouble entered each house, taking Ashgabat residents who were peacefully sleeping and unsuspecting by surprise. The earthquake shocks broke out in the dead of night.
There was a terrible roar in the city. The earth itself seemed to be howling, but sleepy people did not realize that something terrible was happening. After just two fatal tremors with a magnitude of 9-10, the city was destroyed. Ashgabat was completely destroyed. The exact number of victims is still unknown. Some sources assert that the number of victims was much more – about 170, thousand people. The earthquake in Ashgabat is recognized as one of the most destructive in the history. Every year October 6 is officially a memorial day in Turkmenistan. On this day, state flags are lowered, entertainment events are canceled, and mournful music sounds on the radio and TV. Thus, the Turkmen capital was rebuilt anew.
After the collapse of the USSR on October 27, 1991, Turkmenistan gained its independence. A new stage in the historical fate of Ashgabat was directly linked with changes in its status in connection with the proclamation of independence of Turkmenistan. Within several years, Ashgabat developed new functions it had never had before, rapidly transformed into a qualitatively different city making a leap to the creation of full-fledged infrastructure and noticeably improving its outer appearance.
Many impressive and unique constructions have appeared in Ashgabat and its surroundings in a short period. Architectural premieres in recent years have become an integral part of the life of the Turkmen capital, arousing the keenest interest of residents and guests. Comparing what Ashgabat was in the past with what it is now, one can see how the city is being renewed again under the influence of such a powerful impetus as the national revival of the Turkmen people, who gained genuine state independence for the first time in their centuries-long history.
Present-day Ashgabat is adorned with slender white-stone high-rises. Everywhere there are parks and squares, hundreds of fountains offering a soothing coolness. All skyscrapers, mosques, sidewalks and houses in the city center are decorated with beautiful white marble. Ashgabat looks like a postcard with its snow-white houses and wide avenues. In 2013, the city was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fifth time as the whitest marble city in the world. Ashgabat has indeed become snow-white over the past 20 years. About a hundred high-rise administrative and residential buildings finished with white marble tiles have turned it into such.
The white-marble city of Ashgabat is rich in sights. In the capital, there are the main temples of Islam: Gokdepe Mosque, Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque and Ertugrul Gazi Mosque, which are often visited by Muslim pilgrims. The beautiful and fascinating architecture and rich interior decoration of mosques attracts many travelers from all over the world.
There is a television and radiobroadcasting center at the top of Kopetdag Mountain, which is of great interest in foreigners. The height of the television tower, reaching 211 meters was recognized as the tallest building in Ashgabat. The top of the TV tower is decorated with a huge octagonal star called “Oguz-Khan”, which was also recognized as the biggest star image and was entered the Guinness Book of Records. From the observation deck of the center, you can enjoy the picturesque expanses of the Kopetdag and the incredibly beautiful view of Ashgabat.
Another of the most visited sights in the city are the Turkmenistan Flag Monument, the Ashgabat Earthquake Monument and the Turkmenistan Independence Monument. The 133-meter Turkmenistan Flag Monument is considered the fourth tallest flagpole in the world. It is a beautiful white column decorated with gold paint. An interesting thematic museum has been opened in it, where historical exhibits related to the period of struggle for independence are collected.
In the evening, Ashgabat is brightly lit with lights. From dusk to dawn, the white marble buildings glow with all the colors of the rainbow. Some of the city’s sights and parks are especially interesting to visit in the evening. In the evenings, they can be decorated with spectacular artistic illumination. One of these parks is the art and park complex “Ylham”. The park is located between the two central avenues of the capital – Makhtumkuli and Goroglu. You cannot even imagine how many sculptures depicting famous Turkmen poets, thinkers, scientists of ancient and modern times there are. Here you can take a walk under the shade of majestic trees planted along the artificial reservoir. Almost all parks in Ashgabat have a variety of attractions, shopping malls and charming lighting, splendidly combined with amazing fountain complexes.
Another of the main attractions of Ashgabat is the largest closed Ferris wheel in the world, installed in the entertainment center “Alem”. It is shaped like a stepped pyramid, reaching a height of 95 meters. The main highlight of the cultural and entertainment center “Alem” is a unique Ferris wheel where you can look at the city from a bird’s eye view. In addition, Ashgabat Zoo is a great place for a family vacation. The National Museum of Wildlife is a unique zoological complex located in the Gokdere one of the most beautiful in the foothills of the Kopetdag. Healing for health air and the unique beauty of nature create favorable conditions for the habitat of thousands of representatives of the amazing and mysterious world of wildlife. The Zoo, which has hundreds of species of animals and birds of the animal world of Turkmenistan, is always crowded. The Museum of Wildlife is visited with great pleasure not only by citizens of the capital city but by guests of the country as well.
Ashgabat has many theaters and museums. The world fame of the capital of Turkmenistan was brought to the famous Carpet Museum – here you can see a unique collection of different variants of this product. There is the biggest carpet in the world having length more than 400 meters and area 301 square meters in this museum. This museum contains several hundred of the finest carpet samples, the oldest of which is a 17th-century carpet.
Turkmenistan is rich of architectural monuments. One of them is “Nisa” fortress – capital of Parthia, which flourished in ancient times. Nisa is located 15 kilometers to the west of Ashgabat. The complex consisting of two fortresses is known as the old and the new Nisa. Findings discovered in these places because of archaeological excavations are carefully preserved in the State Museum of State Cultural Center of Turkmenistan. Its ancient ruins attract numerous amateurs of history and archeology.
The natural landscapes around the city draw the attention of tourists coming to Ashgabat. Not far from Ashgabat, there is a picturesque underground lake “Kowata” located under the mountains. Thermal waters in Kowata are from +33 to +37 °С all the year round. This unusual body of water attracts a large number of tourists and travelers, especially eco-tourists.
There are plenty of places in the capital that are not to be found. It is better to see with your own eyes all these beauties of the country.
Shopping and Cuisine
The people of Ashgabat are hospitable and always friendly. The traditions of receiving guests are still preserved. The most common dishes of this country are “pilaf” and “manty”. Restaurants of national Turkmen cuisine offer not one but several types of pilaf, including fish pilaf “balikly yanahly-ash”. Deliciously cooked white fish caught in the Caspian Sea is very popular among the guests of the city. All restaurants cook hearty meat soups –“shurpa”, bean soup with noodles. When visiting the white-marble Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, one should try “pishme” doughnuts made of yeast dough and fried in oil, and “heigenek” omelet made in the Turkmen style. One can also try delicious lamb dishes and meat cooked on open fire. Besides that, there are many places with Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Iranian cuisine in Ashgabat.
For inexpensive souvenirs and expensive works of applied art, Ashgabat is worth visiting the “Gundogar” bazaar bustling with life on Saturdays and Sundays. The Gundogar Bazaar is not far from the airport, a 20-minute cab ride away. This is the place to find the most popular Turkmen products, including clothes and shoes in the regional style and beautiful handmade carpets. In the bazaar, you can buy many inexpensive and beautiful souvenirs. Here you can find anything you want – from sheepskin and skullcap to colorful robes and intricate carpet. One of the largest and most modern in the city’s shopping center is a shopping and entertainment center “Berkarar”. It is chic in design and boasts three floors of stores featuring some of the best-known regional and global brands. Here you can choose clothes and shoes for every taste, visit jewelry stores and cosmetic stores. Another popular place for shopping is shopping center “Gulistan”. It is located in the center of Ashgabat. Here one can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, inexpensive shoes and clothes as well as various souvenirs. Gulistan complex is covered with white marble and there are many eateries inside. Besides “Gulistan”, there are also several oriental bazaars in Ashgabat – “Parahat”, “Altyn Asyr”, “Teki”, “Lelazar”, “Ak-Yol”, “Jennet”, “Dashoguz” and others.
In the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat has a developed system of public transport, where it is represented by buses and taxies. The one-way fare is quite low – about $0.15. For faster and more comfortable moving around the city, you can take a taxi. Residents of Ashgabat often take a taxi, because taxi service here is very cheap. The cost of a taxi will be approximately $2-3. To move around the regions of the country, the local population mainly uses the railway service, which connects Ashgabat with other large cities and regions.
When you land in Turkmenistan, the first thing you are greeted with is an airport in the form of a falcon bird. Built in 2016 Turkmenistan International Airport is located in Ashgabat and is the largest airport in Central Asia, covering an area of almost 1.2 thousand hectares. The airport can serve 17 million passengers a year. The international airport is built in the form of a falcon bird –“Lachin”, which spreads its wings and fascinates tourists from all over the world.
Ashgabat – the heart of Turkmenistan. Nowadays Ashgabat is a beautiful snow-white city, where European spirit and eastern authentic color complement each other perfectly. The beauty of this city can be described endlessly. White marble city of Ashgabat is the treasure trove of culture and history of this Central Asian country. It is a tourist gem, which is really worth visiting.