Ashgabat is Turkmenistan’s showcase city, where shimmering gold domes top extravagant marble palaces and manicured gardens burst into life each spring. Once a prosperous Russian frontier town, the city was leveled in 1948 by a devastating earthquake that killed over two-thirds of the population. The reconstruction was largely fueled by gas and oil profits, and the capital continues to boom because of them. Soviet style permeated the rebuild, but Western opulence is starting to overshadow the Stalinist details in its modern incarnation. The result is a quirky capital that remembers its past while looking forward to the future. In Arabic, Ashgabat means ìcity of love,î and the capital will sweep you off your feet.
The story of Turkmenistan comes alive at the National Museum of History, a treasure trove of nearly 500,000 artifacts from all over the country. The archeological collection is the most interesting, showcasing rare pieces from prehistory through the middle ages, including musical instruments, ivory vessels, traditional tools, fabrics, statuettes and more. The building itself is a stunning sight, like a palatial oasis in the middle of the sparse desert.
Ashgabat is an undeniably impressive city, but one must understand the devastation it went through to fully comprehend its glory. The Earthquake Museum is the most touching in the city, displaying photos of Ashgabat before and after the natural disaster that leveled it in under one minute in 1948. The museum also represents a change of attitude in the country; during the Stalinist era, the earthquake was largely ignored because socialist countries were not supposed to suffer from disasters. The official recognition is a step, but the museum is usually locked, so there is still a long way to go. However, visitors can usually bribe the guards for entry with just a few dollars and a polite request.
One of the brightest gems of the reconstruction is the Museum of Fine Arts, housed in a stunning building with gleaming gold ornaments decorating seemingly every surface. The highlight of the extensive collection is the Soviet-Turkmen artwork, featuring a mix blissful peasant scenes and cityscapes of smoke-spewing factories. There is also small but impressive collection of Western European paintings and a selection of traditional Turkmen costumes and jewelry.
The majority of the population is Muslim, and thousands of the faithful worship at the Azadi Mosque, modeled after Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque. The Ashgabat version is even bigger than its inspiration, accommodating over 5,000 worshippers under its decadent golden dome. Visitors are welcome outside of congregational prayer times, and the surrounding lush gardens are particularly welcoming on a hot summer day.
Other notable sights within the city include the Turkmen Carpet Museum, home to the world’s largest hand-woven carpet, Independence Park, which is dotted with monuments to the countryís most celebrated rulers, writers and heroes and Tolkuchka Bazzar, one of Central Asia’s most colorful markets.
Night is when the Western side of Ashgabat really comes alive, and once the sun sets over the desert, take refuge in the many theaters, restaurants, pubs and nightclubs around the city. Throughout the capital, dance clubs pump bass beats under lasers and strobe lights, thespians perform contemporary comedies on intimate stages and pubs serve up strong drinks on outdoor terraces. The friendly locals will be eager to buy you a round and make you feel right at home in their ever-evolving city. It is part of the charm of Ashgabat, and one of the reasons you will fall in love with the capital.
Ashgabat Geographical Location
Ashgabat is located near the Iranian border in the central south of Turkmenistan.
The population of Ashgabat is approximately 910,000.
Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan although a significant portion of the population also speaks Russian or Uzbek.
Ashgabat Predominant Religion
- 89% Muslim
- 9% Eastern Orthodox
- 2% Unknown
The Ruhnama, a religious text written by former President Niyazov, is no longer deemed mandatory by the school systems or to be displayed beside the Quran but it is still a religious part of Turkic religion.
The Manat is the official currency of Turkmenistan.
Ashgabat has an arid climate due to its proximity to the Kara-Kum desert with little rain throughout the year. The temperatures are very hot during the long summer and mild in the short winter.
Ashgabat Main Attractions
- The Statue of Lenin
- The Fortress of Ashgabat
- The Presidential Palace
Other Attractions in Ashgabat
- The Mosque of Khezert Omar
- The Botanical Gardens
- Parthian Settlement of Nisa