Ashgabat is the marble capital and the biggest city of Turkmenistan. Ashgabat is situated between the Karakum desert to the north and Kopet Dag mountain range separating it from Iran, 20 km to the south. It can be considered a quite young city founded in 1881 as a fortification and named after the nearby settlement of Ashkhabad.
The name "Ashgabat" literally means "city of love" or " city of devotion" in modern Persian, however, it might be modified also from folk etymology. The city was named Poltoratsk during the Soviet Union between 1919-1927 after a local revolutionary Pavel Gerasimovich Poltoratskiy. Nowadays, however, the city is more well-known as the city of white marble.
The city has got its brand new modern look because first of all it was extensively reconstructed after the earthquake in 1948. Back then the buildings were more Soviet-looking ones. Now the soviet era buildings are transformed into marble white ones, which was the idea of Saparmurat Niyazov (also known as Turkmenbashi), the previous president of Turkmenistan. So the unique look of Ashgabat is partly a legacy from Turkmenbashi and the current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow’s obsession with breaking world records.
Due to its notable architectural accomplishments, the city holds Guinness World Records. The first one is for the highest density of buildings with white marble cladding, the official number from 2013 in 543 buildings in an area of 4.5 square metres. The second one is for the highest number of fountain pools in a public space. The Ashgabat fountain which sits on the road from the airport to the city includes 27 synchronized and fully-programmable fountains in an area of about 15ha. And third, there is the world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel – a 156 feet tall affair, at the Alem entertainment centre in the south of the city, that cost around $90 million to build.
Ashgabat is an incredibly clean and neat city. It remains clean due to the strict rules established by the government, the police are even strict on driving dirty cars in the city. Taking into consideration that the whole city is white keeping it super clean seems logical.
Everything mentioned above would be a sign that the city is bursting with life, but the reality is that it is strangely empty. It seems there is a lack of people. We can say Ashgabat is one of the most extraordinary and photogenic cities in the world, however, not many people have seen the beauty of the city because of Turkmenistan’s isolated policy from the rest of the world.
Despite its quirky and unusual appearance and the state’s policy, Ashgabat is a very welcoming city and there are many things to enjoy like visiting markets, restaurants, theatres, shopping centres, etc. If you plan to do a tour in Ashgabat you will have 1-2 days to go around the city and visit the most important places. Some memorable structures include the Ertugrul Gazi Mosque, the Alem Entertainment Center with its Ferris wheel, the Constitution Monument, Ashgabat’s theme park- World of Turkmenbashi Tales. You can also have the best view of Ashgabat from the Turkmenbashi cableway, where the cablecar climbs up to more than 1280 meters.
There are really nice museums like the National Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Turkmen Carpet Museum, Museum of Turkmen National Values, where you will get to know to the Turkmen culture more. A must-do thing in the city is to visit one of the oldest bazaars of the city-Gulistan market, which is also known as the Russian bazaar. Past the airport, there is another famous bazaar-Tolkuchka, 8km north of Ashgabat.
Because of the scorching sun and the hot weather, a lot of parks have been opened in the city with a lot of newly planted trees and shrubs.
Generally, if you take a ride around the city you will notice that the wealth of the country is represented in every part of Ashgabat- wide roads with white, sterile buildings, statues topped with gold, billboards, displays, a lot of fountains, etc. With the extraordinary, bizarre present and fascinating past, the city will leave you impressed for sure.