Ashgabat is a wealthy city packed with marble palaces, shining gold domes, and large expanses of polished streets. Ashgabat means “the city of love” translated from the Arabic language and it was founded in 1881. The city is located 25 km north of the border with Iran, in the Kopet Dag foothills. There are 650,000 people living in the capital of Turkmenistan.
The city has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records several times as a city with the largest number of buildings, finished with white marble, of which there are about 543 in Ashgabat. The world’s tallest flagpole 133 meters, which is now held by Saudi Arabia with a height of 170 meters. The largest Ferris wheel, the largest fountain complex “Oguzkhan and Sons” with a fountain total area of 15 hectares and finally, the biggest architectural monument with the shape of a star: “The Oguzkhan Star” on Turkmen television tower.
Niyazov, the ex-president of Turkmenistan, declared himself Turkmenbashi, or “Father of All Turkmen,” and “President for Life. Niyazov famously had a gold statue of himself erected in the center of Ashgabat which even rotated and more of golden statues across the country. In 2006, Niyazov died of a heart failure.
His successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a former Health Minister took over the new position and that rotating monument was moved to the outskirts of the city. Today, Berdymukhamedov has his own gold monument, in the form of a Bronze Horseman similar to the monument that Catherine the Great had built in St Petersburg to honor Peter the Great.
History of Ashgabat
Ashgabat was only formed at the beginning and middle of the 20th century, around a Russian fortress, that was built-in 1881 at the crossroads of the caravan routes. Ashgabat became a wealthy city, mainly due to being the Russian frontier town on the Trans-Caspian railway. But, at 1 am on 6th of October in 1948, the city vanished in less than a minute, destroyed by a powerful earthquake, later measured nine on the Richter scale. More than 110 000 Turkmen died decreasing the population greatly. Although the official figure was 14 000 it was the era of Stalin, when socialist countries didn’t officially suffer disasters.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan took the title of the most authoritarian of all former Soviet states. The country’s post-Soviet leader Saparmurat Niyazov, formed a political system based on strict control and hydrocarbon wealth. Furthermore, he set an ambitious plan to change the appearance of Ashgabat which today looks like something being in between Las Vegas and Pyongyang.
The popular legend related to the origin of the name of Ashgabat runs roughly as follows: The children of the rulers of Nisa and Anau fell in love. They fled into the mountains, but their god disapproved of their romance and caused all springs and rivers to run dry as they approached them. The lovers were on the point of dying of thirst and the angel of death was sent to them. But the angel was so enraptured by the beauty of the young woman that he forgot all about his task. At this, a spring of clear water suddenly appeared from the ground, the young couple was saved and decided to settle on that spot. Ashgabat was born.
The main roads of the city are the Turkmenbashi avenue, which stretches from the train station to the new area of Berzengi, and Magtymguly avenue running east to west perpendicular with the Turkmenbashi avenue. Numerous of the city’s landmarks and organizations are on or near these streets.
Turkmenbashy Square in the main center of town was allocated the number 2000, the first year of Turkmenistan’s ‘Golden Century’. The numbers of other streets generally fall to the east of this central square, and rise to the west of it, though there seems to be little clear logic in the assignation of numbers to streets. All the streets used to have only numbers as their names, but they have now been mostly returned to alphabetical names.
Ashgabat Berzengi District
Berzengi district is the main pride of Ashgabat, an entirely artificial new world of white-marble tower blocks, fountains, parks and general emptiness that ends in the Berzengi Highway where a most of the city’s hotels are located. Berzengi district was one of the main focus areas for the Ashgabat redevelopment project of President Niyazov.
Today it is one of its major features of the city, with governmental hotels, built by numerous Turkmen government organizations on the president’s instruction in the mid-1990s. The hotels are all composed of different styles, varying from exotic to mundane. Others are more equipped up for Turkmen wedding parties than for tourists. Although, even if you are not staying here, the hotel strip of Berzengi is worth visiting as one of the more unusual sights of post-independence Ashgabat.
Taking Saparmurat Turkmenbashy Shayoly street, southwards from the city center, behind the Yimpash shopping center and the Olympic Stadium, you finally reach on your left the largest and most impressive park of Ashgabat, called the Turkmenistan Independence Park.
The park was first set in 1993. Most of the area is covered by plantings of coniferous trees occupying an area of almost 2km long and 1km wide. The park also holds a large number of the most significant monuments of Ashgabat.
Ashgabat Independence Monument
Independence Monument stands on the highest ground in the Independence park, at its southern end. The city’s main attraction is a 118 m high column crowned with a crescent moon and five stars. This column is set on a semicircular sphere, symbolizing a yurt. Independence Monument is surrounded by a series of statues of the historical leaders, notable Turkmen poets and figures of legends whose lives and works are praised in Ruhnama and the other nation-building works of the Turkmen government.
Five stars are a representation of the unity of the five largest Turkmen tribes which have been living on the Turkmenistan territory since ancient times. The independence monument has been given the nickname ‘eight legs’, a reference to the eight struts across the domed base, that water flows down from. There is a viewing platform at the height of 91 m, reached by a lift inside the column, though this is open only to members of official delegations, with prior permission.
A pathway leads to the Independence Monument from Saparmurat Turkmenbashy Shayoly and it is guarded by four large statues of Turkmen warriors. Then you are greeted by a golden statue of ex-President Niyazov, with a two-man guard of honor.
The president’s statue stands at the heart of a pentagonal fountain, which also includes five golden five-headed eagles, each in the process of crushing a two-headed snake. Jets of water spout from 35 of the possible 36 mouths in the composition. This statue is a favored place for Turkmen newly-weds to be photographed.
Ruhnama Book Monument
On the western side of the park is the Ruhnama Park which, according to the English-language inscription on the plaque at the entrance, was ‘completed in February 2003’. The completed park is an honor to President Niyazov’s book and is centered on a huge statue of Ruhma in the shape of a giant-sized replica of the green cover book.
The book was written by Turkmenbashi, the first President of Turkmenistan, himself. During the special occasions, the book opens up to create a double-paged ‘screen’ on which images of the achievements of post-independence Turkmenistan are projected.
The book, considered holy for Turkmens, describes the first President’s biography, country’s history and the basic commandments and moral principles the Turkmenistan people should follow.
Monument of Neutrality
As with any cult of personality, Turkmenistan’s cult of personality Niyazov, who ruled for over two decades, made Ashgabat a centerpiece of the country. As one of the monuments built by the cult, the arch of neutrality was also built.
Arch of the neutrality is a 75 m high rocket-shaped tower topped with a gold statue of Niyazov, which rotated throughout the day so that his face is always basking in the sun.
Built-in 1998, the marble-covered monument honored his adoption of neutrality as his official policy, and cost over $12 million to create.
The Constitution monument sparkles in the daylight and glows at night with the colorful lights. The height of the monument, including the spire, reaches up to 185 meters, symbolizing the date of adoption of the Constitution 18th day of the 5th month. Furthermore, this figure has another meaning with 185 UN member states recognizing the neutral status of Turkmenistan. The height of the tetrahedral tower, decorated with Turkmen carpet ornaments on all sides and topped with a spire with a gold crescent and five stars, is 91 meters, which indicates the year of independence of the country.
The tower rises from a three-stage 27-meter base, shaped like the legendary star of Oguz Khan as well as a 10-meter platform with porticos, cascading fountains and grand staircase on all sides. These parameters 27 and 10 are the date and month of the establishment of the Turkmen state. Two viewing platforms, located at the level of 27 and 118 meters, offer a scenic panorama of the capital and its suburbs. The monument to the Constitution is surrounded by a square with fountains and a forest park zone.
Once you enter the building you can see screens providing information about the monument to the Constitution in three languages – Turkmen, Russian and English. In the six halls of the museum, there are also touch screens and displays with images in a 3D format that allow visitors to get visual information about the modern Turkmen state, constitutional lawmaking, history and cultural heritage of the Turkmen people.
The museum also has a traditional exhibition with original souvenirs made from precious metals and stones, state awards of Turkmenistan and various commemorative coins. Ancient manuscripts, samples of clothing and jewelry, musical instruments, household utensils, as well as some archaeological findings characterizing different periods of history are placed in the many showcases.
In January of 2011, the list of sites of Ashgabat was complemented with the square of Revival (Galkynysh) at the intersection of two avenues – Turkmenbashi and Galkynysh, with an impressive monument in its center – a triumphal column crowned with the globe and a presidential standard.
A monument to the Constitution, the five-star hotel “Nusai” and Presidential Palace Complex “Oguzkhan” were inaugurated in Ashgabat on one of the main national holidays – Day of Revival, Unity and Poetry of Makhtumkuli, coinciding with the day of adoption of the Constitution of Turkmenistan. Simultaneously, a complex of buildings of the Main Directorate of Civil Defence and Rescue Work of the Ministry of Defence of were revealed, forming the south-western part of the new square together with the already existing university and other grand buildings.
Presidential Palace Complex "Oguzkhan"
“Oguzkhan” Presidential Palace Complex is a white marble structure an official residence and principal workplace of the President of Turkmenistan. It has been the site of the presidential headquarters and home of the president of Turkmenistan since the late 1990s. Ex-president Saparmurat Niyazov lived in the palace between 1997 and his death in 2006. Presidential Palace, was built in Ashgabat, in 1994-1997 by French company Bouygues on an order of the President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov. Interior rooms trimmed with marble and fine wood. For the interior decoration of the palace for 55 thousand dollars was ordered 14 handmade carpets with a total area of 218 square. m. According to various reports, its value amounted to 70 – 80 million dollars.
The new building was built in May 2011 replacing the smaller Turkmenbashyy Palace located nearby. The Palace is part of a larger complex also containing the Presidential Palace which is on the west side of the complex bordered by the Independence Square. The complex is bordered on the north by Palace Street, former Karl Marx Street and on the south by Renaissance Street. Keep in mind that taking a picture of thee structure is forbidden.
The Wedding Palace “Bagt Koshgi” (Palace of Happiness) was introduced in Ashgabat for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence. The palace was built by a Turkish construction company by the order of the Government of Turkmenistan. The building, consisting of 11 floors, each side of which is an eight-pointed star by shape, impresses with its uniqueness. At the top of the building there is a cube with a 32-meter sphere inside. This shape symbolizes the planet, where the map of Turkmenistan is also depicted.
The Wedding Palace can register 7 to 12 pairs of newlyweds at the same time. It consists of three halls for celebrations, seven banquet halls for weddings, dozens of shops and different services, including wedding dress shops, wedding decoration of cars, rentals of jewelry and national embroideries, photo and beauty salons and finally parking spaces.
Palace of the Knowledge
Palace of the Knowledge is located on the Southern part of Independence Park. It has three large buildings that include a library, concert hall, and the Turkmenbashi Museum. The museum houses all the gifts and awards presented to former President Niyazov by various people around the world including especially lots of gold.
National Museum of Turkmenistan
National Museum of Turkmenistan is a gorgeous building in the southern suburb of Berzengi and the Western part of Independence Park. The museum lies just against the Kopet Dag Mountains in the south. National Museum was opened in 1998 during the visit of the former Turkish President Demirel. A path leads up to the museum from Archabil Highway taking you past twin sculptures of winged horses and zig-zagging columned arcades, that trace a complex pattern around the central museum building.
The State Museum of the State Cultural Center of Turkmenistan is the first and largest one of the 26 museums established following the independence of Turkmenistan. Five clusters of columns, representing the five Turkmen regions, support the dome. In the center of the space between them is a model of the Turkmen state emblem, on a golden plinth.
Between the columns, there are display cases with copies of the texts of some of the key documents in the life of post-independence Turkmenistan, including the 1995 UN General Assembly resolution granting the country its neutrality. The permanent collection of the museum is laid out in eight halls on the ground and first floors. The second floor is used to house temporary exhibitions, usually coinciding with the main national holiday events.
Turkmen Carpet Museum
The Turkmen Carpet Museum sits at 5 Georogly street. The museum presents a large range of carpets from across Turkmenistan in its two floors of galleries, which are located on both sides of the entrance hall. Left side of the ground floor presents the Yomud carpets from western Turkmenistan.
On the first floor there are also many Tekke and Sarik carpets and carpet bags. The displays feature both antique pieces of the 18th and 19th centuries and modern designs, the latter sometimes making a political statement. A carpet from 1968, incorporating designs characteristic of different regions of Turkmenistan, is labeled “The carpet of the brotherhood of all Turkmen tribes”. Nearby is also a carpet representing the family of President Niyazov.
The space between these galleries is occupied by a hall, that has a back wall covered by a huge Tekke carpet, covering an area of 193 m2. This was the work of 40 carpet-makers, who worked during 1941-42 to produce a carpet intended to be used as a curtain at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. It was reported to be too heavy for that purpose and was therefore returned to Turkmenistan. A small carpet at its base lists the names of the carpet-makers who worked on this great project.
This huge carpet is a miniature in comparison with the one hiding in an extension building at the end of the western gallery of the museum. This is a Tekke carpet, covering 301 m2, a prodigious 21,2 m in length and 14 m in width. It was woven in 2001 by 40 carpet-makers of the Baharly state carpet enterprise, who completed the task in time for the tenth anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence.
The carpet is dedicated to the ‘golden age of Saparmurat Turkmenbashy the Great’, and includes President Niyazov’s signature in yellow lettering. There is a certificate proudly attached to the carpet from “Guinness World Records”, supporting the claim that this is indeed the largest hand-woven carpet in the world. The extension building was constructed specifically to house it.
Turkmenbashi Cableway provides magnificent views of Ashgabat and the surrounding desert. It starts from the base of the Kopet Dag, south of the National Museum and climbs to a height of 1293 m above sea level on a lower peak of the Kopet Dag. The top terminal has souvenir shops, a restaurant, cafe, picnic spots, several high-powered telescopes for sightseeing and an 80 m high artificial waterfall. It takes 10 minutes to travel the 3,5 km long cableway.
Gulustan Bazaar is also known as the Russian Bazaar among residents is the largest and oldest covered bazaar located in the center of Ashgabat. The bazaar was established in 1972-1982 with the intention of a Russian architect along with other constructions that were involved in the “Ashgabat Reconstruction Program of 1970-1980. Gulustan Bazaar stands in the solid Soviet structure, based around ten pillars, each supporting a section of the roof. Its central area is filled with fruits, vegetables and other groceries. The central area is surrounded by a line of shops, selling more imported goods, alcohol and household stuff. Clothes stalls surround the main market space to the south and east.
Alemgoshar Bazaar is a cozy suburban market, sits in the southeastern part of the city, and is more widely known as the “Sto Fantanov” (‘100 Fountains’) Bazaar, after a fountain ensemble which lies close by, in the strip of parkland running beside the adjacent 1934 Kochesi. The 100 fountains themselves, built as part of the commemorations in 1981 to mark the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Ashgabat, are less than exciting. 100 little tiled circles, from the centers of which water presumably once spouted, sitting in a basin. Nearby, 100 plane trees are another result of what seem to have been celebrations by numbers. The bazaar is focused on a fruit and vegetable market, with several rows of clothes stores behind.
Guneshli Bazaar means “Sunny Market” which is better known by its Russian name “Optovi” which means wholesale market. It is located on a scruffy plot at the southern edge of town, on the corner of 1945 Kochesi and 1946 Kochesi. There you can get imported packet food, household goods, alcohol and boxes of cigarettes from stalls housed in metal containers.
Kopetdag bazaar lies along 1995 Kochesi, east of the Hotel Nissa. It is commonly known as the ‘Old Fair’, or often simply as the Domiki (‘little houses’), since the stalls comprise chalets, in front of which are metal-framed tented spaces in which the wares are presented. Most of the stalls sell imported clothing and footwear, though a couple of places offer Turkmen handicrafts and carpets.
Altyn Asyr Bazar
Altyn Asyr Bazaar (official name) is more known with its Russian name “Tolkuchka”. It is officially known as the Number 4 Bazaar and also carries the Turkmen name ‘Jygyldyk’, but it is the Russian name that has stuck. Tolkuchka means, roughly, ‘Little Push’, and it seems a more appropriate name for the bazaar. This is the largest bazaar in Ashgabat and Turkmenistan and one of Turkmenistan’s major sights. Nevertheless, it is only open from around 08.00-14.00 on Thursdays, Saturdays and is particularly populated on Sundays.
Tolkuchka Bazaar is located in the outskirt of Ashgabat in the residential area of Choganly. Like any other bazaar, it is a colorful, chaotic place, offering wildly contrasting sights. The marked is packed with everything from animals to Korean carrot salads and certainly some Chinese clothing and shoes with names like “DG” written often little bit inaccurately. Whatever you want, it’s sold at Tolkuchka, but primarily from the point of view of tourists, it is popular for the carpets. If you purchase any carpet remember to get an export certificate for it from the carpet museum before taking it out of the country. Watch out for pickpockets in the bustle of bazar.
Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque
Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque is the greatest mosque in Central Asia that can hold about twenty thousand men and women at the same time. The floor of the mosque is covered in handmade Turkmen praying mats and an enormous eight-sided carpet decorates the very center of the mosque. The mosque consists of two floors: on the first floor, men pray and on the second, women. Furthermore, it has four minarets and a golden dome sits the central upper part of the mosque. The height of each minaret is 91 m, and the dome is 50 m high, covered in gold.
The mosque is enclosed by extravagant fountains and gardens. There is also a huge underground parking area for around 100 buses and 400 cars. The total area of this complex is 36 ha. The mausoleum of the first President of Turkmenistan, Turkmenbashy, and his family is settled next to the mosque.
At the opposite of the entrance to the mausoleum, you can notice the memorial statue in remembrance of the 1948 earthquake in which thousands of people died. In the center of the mausoleum rests the tomb of the late Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy, surrounded by those of his family members who died in World War II and the 1948 earthquake in Ashgabat.
How to Get to Ashgabat
All international flights to Turkmenistan arrive here and Ashgabat is also the point of arrival and departure for each domestic flight, except one route between Dashoguz and Turkmenbashy. From Ashgabat, there are five flights daily to Dashoguz, two to Mary, four to Turkmenabat, and three to Turkmenbashy. There is also a thrice-weekly (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) flight to Balkanabat. All internal flights currently use Boeing 717 aircraft.
Initially known as Saparmurat Turkmenbashy International Airport today is nowadays called just Ashgabat International Airport. It lies at the northwestern edge of the city, some 5 km north of Magtymguly Shayoly. The best (and cheapest) way into the center of Ashgabat from the Airport is to take a shared taxi.
Turkmenistan trains are a rather good, affordable and convenient way to move around the country. Particularly night trains are a good option to save up on accommodation for visitors on a tight budget. Trains however are not always the fastest way to travel inside Turkmenistan. If you are seeking a faster way, airplane, bus, and shared taxi are often better options.
Two trains a day head westwards towards Turkmenbashy. Three trains head east: to Atamurat, Serhetabat and the long journey to Dashoguz via Turkmenabat. There is also a twice-weekly departure to Serakhs. Ticket prices are inexpensive, though vary considerably depending on the class of the seat. The real cost of rail travel in Turkmenistan is measured in time more than distance: around nine hours to Balkanabat, 13 to Turkmenbashy or Turkmenabat, and 24 to Dashoguz.
The Ashgabat’s railway station sits at the northern end of Turkmenbashy Shayoly. You can notice the building right away, with a central spire topped by a crescent and five stars. Its domed central hall features a design-heavy on five-pointed Soviet stars and bunches of wheat. You can check train schedules on the official website.
Bus - Minibus - Taxi
Turkmenistan can also be entered by road borders through the neighboring countries. Turkmenistan shares borders with Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. Once entering a border, you have to pay 14$ entry tax and they can only be paid in US dollars. If you are entering by car, expect the different taxes to be more than about 100$. Make sure to keep an eye on your belongings as there have been reports of robbery in the border control, perhaps by the Turkmen border guards. Remember also to keep in mind what you are carrying to the country since there are regulations for example about the cigarettes, alcohol and certain type of medicines like painkillers and sleeping pills.
Most tourists cross to Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan due to the geographical position. The most popular border is the Farap border not far from Bukhara. There are taxis waiting to offer their services on both sides of the border and if you want to save, you can share the car with other travelers. The Kazakhstan border from the Zhanaozen-Turkmenbashi road is not very popular popular as the road conditions are not the most pleasant ones and taxi services are expensive due to the long distance and somewhat low demand. The border control point to Iran is located in the town called Seraksh, which is about two hour away from Mary. There is a twin town with the same name on the Iran side of the border.
International bus station of Ashgabat is located at very northern end of the city not far from the Altyn Ashyr bazar.
Ashgabat Public Transportation
The most popular mode of travel around the city are the white buses. Yet there no maps or lists of routes much available, so you’ll need to ask locals which bus to take wherever you want to go. Like in almost every other city in the former Soviet Union, you can just hold out your arm on the street and a car will soon stop and give you a lift to wherever you need to go and prices can be negotiated. Ashgabat has no metro or tram system. Taxis are of course always an option.
Sights and destinations near Ahsgabat
Page updated 6.3.2021