Ashgabat as a city is hard to describe, mainly because it is completely different to anything I have ever experienced. It is the cleanest city that I have ever seen. The gardens and streets are immaculate and everywhere you look there are gardeners making sure that it all remains perfect.
In keeping with the cleanliness theme: it is illegal to smoke on the streets and cars must be kept clean unless it is raining. Once it stops raining residents have 30 minutes to clean their car otherwise they can be stopped by the police and questioned about the state of their vehicle.
This is something that we experienced after a small shower, luckily the policeman was kind and our guide was not fined. One of the stranger laws is that all cars are required to be either silver or white. Also in Ashgabat we were asked to close the car door a lot more quietly that normal, I am not sure if this is a law but we were asked multiple times by different taxi drivers to do so.
The entire aesthetic of the city is based around a theme of gold, marble and stars. Ashgabat has actually been recognised by the Guinness World Records for having the highest density of buildings made from white marble in the world. This is how it has gained the nicknamed the marble city.
Ashgabat also holds the record for the largest architectural star; the largest indoor ferris wheel; the most fountain pools in a public place and also the largest cycling awareness lesson (even though we didn’t see a single cyclist during our time there).
All of the architecture is very impressive (even the roundabouts are extravagant) and there are lots of interestingly shaped buildings. The ministry of Foreign affairs has a globe on top with Turkmenistan highlighted in gold making it stand out from the rest of the world. The ministry of education is shaped like a book and the ministry of gas looks like a cigarette lighter but is meant to represent a flame.
The sites in Ashgabat are quite spread out when walking so it is a lot easier to go by car. Our hotel called us a taxi and the driver was happy to take us from one attraction to another. We managed to see them all in 2 hours because we didn’t need much time at each monument. It’s easy to take lovely pictures given that everywhere is symmetrical and empty.
Unfortunately on our first day in Ashgabat the weather was very cloudy, fortunately the second time we were in Ashgabat the weather was sunny. Here are some of our highlights:
This monument is 91 meters tall to represent the year that Turkmenistan gained independence (1991). The gardens are beautiful and contain numerous fountains and 27 statues of Turkmen heroes. Apparently locals have nicknamed it ‘the plunger’ because of its shape.
It is also common for wedding parties to take photographs in front of this monument, which we were lucky enough to see. Everyone was dressed in their colourful, traditional attire. The wedding cars were also beautiful with so many intricate decorations on them including doves, a horse and carriage and lots of gold. Traditionally the scarves and ropes that adorn the car would have been draped on camels instead.
This unique building was very close to our hotel Yyldyz. It is the official place that all newlyweds must go to locally register their union. It is also a restaurant and hotel which at night is lit up with coloured lights that change from green to blue to red to yellow.
Indoor Ferris wheel
Alem Entertainment Centre is in the Guinness book of records for being the largest indoor Ferris wheel. According to our guide it is very rarely open but the outside looks very impressive and unique.
Arch of Neutrality monument
The three legs of this monument represent Turkmenistan’s neutral stance in politics. It is topped with a golden statue of the first president which used to rotate so that it was always facing the sun, however now it remains stationary. The arch also has elevators inside the legs of the monument which go up to a panoramic viewing platform. It is known locally as ‘the tripod’.
Ertuğrul Gazi Mosque
This mosque was built in the same style as the blue mosque in Istanbul and honours Ertuğrul, founder of the ottoman empire. It felt more local in comparison to some of the other mosques in the country but at the same time was still very grand and majestic.
This was our favourite park in Ashgabat because of its numerous statues and fountains. It isn’t one of the main sites and consequently there were no guards around which made it feel more relaxed.
This statue is a short walk from Inspiration Alley, in a smaller park near an army barracks. After seeing the Lenin statue in Cuba I felt like I had to visit this one as well.
Halk Hakydasy Memorial
This memorial complex was built to honour those killed in the battle Geok Tepe and the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake. The photo below shows a bull shaking the world between its horns which represents the earthquake. On top of the earth there is a woman lifting up a gold baby to save him. The baby is said to be the previous president Niyazov whose mother and siblings died in the earthquake.
A giant version of the Ruhnama book which was very important during the rule of the previous leader. It is located very close to the independence monument and it used to open at 20:00 every night, but as our guide said ‘no one really cares about it now’.
This photo was taken in the grounds of the independence monument, but shows my hubby modelling a traditional Turkmen hat that we bought at the Russian bazaar for 200 munat. This style is the more formal one which is mostly worn for weddings.
Gypjak Mosque (Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque)
This is the most amazing mosque that I have ever seen, it is huge and the architecture is very impressive. It is the largest mosque in Central Asia, with minarets that are 91 meters tall in honour of the year of independence. The inside was just as impressive as the outside, it looked like a palace and the floor was covered with the softest Turkmen rugs.
It is about a 20 minute drive from the centre of Ashgabat and is built in the same town that Niyazov was born in. It took 2 years to complete and was constructed by a French company.
After looking inside the mosque we walked a short distance to the mausoleum where Niyazov is buried along with his mother and brothers who were killed in the 1948 earthquake. Niyazov is said to have escaped the same fate because he couldn’t sleep and went for a walk. At 01:00 in the morning. At the age of 8.
There is also an empty sarcophagus to symbolise his father who died in world war II. Photos of the inside or very close to the outside are forbidden as a mark of respect, it is guarded by soldiers and rarely open to the public.
Saparmurat Hajji Mosque
This mosque is a 40 minute drive from Ashgabat. It was built in memory of the soldiers who defended the fortress of Geokdepe. You can still see a small amount of it in the grounds of the mosque. This mosque was built before the Gypjak mosque and took only a year to complete. Both were constructed by the same French company.
I wore a long dress but there didn’t seem to be a dress code and I did not have to cover my hair. I definitely recommend visiting both mosques, Saparmurat Hajji had more history behind whereas Gypjak was larger and even more beautiful.
We stayed at the Yyldyz hotel which is on a hill overlooking the city. It is a beautiful luxury hotel and just like the rest of the city, spotless. We stayed in 3 different rooms which all had huge windows with an amazing view.
Its architecture looks like the Burj al Arab in Dubai, but locals have nicknamed it ‘the iron’.
Ashgabat has managed to overtake Skopje as the most unusual city I have ever seen. If you enjoy going off the beaten track then Turkmenistan is a must.
Part of the reason it is one of the least visited countries is the visa application process. We have detailed our experience along with other things to know about Turkmenistan: Things you need to know about travel in Turkmenistan