Ashgabat: Why It’s Considered the World’s Strangest City

Have you ever seen a city that could double as a futuristic set from a science fiction movie? If the answer is no, then you’ve probably never been to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. White marble buildings stretching as far as the eye can see, grandiose monuments, and eerily empty streets – this basically sums up the aesthetic of this strange city. You’ll have to understand one thing – this isn’t your typical tourist travel destination. This is a place that will leave you both fascinated and bewildered. So, let’s take a virtual tour through Ashgabat and explore why it’s earned its reputation as the world’s weirdest metropolis.

Marble, Marble Everywhere

Let’s start with the elephant in the room – the city’s endless amount of marble. How real the obsession is, proves the fact that Ashgabat holds the Guinness World Record for the highest density of white marble-clad buildings. Walking through the city, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled into a giant marble quarry that somehow transformed into a metropolis. Everywhere you look, buildings shine with a bright, almost blinding white. Government buildings, apartments, schools—everything is covered in this luxurious stone. Even though it sounds super luxe at first, the absurd amount of it almost makes it a bit unsettling.

This marble obsession began under Saparmurat Niyazov, the late president of Turkmenistan. Niyazov ruled from 1985 until his death in 2006, and was known as Turkmenbashi or “Leader of the Turkmens.” You see, he had a soft spot for grandiose and often eccentric architectural projects. He believed that covering the city in marble would symbolize Turkmenistan’s wealth and splendor. Whether or not it achieved that goal is up for debate, but it certainly made Ashgabat stand out on the global stage.

Monuments That Make You Scratch Your Head

Now, let’s talk about the monuments. Ashgabat is packed with them, each more elaborate and puzzling than the last. The most iconic is probably the Neutrality Monument. This 75-meter-high structure features a golden statue of Niyazov that rotates to always face the sun. Yes, you read that right—a rotating golden statue. I’ve warned you that Niyazov was a character, right? At night, the obnoxiously large statue is illuminated, casting a surreal glow over the city. Then there’s the Arch of Neutrality, another colossal structure celebrating Turkmenistan’s policy of neutrality. Like many of Ashgabat’s landmarks, the arch is lit up with colorful lights at night, making the city glow once the sun sets.

Another monument that you can’t miss is the Earthquake Memorial. This is a sad yet striking tribute to the 1948 earthquake that devastated Ashgabat. The centerpiece is a giant globe held up by a bull and a snake—figures from Turkmen mythology—symbolizing the weight of the world and the city’s resilience. And we can’t forget about the Independence Monument either. This structure resembles a white, bejeweled rocket ship and stands as a symbol of Turkmenistan’s independence from the Soviet Union.

Fountains in the Desert

In a country that’s predominantly desert, Ashgabat’s numerous fountains might seem out of place. Yet, the city is dotted with elaborate water features, many of which are, once again, illuminated at night. This creates a vibrant, colorful spectacle, especially when paired with the numerous monuments. The Independence Park is a prime example, featuring a sprawling array of fountains and golden sculptures.

However, these fountains are more than just decorative; they symbolize prosperity and progress. In a region where water is scarce, the abundant use of fountains makes a bold statement about the country’s wealth and resources. Seems like everything is about flexing in Ashgabat, right? However, you have to admit – the contrast between the desert surroundings and the lush, water-rich cityscape really gives this place a unique charm.

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The Ghost Town Effect

One of the most striking aspects of Ashgabat is its emptiness. Despite its huge infrastructure and impressive buildings, the streets often feel deserted. Walking through the city can feel like exploring a ghost town. Wide boulevards, pristine parks, and vast public squares are often devoid of people, giving the city an eerie, post-apocalyptic vibe. This city has a population of almost one million people, however, you would feel like that isn’t the case when you’re exploring it. This could also be influenced by the strict government controls that limit public gatherings and monitor residents closely. In fact, this is probably one of the most restricted places on earth.

Turkmenbashi’s Legacy

Ashgabat’s peculiarities are deeply intertwined with Turkmenistan’s political history. Saparmurat Niyazov’s rule was marked by a cult of personality that saw his image and influence permeate every aspect of life. His legacy is literally built into the city’s architecture, with numerous monuments and buildings dedicated to him. Niyazov’s successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, has continued this tradition of grandiose projects. Berdimuhamedow has focused on modernizing the city, with projects like the Olympic Complex, the Turkmenistan Tower, and various luxury hotels. These efforts are aimed at showcasing Turkmenistan as a modern, forward-thinking nation, though the eccentricity remains.

Another thing that you have to understand about Ashgabat is that they love a good Guinness World Record. The city boasts several, including the world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel, housed in the Alem Cultural and Entertainment Center. This Ferris wheel isn’t just a ride; it’s a symbol of the city’s quirky side. Standing at 47.6 meters, it’s an impressive feat of engineering that adds to Ashgabat’s list of unique attractions. Another record-holder is the world’s largest architectural star, which is placed on one of the city’s many government buildings. These records are a great example of how important it is for them to stand out on the global stage.

So, Why Visit Ashgabat?

You might be wondering, why should I visit Ashgabat? The answer lies in its uniqueness. Ashgabat offers an experience unlike any other city. It’s a place where the surreal meets the spectacular, where history and modernity blend in the most unexpected ways. Stroll through its pristine parks, marvel at its record-breaking structures, and soak in the sheer strangeness of it all. Ashgabat is a city that defies expectations and leaves you with stories to tell for a lifetime.

Kanita is a wanderlust-fueled traveler with an inclination for unraveling the mysteries of history, the paranormal, and the bizarre world of medicine. As a true crime buff, Kanita's nights are often spent delving into the depths of chilling mysteries. Yet, it's not just the paranormal that captivates her—her background in medicine fuels a fascination with the weird and wonderful world of medical oddities, from twisted historical practices to the myths and legends that shroud the field. From exploring haunted locales to uncovering the strange and morbid tales of medical history, Kanita is your guide to the unconventional, the unexplained, and the downright eerie.

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