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Photo Essay: Turkmenistan's Shining Marble City, Ashgabat

Little of the Soviet legacy survives in Turkmenistan. Since gaining independence after the fall of the USSR, Turkmenistan has articulated a new identity and vision for the future through a series of remarkable architectural projects.

Over the last decade, “Distinguished Architect of Turkmenistan" President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has embarked on a mammoth project of reconstruction and beautification of the capital city, Ashgabat. Dozens of historical monuments have been destroyed and thousands of buildings demolished. In their place are enormous white marble stadiums, monuments and modern citadels unlike anything seen in the West. Spanish photographer Arnau Rovira Vidal visited the insular country in 2018, and took these photos of the white city.

President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow enjoys breaking world records. The Alem Entertainment Center entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest enclosed Ferris wheel in 2012. It cost $90m to build.

Ashgabat's Wedding Palace can register 7 pairs of newlyweds at once. There are three celebration halls, seven banquet halls and a room where newlyweds are required to pose in front of a portrait of the President.

More than 70% of Turkmenistan is desert. Water supply is insecure, with around 90% coming from a single source: the Amu Darya river. Water has also been diverted to supply extravagant fountains springing up in Ashgabat’s public squares.

In 2010, Ashgabat was picked to host the 2017 Asian Indoor Games. The government commissioned an entire new village for athletes and renovated the city’s main stadium.

The Ashgabat Olympic Stadium features a 600 ton white marble horse head. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has dedicated several poems and songs to the Akhal-Teke, a Turkmen horse breed.

Ashgabat holds another obscure world record. The highest concentration of white marble-clad buildings in the world. There are 543 new buildings clad with marble, covering a total area of 4.5 million square metres.

You can buy Arnau Rovira Vidal’s original photographs on his website or shop our range of architectural themed posters belowComrade Kiev also creates sustainable, ethical, design-led tours to the most incredible places on earth. We’ve built close relationships with local guides, and will work with you to create an extraordinary trip which fits your budget, timeline and interests. Follow in the footsteps of legendary polar explorers, climb smoking volcanoes in the remote Far East, or cross the endless Gobi desert on camelback. We’ll take you there. We’ll get you closer. Explore our tours.

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A Top 10 Guide to Armenia’s Best Brutalist & Modernist Buildings

With its concrete clover windows and ornately carved scenes in red stone, the National University of Architecture and Construction is one of the most striking examples of Brutalist architecture in Yerevan. The inside is just as beautiful, although if you wander aimlessly through the halls taking photos, the security guards will come and politely escort you off the premises.

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Knocking on Heaven's Door: Armenia's Abandoned Orgov Telescope

Two hours by car from Yerevan, nestled amongst grazing cattle and the farmers who tend to them, is the abandoned remains of a telescope which once searched for signs of life beyond our world. Space exploration was initially a practical concern: rocket technology solved the problem of sending huge nuclear payloads over long distances. But the Space Race soon evolved into something of much greater symbolic significance.

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Armenia’s Modernist Masterpiece: Lake Sevan Writers Retreat

In the 1930s, the Writers’ Union of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic commissioned a writer's retreat to be built on Sevan Island. Around the time that the retreat first opened to writers, Sevan Island was in the middle of a dramatic transformation. The Soviet state was diverting water from Lake Sevan to irrigate the Ararat plain and generate hydroelectric power. Over the next two decades, the lake’s water level fell by around 20 metres, and Sevan Island became a peninsula.

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Memory Palace: Inside the Abandoned Shymkent Palace of Culture

By the late 1980s, there were more than 137,000 Palaces of Culture in the Soviet Union. After its collapse, palaces like the Shymkent Palace of Culture fell into disrepair without the financial backing for their upkeep. “Architecture, which is dependent on time and politics, declines and goes into ruins when it does not receive neither material nor spiritual investment.”

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