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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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Further Reading

culture

The eagle has landed: Hunting with the last eagle hunters in Kyrgyzstan

High above the southern shore of Issyk-Kul lake, in east Kyrgyzstan, we wait and watch for movement on the rocky hillside below. Movement means prey. And that means that the hunt is on. For centuries, the nomadic people of Central Asia have used eagles to hunt for food and fur. On one a freezing morning in December, I went hunting with Nur-Sultan, Kyrgyzstan’s most famous eagle hunter.

architecture

Castles & Controversy: Inside Turkey's $200m Abandoned Town

A few hours drive from Istanbul is a remote valley with soft rolling slopes that is surrounded by woodland. What sets it apart from other valleys in the area, is the hundreds of identical chateaus. More than 500 palatial homes sit abandoned on a 250 acre site. I have a deep interest in the Soviet Union and abandoned places. While this town isn’t Soviet, it’s too bizarre to not write about.

travel

The Land of Fire: The Do’s and Don'ts in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, the land of fire and authoritarianism. Azerbaijan literally translates to ‘protector of fire’, while the textbook definition of authoritarianism is its ‘president’, Ilham Aliyev. I spent three weeks in Azerbaijan, which was probably two weeks too many. Here is my list of places to visit...and avoid.

culture

Soviet Sanatoriums: The Crumbling Remains of Tskaltubo, Georgia

In the USSR, a spa weekend wasn’t a pampered holiday. It was a requisite, prescribed by the Soviet state. In their heyday, millions of citizens across the Soviet Union visited sanatoriums each year, on an all expenses retreat paid for by the state. Today these icons of communism are crumbling, in varying states of decay, with just a few still welcoming guests.

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