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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 37.9502, 58.3802
Originally developed by the Russians in the 19th century Ashqabat ('City of Love' in Arabic) is certainly the oddest city yet. It was completely demolished by an earthquake (9 on the Richter scale) on 6 October 1948 which also killed over a third of the population. A certain amount of rebuilding was done in the Soviet era but since independence in 1991 and the acquisition of huge wealth through gas (mostly) and oil and the influence of mad presidents the place has been completely transformed.
Huge highways and boulevards lined with glistening white buildings - apartments, government ministries, some private companies - lots of Turkish construction companies. But no shops - they have all been put into centralized bazaars and shopping centres. Loads of monumental parks and buildings - the Constitution Monument, Independence Square, Arch of Neutrality etc etc - all the most gaudy and unpleasant buildings - but no people. In the vast Independence square with ranks of fountains all performing in synch there wasn't a peron to be seen (unless you count the police/soldiers and ranks of lady cleaners), The Constitution Monument had an exhibiton hall under it - but it was closed. I was taken to
their equivalent of the London Eye - except it is encased inside a building! So difficult to get a view - and underneath that a childs 'play' area - but no people, no children.
The roads are largely empty of traffic, and there are the most elaborate bus stops (enclosed - air conditioned I think) but not many people on buses either. My guide (whose name is Serdar, by the way) tells me everyone drives to work - but where are the car parks (underground?)
There are lots and lots of statues of presidents. The first president (who renamed himself Turkmenbashi and even had one statue of himself built that rotated so he always faced the sun!). And the new president wasn't happy with the old presidential palace so turned that into a conference hall and had a new palace built.
We went to the History Museum - there were 6 people in it. We went to the Carpet Museum - 2 people, us! And the attendants follow you round and watch you. (Actually the carpet museum wasn't a museum - there was nothing older than 50 years, I think it was a shop - make a suitable offer and evdrything is for
One interesting thing needed a trip out of town to see an ancient Bronze Age city - Nisa.Built of mud brick but enough remained (or had been enhanced) to give you an idea of the rooms and spaces - though the Italian archaeologists recently threw a spanner in the works by saying it wasn't a royal palace/residence but a religious centre - initially Zoroastrian.
I've been getting myself into trouble arguing with soldiers. You are walking happily down the street when a soldier stops you and tells you to cross over, generally because you are about to pass some 'sensitive' building, cabinet office or whatever. Of course that's a red rag to a bull for me so I tell them I don't understand and only speak English and keep walking. Though once a senior officer was called to reinforce the 'advice'
The odd thing is. Serdar, whose views I accept and respect about a lot of things (like too many policemen) thinks it is all great and there is no problem with the president being re-elected with over 90% of the vote! Oh - and the first president banned Opera and Ballet (what - men without trousers!)
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