(A gardener shrouded against the sun on a 104F (40C) day in Ashgabat. Despite their country’s wealth, ordinary people receive little economic trickle-down. Workers like this one earn around $150 a month maintaining the white marble city.)
Ashgabat is the capital of Turkmenistan and the country’s largest city. Ashgabat is a relatively young city having grown out of a village of the same name established by the Russians in 1881, which itself grew on the ruins of the Silk Road city of the 2nd century BC, Konjikala. Located in a seismic area, Konjikala was leveled by an earthquake in the 1st century BC, but was rebuilt because of its advantageous location on the Silk Road. Konjikala flourished until its destruction by Mongols in the 13th century. After that it survived as a small village until Russians took over in the 19th century. Ashgabat suffered from another destructive earthquake in 1948, that killed two-thirds of its population.
The Alem Entertainment Center in Ashgabat. In 2012 the wheel atop this complex was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest enclosed Ferris wheel. The structure was built at a cost of $90m
After dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the city underwent rapid development and impressive architectural re-styling – there are wide boulevards, green parks, residential towers, magnificent government buildings, mosques, and museums.
The most striking feature of Ashgabat is the marble. Hundreds of soaring government buildings and apartment blocks are clad in imported Italian marble. The central area, in particular, is a veritable marble mile of gleaming white buildings complete with gold trimmings – “an ostentatious display of the country’s natural gas wealth”, says The Guardian.
In 2013 Ashgabat entered the Guinness World Records for having the highest concentration of white marble buildings than any other city in the world. In an area measuring just 22 square km in the capital Ashgabat, there are 543 new buildings clad with 4.5 million cubic meters of white marble.
If the marble was laid out flat, according to Guinness, there would be one square meter of marble for every 4.87 m square meter of land. The main avenue, Bitarap Türkmenistan Sayolu, is 12.6 km long and lined with 170 buildings clad with a total of 1.1 million cubic meters of white marble.
A city that attempts to impress with a ridiculous display of opulence, Ashgabat is hardly prosperous. There is widespread internal poverty, poor educational system, and an oppressive and corrupt government.
One of many golden statues of Saparmurat Niyazov, former President for Life of Turkmenistan, with native Akhal-Teke horses depicted atop a monument marking 10 years of independence. The hardy desert horse is Turkmenistan’s national symbol, and a passion of the current president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
Soldiers stand at attention at the base of the Constitution Monument in Ashgabat
One of many golden statues of Saparmurat Niyazov, former President for Life of Turkmenistan, with native Akhal-Teke horses depicted atop a monument marking 10 years of independence
Inside the Oguzkent Hotel, in the center of Ashgabat.
Another view of the monument
Ashgabat Railway Station.