• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Inside Ashgabat, the world’s strangest and flashy ‘city of the dead’

Inside Ashgabat, the world’s strangest and flashy ‘city of the dead’

Located in the heart of Central Asia, Ashgabat, the white-marbled capital of Turkmenistan, stands as a testament to grandiosity and surrealism.

Its immaculate streets, adorned with monumental buildings and vast parks, paint a picture of luxury and excess. Yet, beneath the surface lies a city veiled in mystery and paradox, where the absence of people belies its architectural splendor.

In the early 2000s, Turkmenistan’s enigmatic leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, famously known as Turkmenbashi, embarked on a grand endeavor to transform Ashgabat into a modern marvel.

His vision was uncompromising, every building must be cloaked in white marble, symbolizing purity and prosperity. This mandate enforced unwavering determination and laid the foundation for Ashgabat’s distinctive architectural landscape.

Inside Ashgabat 2

Under Turkmenbashi’s decree, Ashgabat witnessed an unprecedented surge in marble construction, earning it a Guinness World Record for the highest concentration of white marble-decorated buildings.

The marble purportedly imported from Italy, became the city’s signature façade, reflecting sunlight with blinding brilliance. However, opposition voices raised doubts about the marble’s quality, hinting at its susceptibility to degradation over time.

Ashgabat’s urban fabric is a tale of two contrasting realms – the old town, a relic of the past teeming with life, and the new town, a sterile monument to modernity.

The new city meticulously planned and devoid of human presence, is a testament to Turkmenistan’s authoritarian rule and its penchant for grandeur over practicality.

While Ashgabat dazzles with its grand boulevards and opulent palaces, its streets remain eerily empty, devoid of the vibrancy found in other capitals. The central district, reserved for government elites, is a forbidden enclave, inaccessible to the public.

Inside Ashgabat 1

Ashgabat’s architectural uniformity extends beyond marble-clad buildings to standardized signage, limited font options, and mirrored glass facades. Every edifice is meticulously illuminated, creating a surreal nightscape reminiscent of a utopian dream. The removal of trolleybuses and the ban on satellite dishes further underscores the regime’s obsession with aesthetic control and uniformity.

Amidst Ashgabat’s marble mirage lies the Russian bazaar, a bustling marketplace where glimpses of everyday life emerge amidst the grandiosity.

Here, locals gather to barter and trade, exchanging stories amidst stalls laden with melons, smoked fish, and traditional bread. However, even this bastion of normalcy has not escaped the regime’s gaze, with currency exchanges banned under Berdimuhamedow’s reign.

Ashgabat, with its gleaming marble monuments and empty streets, stands as a paradox in the heart of Central Asia. While its grandeur is undeniable, its purpose remains shrouded in mystery and speculation.

As the city continues to evolve, one cannot help but wonder if its pristine façade will ever truly reflect the vibrant pulse of everyday life.