Ashgabat: The Capital of Turkmenistan
Updated: Nov 13, 2019
By: Rachel Diotte-Lyles
Overview of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan, previously known as the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, proclaimed independence on October 27th, 1991. Ashgabat is both the capital and largest city in Turkmenistan (Zhmuida, V. B., Allworth, E., Hambly, G. R. G., Sinor, D., & Smith, D. R., n.d.).
Once a rather average Soviet city, Ashgabat has now transformed into a modern fantasy of white marble palaces, modern apartment blocks, and large fountain complexes (Brummel, 2005; The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d).
The city lies in an oasis situated at the northern foot of the Kopet-Dag Range, and on the edge of the Karakum Desert, approximately 30km from the Iranian boondocks (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d).
Various states and empires governed Ashgabat over the course of its history. As a result, the city has undergone several name changes. Initially, the city was established in 1881 as a Russian military post, taking the name of the close by Turkmen settlement of Askhabat.
Following the Russian Revolution, the city was renamed Poltoratsk, until 1927 when it returned to its unique name of Ashkhabat.
Finally, in 1992, the recently autonomous Turkmenistan formally embraced the Turkmen variant of the city’s name, Ashgabat (National Centers for Environmental Information, n.d.; The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d).
When the Russian’s arrived in 1881, it was small town composed of 500 tents. At the time, Russia’s primary focus was building the Trans-Siberian railway. As a result, Ashgabat quickly grew into a city filled with shippers and government employees.
By 1897, Ashgabat's population had risen to 19,238 which continued to grow throughout the years. (Encyclopedia Iranica, 2011).
Currently, Ashgabat is a managerial, mechanical, transportation, and socially focused city. The city has glassworks, cotton weaving and cotton factories, and metalworking shops.
Furthermore, the city has several foundations of advanced education, including a state university, polytechnic, farming, and therapeutic schools. Additionally, the city is home to a showhouse, theaters, and a few historical centers. In 2007, the population of Ashgabat was 744,000 (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d).
Earthquakes have struck Ashgabat several times throughout its history. In fact, in the first century B.C, an earthquake levelled the grounds in which Ashgabat resides in now.
At the time, this was simply a small wine-making town. Additionally, significant earthquakes occurred in 1893, 1895, 1929, and a particularly extreme earthquake on October 6th, 1948 (Encyclopedia Iranica, 2011).
The earthquake of 1948 was classified at a magnitude of 7.3, effectively resulting in a mass destruction. According to reports by the U.S Geological Survey (n.d), brick and concrete structures, as well as freight trains, were severely damaged.
The earthquake essentially diminished the city of Ashgabat to rubble, and an estimated 110,000 lives were lost (U.S Geological Survey, n.d). The death toll was approximately 66% of the population at the time (Knowlton, 2006).
Every year on October 6th, a day of recognition is observed to pay respect to an overwhelming number of casualties from the 1948 earthquake (Zhmuida, V. B., et al., n.d.).
The architecture of Ashgabat reflects several different building styles; from structures dedicated to Niyazov, Western-style inns, Soviet-style city squares, and the conventional Turkmen brick houses (Knowlton, 2006).
Ashgabat achieved its economic and cultural importance quickly, mainly due to its advantageous location at the intersection of several caravan routes (Encyclopedia Iranica, 2011).
The nearby Kopet-Dag Range is also an essential feature of Ashgabat’s economy. The spring which extends along the northern lower regions of the Kopet-Dag region offers vast territories for non irrigated farming.
Additionally, both the mountains and lower regions are wealthy in mineral assets. Its deposits contain zinc, lead, sulfur, barytes, and possibly oil. This oasis is Ashgabat’s economic and cultural center (Encyclopedia Iranica, 2011; Zhmuida, V. B., et al., n.d.).
Steel, engineering, vehicle assembly, oil refining, the manufacturing of building materials and textiles, as well as food, comprises the local industries of Ashgabat. (Encyclopedia Iranica, 2011).
The republic established higher educational institutions in the 1960s and 70s; including the Turkmen State University, teacher schools, polytechnic and agrarian foundations in Ashgabat. (Zhmuida, V. B., et al., n.d.).
Ashgabat typically encounters sweltering, and dry summers, followed by short and gentle winters. The majority of the zone’s precipitation occurs in March and April (U.S Geological Survey, n.d).
Ashgabat is considered to be the cultural center of Turkmenistan, which is home to many of the country’s historical centers and landmarks (Zhmuida, V. B., et al., n.d.).
The most remarkable of these is the National Museum of History. The National Museum of History highlights approximately 50,000 years of Turkmenistan’s history with its sizeable display (Zhmuida, V. B., et al., n.d.).
The city is brimming with marble buildings and brilliant statues. Niyazov’s administration was responsible for the building of many of these monuments. For example, the gold-domed Palace of Knowledge, which both celebrates and praises Niyazov (Zhmuida, V. B., et al., n.d.).
Until 1948, Ashgabat had little notable civic monuments and landmarks to boast. However, the reconstruction program after 1948 aimed to combine both traditional and modern elements into existing and new cultural institutions (Encyclopedia Iranica, 2011).
The many white marble buildings of Ashgabat have earned them a spot in the record books, with the white marble on its structures numbering more than any other city in the world (Associated Press, 2013).
Ashgabat also holds the record for a giant indoor Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel is an estimated 47.6 meters in length and 57 meters in diameter.
Built by the Turkmenistan government, the structure cost roughly $90 million to construct. Turkmenistan’s Day of Revival, Unity, and Magtymguly Poetry marked the grand opening of the Ferris wheel (Guinness World Records, 2012).
In 2008, Ashgabat received the record for the greatest amount of fountain pools, at the number of 27. These fountains are facilitated, programmable, with lights, and synchronized (Most fountain pools in a public place, n.d.).
In 2011, Ashgabat set the world record for the biggest architectural star. This record-setting star was built to commend the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence, additionally to mark Turkmenistan’s “brilliant age”; a time recognized for quick development.
Furthermore, this star also raises awareness about Turkmen culture, as the star’s design is that of the Oguz Khan star, the public image of the country (Mochan, 2011).
The country also had records for the “biggest hand-woven rug” and the “tallest unsupported flagpole” (Mochan, 2011).
Associated Press. (2013, May). Turkmenistan enters record books for having the most white marble buildings. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/26/turkmenistan-world-record-white-marble-buildings
Brummel, P. (2005). Turkmenistan. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press Inc.
Encyclopedia Iranica (2011, August). Ashgabat. Retrieved September 24, 2019, from http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ashkhabad
Guinness World Records. (2012, May). Turkmenistan builds largest indoor Ferris wheel. Retrieved September 24, 2019, from https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2012/5/turkmenistan-builds-largest-indoor-ferris-wheel-42157/
Knowlton, M. (2006). Turkmenistan. New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
National Centers for Environmental Information. (n.d). Comments for the significant earthquake. Retrieved September 24, 2019, from
Mochan, A. (2011, November). Largest architectural star record set in Turkmenistan. Retrieved September 24, 2019, from https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2011/11/largest-architectural-star-record-set-in-turkmenistan/
Most fountain pools in a public place. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2019, from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/5000/most-fountain-pools-in-a-public-place
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2019, March). Ashgabat. Retrieved September 24, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Ashgabat
U.S Geological Survey (n.d) Most Destructive Known Earthquakes on Record in the World. Retrieved September 25, 2019, from https://web.archive.org/web/20090901233953/http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/world/most_destructive.php
Zhmuida, V. B., Allworth, E., Hambly, G. R. G., Sinor, D., & Smith, D. R. (n.d.). Turkmenistan. Retrieved September 24, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Turkmenistan