Ashgabat is the capital city of Turkmenistan. Its name literally translates to the “city of love,” and there really is no shortage of that there. The lavish palaces and vast parks add a very romantic feel to a city that has reinvented itself to become a modern capital. Funded by Turkmenistan’s oil and gas revenues, the city continues to undergo development, with structures and landscapes being modernized amidst a peaceful setting.
Despite being almost completely destroyed by a massive earthquake in October 1948, Ashgabat was rebuilt from the ground up, and has since become a city thriving with activity. With great accommodations and a relaxed aura, the city is a great starting point for your Turkmenistan travels.
Located in central Turkmenistan, the village of Darvaza is 260km north of Ashgabat. The village itself is a simple one, but tourists flock the area because of something unique – the “Door to Hell.”
The “Door to Hell” is the name locals have given to a burning gas crater located near the village.
During a gas drilling operation in 1971, an underground gas chamber was discovered. However, because the find was unexpected, the drilling rig collapsed, exposing a chamber filled with poisonous gas. Before the fumes could reach the nearby village, it was decided to set the chamber on fire to eliminate the poisonous gases.
To this day, the gas chamber still continues to burn. The geologists who uncovered the chamber thought that the gas would run out after a few days, but it’s been 40 years since then.
With a diameter of about 70 meters, the Door to Hell is certainly a sight to behold. Ironically, “Darvaza,” the village near this infamous door, can be translated into English as “The Gate.”
Merv was once known as Marv-i-shahjahan, which means Merv, Queen of the World. It was one of the great centers of Islam in ancient times, along with Cairo,Damascus and Baghdad. Aside from being a center of religious activity and study, it was also a prominent stop along the fabled Silk Road, making it a center of commerce as well.
Today, almost nothing remains that would tell of the grandeur the city once possessed. What once was a melting pot of religion and culture disappeared in a day, after the sons of Genghis Khan slaughtered the city’s population.
When you visit Merv, you will see scattered ruins of pottery, walls, and foundations – the only remnants of the palaces, mosques, and thousands of residences that used to stand in the ancient city.
The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Konye-Urgench, which means Old Urgench in Persian, is currently a rural backwater town with simple plazas and agricultural fields. However, this site was formerly the capital of the Khorezm empire, making it one of the most important cities in the ancient Central Asian deserts.
The region has a rich history that can bee seen in the ruins that you will see. Khorezm was attacked and captured by Genghis Khan in 1221, and rebuilt into a prosperous trading town as part of Khan’s Golden Horde. In 1338 it was destroyed by Timur, then rebuilt in the 16th century. It was later abandoned after the Amu-Darya river changed its course away from the city.
What you will see in the buildings is just “the tip” of the history of Konye-Urgench. Most of Old Urgench is buried underground, and excavations in the area continue to dig up ruins of buildings and smaller cultural items. Because of this, UNESCO recognized it as a World Heritage Site in 2005.
The Ertugrul Gazi Mosque, also known as the Azadi Mosque, is a beautiful mosque located at the heart of Ashgabat.
The Ertugrul Gazi Mosque was built in honor of the late Ertugrul, the father of the founder of the legendary Ottoman Empire, Osman I. A striking landmark in the capital, the mosque features four towering minarets and a picturesque central dome. The lavish design of the mosque’s interior, along with its colorful stained glass windows, adds elegance to an already captivating structure.
Reminiscent of the fabled Blue Mosque that can be found in Istanbul, the Ertugrul Gazi Mosque was inaugurated in 1998. The mosque can accommodate more than 5,000 worshippers at a time, which is a necessity during special days in the Islamic calendar, when followers flock to the mosque to pray.