Why is Ashgabat empty? It’s not technically empty. It is almost like a city of secrets and facades hiding a working city in behind the scenes. Like a swan, ever so beautiful and graceful but hiding some frantic paddling beneath the surface!
Ashgabat, the Turkmenistan capital is a city of marble buildings and fountains. It is also an empty city with a population of around 700,000 people. The majority of the population lives in suburbs which are located outside the city limits. This blog post will explore why this could be and what it means for Turkmenistan’s future prospects as well as Ashgabat’s regeneration efforts.
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Why Is Ashgabat Empty?
Where are all the people? There are residential areas in addition to the obvious, white marbled ones. The marbled maze of buildings and statues is very much the facade or, museum district, and it is these images have gone around the world showcasing what can be done with millions of dollars at your disposal. Government, museums and theater building as well as expanses of parks dominate the whole district.
The marble buildings are closer to the central and southern streets. There are luxurious, huge, high-ceilinged apartments in these buildings but the older city bounds to the East, South East and towards the West are more populated residential areas.
What a tourist won’t really see is that almost all the buildings are have rear entrances and you will seldom see locals using the grand front entrances. It appears to be an unwritten (maybe not) rule.
There are generally four reasons as to why you won’t find locals walking the streets and why Ashgabat appears so empty.
- It keeps the facades clean
- The city is not pedestrianized in the way western cities are
- Its so hot it’s not practical to walk. Most people drive from A to B
- When tourists visit the city on a workday most people are working
These ghostly buildings of Ashgabat are treated like national monuments or semi-UNESCO world heritage site status for locals.
This city is so starkly beautiful right now where the Turkmen government haven’t really cottoned on to the fact they have a tourism goldmine at their fingertips.
Dazzling white marble buildings dominate the city at every turn. They are beyond ostentatious (even the puppet theater cost $15 million). Long empty boulevards lead you through the city of statues with huge Turkmen warriors pointing the way forward.
Despite the deserted appearance, Ashgabat has a growing issue with air pollution. Maybe the locals should get out more and walk like the tourists! lol.
The issue is so bad that the government banned private vehicles in May 2021 for a period of two weeks and residents advised to use public transport. This ban or ‘green fortnight’ coincides with the 140th anniversary of the city of Ashgabat.
Unfortunately, planning was not the strong suit of the government and, no measures were put in place to mitigate for the increased demand on public transport. Arguments and confrontations were commonplace. So strict were the green measures that not even Ambulances were allowed to get to patients in need of assistance nor food produce delivered to restaurants and cafes. A truly bizarre situation.
Where Is Ashgabat Located?
Ashgabat is the capital and largest city of Turkmenistan. Located in to the south of the country, it only 20 km from the border with Iran.