Why Is Ashgabat Empty? Discover Turkmenistan’s Unique White Marbled City

Turkmenistan's Ashgabat city empty

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 live in suburbs which are located outside the city limits.

What to Expect? 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.

Why Is Ashgabat Empty?

Where are all the people? There are residential areas in addition to the obvious, white marbled ones.

Visiting Ashgabat city tips
Visiting Ashgabat city

The marbled maze of buildings and statues is very much the facade or, museum district, and it is these images that 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.

Take a Closer Look – What a tourist won’t really see is that almost all the buildings 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.

  1. It keeps the facades clean
  2. The city is not pedestrianized in the way western cities are
  3. It is so hot it’s not practical to walk. Most people drive from A to B
  4. 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.

Around empty Ashgabat city
Ashgabat city

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.

What is Ashgabat Known For?

As the capital city of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat is known for its grandiose white marble buildings numbering over 500 individual structures.

It was in fact built almost entirely out of this material, which earned it a nickname “The City of White Marble”.

Is Ashgabat Worth Visiting?

Curiosity may be the driving force behind contemplating a trip to this truly bizarre city.

Due to strict visa rules in Turkmenistan it ranks among the least visited countries in the world with only 7,000 tourist visitors per year.

Though many avoid visiting the secretive nation of Turkmenistan, 100% Ashgabat should be on any itinerary taking you along the Silk Road.

Visa entry to the country will generally be granted once you are part of a guided tour but this added expense and limited freedom is worth it in order to see the modern day wonders of this white marbled city

Air Pollution

Despite the deserted appearance, Ashgabat has a growing issue with air pollution. Maybe the locals should get out more and walk like the tourists!

Ashgabat has issue with air pollution
Ashgabat pollution

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’ coincided 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.

Ashgabat largest city of Turkmenistan
Ashgabat largest city of Turkmenistan location

Located in to the south of the country, it is located only 20 km from the border with Iran.

Why is Ashgabat So Expensive

Ashgabat’s extreme wealth and poverty are not unique in the world.

The poorer section of society live a harsher life than you would imagine in such a seemingly wealthy country.

Turkmenistan has been closed off from the outside world for many years due to its strict dictatorial regime which has seen it fall behind when compared with other countries both socially and economically.

This means there is no real history or culture tourists can visit except grand palaces built by previous leaders who were equally as corrupt as the current one – President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow who recently won re-election with 97% of votes cast, with a turnout of 88.24%.

Ashgabat's extreme wealth and poverty
Is Ashgabat expensive

We can see why Berdimuhamedow and his predecessors were so keen to keep the world out as Turkmenistan lacks any historical architecture which is often appealing for tourists.

Instead Ashgabat has grandiose buildings reflecting its former leaders’ megalomania with their own golden statues!

This is why we need history lessons in school as they teach you about cultural heritage that makes countries unique compared to other nations.

The lack of social welfare programs or assistance for those less financially endowed means there are few avenues left open apart from crime to make money – drug dealing, prostitution etc.

Ashgabat Earthquake museum entrance
Ashgabat Earthquake museum

These activities have risen significantly due to poverty levels which still remain high despite the wealth coming into the country from the export of oil, gas and petrochemical initiatives.

Getting A Turkmenistan Visa

A Turkmenistan Tourist visa is required for entry into the country and you’ll need to coordinate this with the tour company you will use for your guided tour.

Generally the tour company will organize everything once you make contact with them.

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