Sights in Turkmenistan

We recommend that you visit the sights listed below by category and by name.
SUGGESTED PLACES TO VISIT BY CATEGORY

CARPETS

  • The Turkmen Carpet Museum in Ashgabat
  • Visit to a national carpet factory
  • Oriental bazaar/carpet market (Th., Sa.,Su.) where you can find old and new rugs, jewelry, textiles, coins — a very popular tourist stop in Turkmenistan!
  • Fashion show in Ashgabat, with sale of carpets, mats and articles of national clothing and (for groups of 10 or more) dinner with wine

EMBROIDERY AND TEXTILES

  • Fine Arts Museum
  • National Museum of History and Ethnography (Berzenghee Settlement)
  • Visit with a Turkmen family of craftsmen, displaying and offering for sale their handmade textiles

JEWELRY

  • Fine Arts Museum
  • National Museum of History and Ethnography (Berzenghee Settlement)
  • Jewelry show of a wide assortment of Turkmen silver jewelry from the 19th and 20th centuries

ARCHITECTURE

  • Kunia
  • Urgench
  • Ancient Merv
  • Ancient Nisa
  • History Museum at Mary

NATIONAL CULTURE

  • Camel Safari trips
  • Akhal-Teke horse show and racing in the Hippodrome and in the Kopet Dagh Mountains
  • Ashgabat city pure-bred horse show
  • Traditional Turkmen wedding celebration and dinner
  • Folk dancing show

Nisa (Parthia) | Gonour-Depe | Marghiana | Merv
Museum of History and Archaeology (Merv) | Kunya-Urgench (Khorezm)
Anau | Turkmen carpets | Oriental bazaar | Akhal-Teke horses
Underground lake | Koughitang Mountains | Badkhyz National Reserve

NISA

Capital of Ancient Parthia; 3rd century B.C. – 3rd century A.D. (25km/16m from Ashgabat)

The ancient city of Nisa is mentioned in the Zend-Avesta, the sacred book of Zoroastrianism. In the 4th century B.C. Parthia was a part of Alexander the Great’s kingdom, then it became an independent state. It was a large city and the family residence of kings. The period of Parthia’s military success and political might occurred during the 2nd to 1st centuries B.C., when its possessions stretched from modern-day Syria to India. An army led by Roman commander Crassus, famous for his defeat of slaves’ revolt headed by Spartacus, was crushed by the Parthian army.

Currently in Nisa you can see the remains of the royal fortress. During the Old Nisa excavations, the temples wer exposed. The ritons (ritual vessels of ivory) are of special interest, with their griffin motifs. Nisa bears the stamp of various civilizations, since during its history the city was conquered several times by a number of different powers — Alexander the Great, the Selevkids, Rome, the Sasanids, Arabs, Khoresm, Turkmen-Selgeuks, Genghis-Khan, and the Teke tribe of Turkmen.

MARGHIANA

Marghiana is home to one of the world’s earliest known civilizations. Modern day Marghian archaeological excavations began in the southeast Kara-Kum desert in 1972, undertaken by the Russian Institute of Archaeology of Academy of Sciences and the Turkmenistan Academy of Sciences Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography. This work has brought forth evidence of the previously undiscovered civilization of Margush, which is mentioned in Ancient Persian tables and on the famous Bekhistoun rock. These references describe an ancient country situated in the delta of Mourghab River. Today, you can see the remains of over 300 ancient settlements, consisting of large cities and small villages, majestic palaces and temples.

The first attempts to settle the Merv oasis occurred around 4000 B.C., though the so-called ‘Anau’ tribes essentially passed through the region without mastering the Mourghab River delta. It was only just after 2000 B.C. that the area might be considered a true country or civilization, inhabited by or connected mainly with tribes that came from the Kopet-Dagh Mountains and tribes from the West, in what is now Iran. Ancient villages stretched in a chain from North to the South along the lateral riverbeds, forming several irrigation oases. The Kelleli (Bronze) period (1750-1500 B.C.) is represented by monuments of the Kelleli and Egri-Bogaz oases, created by pranks from the South Turkmenistan. The Gonour period (1500-1250 B.C.) is recognized as the time when ancient Marghiana flourished, as seen in monuments of the Gonour, Auchin, Taip, Adji-Koun and Adam-Basam oases. The Togolok (Early Iron) period (1250-1000 B.C.) marks the construction of large Proto-zoroastrian temples, as seen in monuments of the Togolok and Takhirbay oases. The Takhirbay period (1000-750 B.C.) witnessed the decline of Marghiana settlements and civilization. The unpredictable waters of the Mourghab River forced tribes settled on its banks to search for new fertile lands.

GONOUR-DEPE

Near the the modern town of Bairam-Ali, pranks from Marghiana formed a settlement of landowners, beginnings of the ancient Merv settlement of Gonour-Depe (1500-1250 B.C.), which served as the capital city of of Marghiana. This enourmous (over 20ha) non-fortified settlement features a monumental temple situated nearby. Inside the settlement is a square-form kremlin (125x120m) with powerful external walls (height 3m, thickness 1m). Southward from Gonour (~50m) is situated a fortress temple (130x125m) with cult rooms and an altar. Nearby settlements were revealed to have been the quarters of handicraftsmen such as ceramists, founders, smiths and stonecutters.

ANCIENT MERV

Merv oasis is one of the most ancient historic-cultural regions of the Central Asia. For many centuries, the civilization at ancient Merv (40km/25m from Marynear Bairam-Ali), was regarded as one of richest, most highly cultured centres of the Ancient East. Today, the ruins at Merv reveal several settlements of the area which arose and perished with visible remains of the ancient towns of Erk-Kala, Gyaur-Kala, Sultan-Kala, Abdullakhan-Kala and Bairamalikhan-Kala. You can also see the ruins of the Kyz-Kala fortress (6th-7th centuries).

In the mid-12th century, the main achievement was the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar (right). Archaeologists have excavated an archaic East Protozoroastrian temple on the Togolok 21 settlement, in what is now the desert zone. Evidence from that temple points to the fact that it was the center of its contempoarary civilization and had close contact with similar civilizations in Iran, India and Mesopotamia. In the North-East part of the city rises the Shriar-Ark citadel, with the sultan’s palace, state divans, fisc and barracks. The Madjan canal crossed the whole city from the South to the North, and it supplied the city with water by means of numerous overflows, built from burnt brick. In the center of the city at cross- road of main streets there was a charsu, where the most important state acts took place; the cathedral mosque and the house of government were nearby.

MUSEUM OF HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY IN MARY

Tourists can study an extensive collection of artifacts from the numerous civilizations that flourished throughout ancient Turkmenistan. Also on display are archaeological finds dating from the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras, including flint tools, beads, and handmade vessels. Exhibits from the town Gonour-Depe include a scale model of the ancient city, ceramic vessels, vases, bowls, and small glasses. There is a warder with unique decoration, cosmetic flasks and bottles made of gold, silver, stone and clay, round-shaped seals with unknown designs, bronze axes of bird’s head shape. Excellent museum tour guides will narrate where, when and how all of these objects were used. Merv was a melting pot of place of the ancient worlds’ religions, and in the museum you will have an opportunity to see evidence of all of them. The museum is a great place to visit for people of all ages and interests.

KUNYA-URGENCH

The heart of ancient Khorezm, 100km/75m from Dashkhowuz

Fortunately, several outstanding architectural structures have survived in Kunya-Urgench (‘old Urgench’). Visit the mausoleums of Fahr-ad-din Razi (13th century), Tekesh Khorezmshakh (13th century), Turabek-khanum (14th century), the fortress of Ak-Kala and the minaret of the mosque (62m). The ruins are a brilliant testament to the extraordinary skills of the Urgench school of architecture and construction. The 10th century historian Istakhry wrote that “Urgench is the largest in Khoresm after its capital (Kyata), is the place of guzars’ trade, and caravans come of it to Djurdjan (Gurgan), Khasar and Khorasan”. The country was divided in two parts: Kyata is the capital of the Southern Khoresm, Urgench of the Northern Khoresm. In the Kunia-Urgench territory there are numerous archaeological and architectural monuments of considerable scientific and cultural interest.

Fakir-ad-din mausoleums, built during the 12th or 13th centuries, are situated in the Eastern region of Kunia-Urgench. The mausoleum is essentially a square structure, crowned with a twelve-sided marquee. The Tekesh mausoleum is 500m to the North-West from the Fakir-ad-din Rasi mausoleum. This is a semi-cubic structure, crowned with the high conic cupola. The Tjurebek-khanum mausoleum is connected with wife’s name of the Urgench governor Kutluk-E-Timour. The building consists of a large twelve-sided building with a high portal, joining from the South, and the small right-angled building from the North. The mausoleum ensemble of Nadjim-ad-din Kubra and Sultan-Ali is situated in the centre of a Muslim cemetery. The Southern mausoleum of Nadjim-ad-din Kubra was constructed in the first half of the 14th century. Visits to these ruins will provide good insight into the culture of Kunia-Urgench, one of the medieval political and cultural centers of Ancient East.

ANAU

The ancient city of Anau (20 km/12m from Ashgabat) existed in Turkmenistan during the Parthian period (around 500 B.C.). The fortress was founded by the Sasanid King Khosrov Anushirvan (6th century A.D.). A remarkable architectural ensemble was built here, one which continued to attract visitors up to 1948 when it was totally destroyed by an earthquake. Even today as we gaze on the ruins of a magnificent mosque we can imagine what it was like five centuries ago.

TURKMEN CARPETS

Carpets and carpet-making in Turkmenistan arose from the needs of its inhabitants’ nomadic lifestyle. They served not only as floor-covering, but satisfied asthetic desires of the people as well. Carpet products — chuvals khorjuns (sacks), torbas (tent and saddle-bags) — were designed for use as clothing and for transportation of various household items in “carpet bags.” Carpet products decorated camels, horses, nomad tents, and wedding processions. Tourists can admire the art of carpet-making in the Turkmen Carpet Museum in Ashgabat, where the world’s biggest carpet hangs. The carpet is 80m long and 10m wide, took four women three and a half years to create, and is displayed folded in two! In addition, you can see unique carpets and rugs decorated with ornaments of different Turkmen tribes, as well as carpet portraits.

Another popular attraction is a visit to the ORIENTAL BAZAAR (Th., Sa., Su.), situated beyond the Ashgabad territory in the area of the Kara-Kum channel. It is an open-air market, just as it was during the time of The Silk Road, and it is the largest one in Turkmenistan. A broad selection of national carpets, rugs and adornments, both new and used, covers over 2 hectares. The entire range of Turkmen folk art is represented as well, including silver jewelry, national dresses, handmade silk and other samples of applied arts. Aside from the native products at the bazaar, goods from different countries of Europe and Asia are also available, all at excellent prices.

On Sundays, beginning on the last Sunday in April through the end of May, and from last Sunday in August through the end of October, you can observe horse riding at the AKHAL-TEKE at the Hippodrome, where tourists can also ride horses or camels. For the Turkmen people, horse riding has always been the most popular sport, and in the ancient world, they were regarded as the best horse breeders. At all stages of its development, the Akhal-Teke horse was superior to any other species. Turkmen ancestors highly appreciated battle qualities of their horses, and through several thousands years of breeding, Turkmens have been perfecting the breed. Come see how their labors have been rewarded!

THE BAKHARDEN UNDERGROUND LAKE “Kov-Ata”

About 110 km/68m from Ashkhabad is the wonderfully beautiful and unique cave, Kov-Ata, one of Turkmenistan’s most popular tourist attractions. At the bottom of the cave, a majestic lake is situated. The water temperature is permanent +36°C. The water is pure and it has healing quality. On the way into the cave, down 266 steps, tourists can marvel at magnificent underground stalactites and discover bat’s bevies. The lake is open year-round because of constant temperature of the water and air. Kov-Ata is old and mysterious, hence it has become legendary. One story goes as follows: “Many years ago, two young people were in love with each other, but being afraid of their parent’s wrath, they ran away from their homes. Their parents decided to find them and harshly punish them both. When the parents were closing in on the fleeing couple, they kneed before a huge rock and began praying. The strength of their love and faith was so strong that the rack opened and the loving couple hid inside. Awful flying monsters appeared out of the cave and mauled the chasers.”

THE KOUGHITANG MOUNTAINS

Another popular destination in Turmenistan is mountainous landscape of the Gaurdack-Koughitang region, located on the boundary with Uzbekistan and covering the extreme sout-eastern portion of our country. The main areas are the Koughitang-Tau mountain ridge, Gaurdack Mountain, and a nubmer of smaller peaks, all a part of the Ghissar range. The highest point in Turkmenistan, Airy-Baba (3,730 m) is here. The Gaurdack-Koughitang relief is very sharp; the mountain peaks have acute, narrow crests and steep slopes.

There are a number of other natural sights to see in this region, including the Karliuck Cave, the karst lakes, the Koughitang River, the waterfalls at Oumar-Dere (Khodjepil Settlment), Toutly-Dere (Bazar-Depe Settlement), a wide range of vegitation, the onubai grove in Kouitan Settlement, and the Khodjinstant hydrosuphuric spring, said to be a sacred place by settlement inhabitants, which is visited by tourists from all over the world for treatment of skin conditions.

The Koughitang Mountains are also home to the famous “Dinosaurs’ Footsteps” (1,200 km/744m from Ashgabat, 2hrs by plane). Along the sloping plateau are the well-preserved footprints (over 2000, ranging from 60-90cm across) of dinosaurs.

The special pride of this region is the Karluick Caves, with interest to geologists (the richest wandering rock formation), hydro-geologists (underground thermal waters), biologists (cave fish and dinosaur footprints), and archaeologists. The caves are navigable for approximately 20km/12m, and they represent the height of visual and natural scientific beauty in Turkmenistan, with their underground halls, stalagmites and stalactites, and other colorful rock formations.

THE BADKHYZ NATIONAL RESERVE

The Badkhyz National Reserve is located in the South, between the Tedjen and Mourghab rivers in the territory of the Taghta-Bazaar and Serakhs districts. It is roughly the same latitude as Northern India in the vicinity of the town of Kushka, and covers 88,000 hectares. It’s landscape is similar to the African savannah, and is often compared to the Africa’s famous Serengheti National Park in Kenya. The reserve is home to over 600 species of plants, 30 species of reptiles, 35 mammals, and approximately 250 species of birds. The reserve was set aside in 1941 for the purpose of rescuing the koulan wild horse from extinction. Presently, there are nearly 2,000 koulan horses in the reserve.