The focus of Dushanbe is the wide, treelined prospekt (avenue) Rudaki, which runs roughly north from the train station, past Maydoni Ayni (maydoni means 'square'). A walk down Rudaki Avenue is a walk into the story of the city and of Tajikistan too. The blasting Persian pop music, the money-changers with wads in half a dozen currencies, the plate-glass shops bursting with Chinese imports hauled across the Pamir mountains mark the economic vim that drives the city.
A walk from north to south along Rudaki offers an excellent introduction to the city. Almost everything useful or interesting is within a 15-minute walk of central Maydoni Dusti (Friendship Square). The exception is the main bus station, which is some 3km away on kuchai Ibn Sina in the western part of town. The airport is in the southeastern suburbs of the city, 5km from the centre, along Ahmad Donish. Dushanbe street signs sport the Tajik terms kuchai (street), khiyeboni (avenue) and maydoni.
Rudaki Avenue runs north to south through Dushanbe for a little less than four kilometres, so all the main sights are within walking distance. A good starting point for sightseeing is the Presidential Palace at the side of Shahidan Square, which stands on the junction with Ismoil Somoni Street. This large beige coloured building was originally the head quarters of the Tajik Communist Party, and its design is in the Soviet style, with a dash of the orient provided by decoration on the facade and fountains in the gardens to the front of the building. It is surrounded by high railings, and there are always armed guards outside.
President Emomali Rahmon's motorcade sweeps through the gates each morning and evening, when as all other traffic is halted by the police to make way.
At the start of the disturbances that lead to the civil war in the 1990s, this square was the centre of demonstrations, with thousands of people camped out for fifty days.