Some 35km west of Ashgabat, in a pleasant green valley within the Kopet Dag Mountains, Archabil, known as Firuza until 2001, is the traditional summer retreat for the citizens of Ashgabat. It offers temperatures a crucial few degrees cooler than those of the plains.
There is a scenic route out here from Ashgabat. Head westwards on the road which starts out in Ashgabat as Georogly Kochesi. Pass the village of Bagyr, and then at Julge, further west, turn to the south through an attractive canyon, the Firuza Gorge. The little Firuzinka River babbles attractively through woodland at the foot of the canyon. This is a favourite place for summer picnickers from Ashgabat. For those seeking a more formal place for lunch, the Maral Restaurant at the northern end of the canyon serves good shashlik. Just beyond the canyon is the small settlement of Vanovskiy, where the road forks. Take the left-hand fork for Archabil. The resort can also be reached, more quickly but less scenically, by the Archabil Highway from Berzengi.
Access to Archabil has, however, progressively become more limited, because President Niyazov's main residence lies here. It is now a restricted zone, for which permission to enter must be requested with your Letter of Invitation. Taxis from Ashgabat are not allowed into the settlement: they will take you as far as Vanovskiy, where local Archabil taxis are usually waiting to take you the last few kilometres. Many holiday dachas in Archabil have been demolished, and the government is building up nearby Geokdere as the main summer holiday centre in the Kopet Dag Mountains, in preference to Archabil.
The chief sight in Archabil is a tree. The 'Seven Brothers' is a plane tree, with seven tall trunks rising from a central base sonre 4m wide. An eighth trunk was long ago cut back. Locals will tell you that blood was seen to flow at the site of the cut. A golden railing surrounds the tree, and an information board in Russian and Turkmen tells the legend associated with it.
Long ago, in the territory of present-day Iran, lived a sheikh, who had seven sons and a beautiful daughter named Firuza. These were troubled times, and the sheikh was forced to cross into the Kopet Dag Mountains to seek protection from rival tribes. He discovered this beautiful valley, and settled here. But his enemies found him, and killed all of his sons. Firuza then took up arms, and managed to defeat the aggressors, though she was herself fatally wounded in the battle. The grief-stricken sheikh buried his eight children close to each other, and planted a plane tree over each of their graves. As time passed, the plane trees gradually grew together into a single tree. The story of the 'Seven Brothers' is illustrated in a series of painted panels behind the tree. It stands in a military compound but free access is given.
To the north of here is a pleasant, if slightly run-down, park, which marks the centre of town. It offers cute statues of elephants, bears and panthers, a couple of shashlik options, with open-air dining on tapchans beneath the trees, and a summer disco. Much of the rest of town comprises governnrent dachas and children's summer camps belonging to various ministries. The camps, decorated with slogans and paintings inspired by President Niyazov's works, are, however, being closed in favour-of new sites in Geokdere. The small river flowing through town is tamed inside a concrete channel, which rather diminishes its romantic value.
The presidential residence on the north side of town is both invisible and unmistakable, as it is concealed by a long and high wall. An independence museum, being built nearby as a gift from the United Arab Emirates, was deemed to have occupied a site too close to the presidential residence, and construction was halted. The presence of the residence also means that attempts to walk in the hills around Archabil are likely to earn a rebuke from one of the many people in uniform around the town.