The centre of political power in Ashgabat is focused on a large tarmac rectangle of ground in the centre of the city, surrounded by the glittering domes and shiny white-marble facades of its grandest buildings. The western side of the square is occupied by the gold-domed Turkmenbashy Palace, built by the French construction company Bouygues. Senior official visitors to Turkmenistan pass through (lie huge and opulently furnished entrance hall beneath the dome on their way to meetings with President Niyazov here. Approaching the fence surrounding the palace to take a closer look will probably earn you a stern rebuke from one of the many uniformed officials on guard.
The smaller golden-domed structure opposite the Turkmenbashy Palace is the rostrum, in front of which processions of troops and military hardware, industrial workers, students, dancers and Ahal Tekke horses parade during major government celebrations. The president watches proceedings from the first-floor balcony, while diplomats and officials sit below. On the northern side of this is the only Soviet-era building remaining on the square. The national library, now named in honour of Saparmurat Turkmenbashy but once dedicated to Karl Marx, is a concrete square, completed in 1974, its interior walls enlivened by intriguing hieroglyphic designs. On the ceiling of the second floor, staring down over a flight of concrete steps below, is a wooden relief by sculptor Ernst Neisvestniy, modelled on the marble sculpture of the Parthian Princess Rodogon, now in the National Museum.
The southern side of Turkmenbashy Square is occupied by the Ruhyyet Palace, with its pastel-blue central dome spawning four smaller domes. This is another marble-faced building of French design. Its auditorium, which seats 2,800 people, was designed to be large enough to accommodate the 2,500-member People's Council, ostensibly the highest decision-making body in Turkmenistan. This building is also used for concerts organised by the Turkmen government to commemorate the main public holidays, at which most of the songs are either about the president or written by him. The Ruhyyet Palace was also the venue for the summit ot the five Caspian heads of state, held in Ashgabat in 2002, which aimed to give some impetus to negotiations on the delimitation of that body of water.
The buildings of two Turkmen ministries sit either side of the Ruhyyet Palace, in symmetrical marble-faced buildings with bevelled fagades and shallow white domes. On the eastern side of the palace is the Ministry of Defence, with a statue of President Niyazov in front. Its sister structure to the west is the Palace of Justice, which holds both Turkmenistan's Justice Ministry and Supreme Court. The statue in front of this building is an image of Niyazov's mother, Gurbansoltan Eje, holding the scales of justice in her right hand.