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National Museum of History & Ethnography

Opened in 1998 during a visit to Turkmenistan of Turkish President Demirel, the National Museum 12 489018) is a sumptuous building in the southern suburb of Berzengi, its blue dome set attractively against the Kopet Dag Mountains behind. A path leads up to the museum from Archabil Shayoly, taking you past twin sculptures of winged horses and zig-zagging columned arcades, which trace a complex pattern around the central museum building. The museum is open 10.00-17.00, except Tuesdays. The State Museum of the State Cultural Center of Turkmenistan is the first and largest one of the 26 museums established following the independence of Turkmenistan. 

The large space beneath the central dome is an area designed to awe rather than inform. Five clusters of columns, representing the five Turkmen regions, support the dome. In the centre of the space between them is a model of the Turkmen state emblem, on a golden plinth. Between the columns are display cases with copies of the texts of some of the key documents in the life of post-independence Turkmenistan, including the 1995 UN General Assembly resolution granting the country its neutrality. The permanent collection of the museum is laid out in eight halls on the ground and first floors. The second floor is used to house temporary exhibitions, usually coinciding with the main national holiday events.

A three-storey museum complex occupies about 15,000 sq. m. Its central hall is topped with a dioctahedral blue dome. The 16 facets mean the number of Turkic states founded by Turkmen ancestors. The dome is supported by 5 columns according to the number of velayats (provinces) of Turkmenistan. The complex is built in the tradition of modern national architecture. Finnish granite, precious woods, bronze, facing materials from Turkey were used in its decoration. Decorated with tracery metal grids, decorative cornices and tinted stained glass windows

The territory, adjacent to the museum complex of 105,000 sq. m., is decorated with flower beds, as well as with an ensemble of three fountains and a colonnade with huge gilded statues of winged horses.

The National Museum of History contains major treasures discovered in every part of the country. The most interesting exhibitions are represented by the archeology and ethnography departments. The archeological collection contains very rare works of art from ancient times to the middle ages which have been found on the territory of Turkmenistan. About 500,000 individual items are displayed in this huge museum. 

It boasts a full collection of Turkmenistan's most significant architectural finds from the 20th century; a large number of ancient Turkmen carpets and rugs; examples of national dress and fabrics; traditional household equipment; musical instruments; weapons; jewelry; medals, historical documents, horn-shaped vessels made of ivory, statuettes of Parthian goddesses and Rodoguna, a colorful Buddhist vase representing life and death… 

Its unique collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures includes not only Turkmen fine arts but masterpieces of some Russian and Western European artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The collection includes early paintings, water-colors and icons among its exhibits. 

Moreover, the museum reveals the variety of Turkmenistan's landscapes: its flora and fauna, fossils and rare geological finds.

Hall 1, to the left of the main entrance on the ground floor, is dedicated to post-independence Turkmenistan, centred on a large picture of President Niyazov. Display cases set out the achievements of independent Turkmenistan in education, medicine and sport. There are a number of gifts presented to the president, including an ornate silver sabre. The museum then continues upstairs.

Hall 2 focuses on ancient history, including offering a diorama of Mesolithic life in the cave of Dam Dam Chashma in Balkan Region. There are some fascinating exhibits from Bronze Age sites, including a charming smiley-faced toy clay chariot from Altyn Depe and a terracotta female statuette with sharply pointed breasts. There is an interesting range of artefacts from the Bronze Age Margiana sites in Mary Region too, including stamp seals, ivory items and a bronze mirror.

Hall 3 is based around artefacts found at the Parthian site of Nisa. There are some wonderful items, including a marble statue of Princess Rodogon, daughter of Mithradates II. According to a popular legend, the princess was caught washing her hair when the royal residence was suddenly attacked. She jumped onto her horse and, wet-haired, led the Parthian forces into battle. The range of items on display is nicely captured by the display-case label reading: 'Head of Aphrodita. Fragment of female statuette. Bulls.' But the star exhibits here are the rhytons, the exquisitely decorated ivory drinking horns found at Nisa in 1948, their bases decorated with creatures such as gryphons and centaurs.

Hall 4 focuses on the medieval period. A model of the Merv site in the centre of the room depicts the main surviving buildings, though not accurately placed in relation to each other. There are diorama scenes of Konye-Urgench and the mosque at Anau. Among the artefacts on display is the 'Merv vase', a beautifully decorated twin-handled jar, showing scenes depicting the stages of life, which was uncovered at the site of the Buddhist stupa in Merv. Other items include a range of glazed ceramics from Merv, and fragments of decoration from a mosque at Dandanakan, the site of the Seljuk victory over the Ghaznavids in the 11th century.

Hall 5 is devoted to ethnography, including displays of 18th- and 19th-century weaponry, a collection of Turkmen musical instruments, and a display focused on religion and belief, including a selection of amulets. The ethnography continues in Hall 6, which has a wide range of Turkmen silver jewellery and displays of female dress from different parts of Turkmenistan. The collection then continues back downstairs.

Hall 7 is dedicated to carpets, and is dominated by a real monster: 20.6m long, 12.9m wide, and weighing in at a tonne. Based around the Tekke design, and filling the rear wall of the hall, the carpet was the work of 38 carpet-makers, commissioned for the fifth anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence in 1996, and is named 'Turkmenbashy'. It has lines of 20 Tekke motifs, or guls, across its width, signifying the end of the 20th century, and a total of 480 guls in all, since the area of Turkmenistan is around 480,000km2. At a total of 266m2, it is a little over 30m2 smaller than the Guinness World Records certificate-earning example in the Carpet Museum. Among the other carpets on display is one presented to President Niyazov for his 60th birthday in 2000, featuring the new medical facilities built since Turkmenistan's independence. The room also includes carpets characteristic of different Turkmen tribes, carpet bags and prayer rugs.

Hall 8 is devoted to the natural environment. A display case in the centre of the room houses an 820kg chunk of meteorite, which fell into a cotton field near Konye-Urgench in 1998, and was promptly named the Turkmenbashy Meteorite. There are numerous stuffed animals, most of which have unfortunately acquired peculiar grins, including a four-legged mutant eagle, and a Turan tiger, now extinct, which once prowled the forests of the Amu Darya.