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Arch of Neutrality

The northern side of Turkmenbashy Square is dominated by one of the most distinctive monuments of post-independence Turkmenistan. The 75m Arch of Neutrality was built by the Turkish construction companyto commemorate the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of 12 December 1995, approving Turkmenistan's status of 'permanent neutrality'. The white marble-faced monument resembles a comic-book spate rocket, testing on three 'legs', which are intended to symbolise the trivet on which a Turkmen cooking pot traditionally sits. The monument is, predictably, nicknamed trinozhka (Russian: 'Three Legs') among the inhabitants of Ashgabat. It is topped by a 12m bronze statue of President Niyazov, arms outstretched in a gesture of welcome, standing in front of a fluttering Turkmen flag. Every day this presidential statue slowly revolves, so that it always faces the sun.

Around the Arch of Neutrality monument in Ashgabat, the five major tribes and their symbols.A curious lift ascends one of the sloping legs, for a small charge (opening times: 08.00-22.00, with breaks 11.45-12.30 and 17.45-18.30). The lift brings visitors to a cafe which is usually shut, and has little on offer when it is open. From here, steps lead up to a viewing platform roughly halfway up the building. A lift (not always working) takes visitors to a higher viewing platform, not far below the president's feet. Both platforms offer excellent views across Ashgabat. You get a good sense of the clear demarcation of the city into strikingly different construction zones: the tall, marble-faced apartment blocks of the post-independence city, the four-storey blocks of the later Soviet period, and the single-storey detached dwellings around central courtyards which characterise many of the outer suburbs. Photography is not permitted from the viewing platforms.

Since the death of the former Turkmen president Niyazov the Arch of Neutrality has been relocated from the city centre to an outlying section of modern Ashgabat. The huge golden statue of Niyazov still sits on top of the structure but it no longer rotates to always face the sun.