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Earthquake Monument

On the eastern side of the Arch of Neutrality is another meaning-laden composition of the post-independence period. This is a monument, completed in 1998, to the memory of those killed in the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake A square building, faced with cream-coloured tiles, contains a small museum with sobering photographs of the destruction wrought by the earthquake. The museum is, however, almost always shut. On the southern side of the building, an eternal flame burns for those who died.

The most striking feature of the building is the sculpture which crowns, and dominates, it. A large bull has taken the world in its horns, and is proceeding to give the planet a good shake. The globe is covered with rubble, but a dying mother manages to lift a small child above the turmoil wrought by nature. Set starkly against the dark colour of the rest of the sculpture, the child is a shining gold. A child who will grow to be president. Another noteworthy feature of the sculpture is that the bull sports particularly large testicles.

Eastwards from the earthquake monument is a pleasant strip of parkland. On the southern side of this, behind the Turkmenbashy Palace, is a marble-faced rectangular building, used for state banquets in honour of visiting heads of state. East of here is the Old Presidential Palace, a 1950s building with a shallow dome atop a cylindrical drum. In the Soviet period this place housed the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan. It remains one of the buildings used by Turkmenistan's presidential apparatus, and uniformed officers discourage visitors from getting too close. But you should be able to get near enough to see the hammer-and-sickle motifs above the entrance.

Opposite the Old Presidential Palace, in the strip of park, is an elegant war memorial, built in the 1970s in honour of those who died in World War II. Four tall tapering columns of red marble surround an eternal flame, like petals shielding the heart of a flower. To the side of this composition is a red marble arch, beneath which kneel two combatants, watched over by a grieving female figure.

At the eastern end of the park, across Turkmenbashy Shayoly, stands the main building of the Magtymguly State University, built in 1960, when the university was named in honour of Gorky, rather than Turkmenistan's greatest poet. Golden statues of a male and female student stand hand-in-hand on the roof, looking worryingly as though they are preparing to jump.