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St Alexander Nevskiy Church

Magtymguly Shayoly heads westwards from the town centre, passing the concrete spaceship of the Old Circus, now used as the venue for occasional concerts. A couple of blocks further west is the Gunesh Park, still known by its Soviet name of Second Park, a pleasant place for a breather, with a large central fountain, wedding reception hall, rickety amusement park and some odd pieces of statuary. One of these features a silver Turkmen girl standing on a ball, holding her right arm out for balance, while in her left perches a small baby, to whom she appears to be lecturing. About the joy of standing on balls, perhaps.

Magtymguly Shayoly ends at the old Cosmos Cinema, now rebadged as the Alem Cultural Centre and looking decidedly run down. A plaque records that, during World War II, the 238th student infantry brigade was established here. Just to the left, the blue-domed mosque, decorated with attractive Moral tiles, is part of the Iranian Embassy compound. Taking the footpath round the side of the old cinema, you will reach the St Alexander Nevskiy Church, one of the main Russian Orthodox places of worship in Ashgabat, and a rare survivor of the tsarist period. It is a yellow brick building, topped by a silver onion dome, with another smaller dome on top of the adjacent belltower. The brightly coloured interior is crowded with murals and paintings, including a doom-laden vision of hell, and a young George slaying the dragon. The church is almost surrounded by a barracks: the sound ol Turkmen soldiers marching forms a backdrop to services.