- darkometer rating: 2 -
The final resting place of Saparmurat Turkmenbashy
the Great, the late eccentric leader of Turkmenistan
. He's buried in a dedicated family mausoleum, purpose-built alongside a massive new mosque.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
", real name Saparmurat Niyazov, the "great leader" and first president of independent Turkmenistan
, passed away rather suddenly in December 2006. His body was predictably moved to this massive family mausoleum outside Ashgabat
next to an equally massive new mosque, by the village of Gipjak. Both buildings had been finished only a couple of years before ... did he have a kind of premonition perhaps?
Interestingly the massive mosque was constructed by a French company, as apparently there was no one in the country with the expertise needed to construct a free-standing dome.
The location near the village of Gipjak is significant: not only was it the birthplace of the Turkmenbashy. It was also the epicentre of the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake.
Apparently the mausoleum/mosque complex was intended to become a pilgrimage site for the great man's flock during his afterlife. It's not easy to tell whether it really functions as such today. When I was there, only very few Turkmen people were about – apart from the soldiers and guards on duty. Otherwise there were just a few women walking about, but it was impossible to tell whether they were visitors here to pay their respects to the Turkmenbashy, or whether they too were here performing some sort of duty.
The mausoleum as such can't quite compete with those of other great leaders of similar cult-of-personality standing (see esp. Kim Mausoleum
, or Anitkabir
), but it is still a must on the dark tourist's Turkmenistan itinerary. As a building, however, the mosque next door impresses more, especially the enormous domed ceiling inside.
What there is to see: The mausoleum itself is comparatively small – or so it seems at least in the shadow of its gigantic neighbouring mosque. Still, an air of pilgrimage is exuded by the presence of uniformed guards by the entrance alone – who, amongst other things, make sure visitors do not take their cameras inside (hence no interior images in the photo gallery here).
As you enter via the steps you get to a second level of a round, or rather octagonal, chamber, from where you can look down on to the grave slabs of the Turkmenbashy and some of his family members – mostly these had been killed in the 1948 Ashgabat
earthquake and were moved here after the mausoleum was completed to accompany their deceased patriarch.
At the back there is, therefore, also a small earthquake memorial, basically a white marble (of course!) sculpture of a woman trying to protect her children from the pieces of collapsing building falling down on them.
You can't actually go down to that ground level. There is a lift whose door seems to glance suggestively at the more rebellious visitors … but nobody in my tour group dared to try it. Presumably that lift's for ceremonial purposes only.
When I visited (in November 2010) our guide performed a small prayer ceremony on the upstairs viewing gallery for us. And I have to admit that it was rather touching, hearing those Islamic lines sung out in here (the acoustics helped too). The group, otherwise rather on the boisterous side, all fell totally silent during this.
Visually, and as usual in all things Turkmenbashy, there is no shortage of marble and gold in the decoration …
Nor is there any modesty in the representation of the Turkmenbashy's legacy. In and on the mausoleum itself that's only "fair", but the fact that he also had his name and excerpts from his "holy" green book, the Ruhnama (cf. under Turkmenistan
) adorn the inside of the mosque proved rather controversial. That is even more true for the inscription on the main portal, which basically puts the Ruhnama on the same level as the Koran, which predictably outraged quite a few more devout Muslims.
The modern mosque as such is, however, quite a stunning edifice by any standard. This is especially true of the feeling of space inside that enormous dome. Allegedly, there'd be space for up to 20,000 people in here. Somehow I doubt, however, that this is put to the test very often. On my visit, there was hardly anyone else about apart from our group of tourists.
The emptiness of the gigantic hall under the dome makes it more overwhelming that way in any case. In fact, several of my fellow travellers said that this was the most impressive mosque they'd ever seen. I would personally not go that far myself (my personal top candidates of that category are in Istanbul in Turkey
, in particular, apart from the famous Hagia Sophia, the lesser known Yeni Camii (New Mosque) – see under Top-10 buildings
). But as far as a modern mosque goes, the Gipjak complex is certainly quite something to behold!
Overall, then, a visit to the mausoleum and mosque complex at Gipjak is a worthwhile excursion, though the experience is nowhere near as dark or as intense as it is with some other mausoleums in the world (especially the "Big 4
"). But as regards relics of the extreme Turkmenbashy
cult of personality it's right up there with the best, in particular now that those in the capital city Ashgabat
have been toned down somewhat.
some 10 miles (16 km) outside Ashgabat
, directly by the main M37 highway leading west.
Access and costs: free, and easy on an organized tour (not free, of course).
most foreign visitors will come here as part of an organized tour programme or a day excursion (e.g. with Ayan Travel). But in theory it is possible to make your own way out here. The simplest way would be to get a taxi from Ashgabat
Admission free. (I have no info regarding opening times, but that won't be an issue on an organized trip anyway.)
Time required: not long. The mausoleum itself can be viewed in just a few minutes, and the mosque will deserve a few moments more. Altogether the complex will take something like half an hour to 45 minutes to see. Plus driving time from/to Ashgabat, of course.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
typically, an excursion from Ashgabat
to the Kov Ata cave
also takes in the Turkmenbashy Mausoleum and mosque as it is located conveniently along the way.
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 1
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 1b - guarded entrance
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 2 - guard
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 3 - window
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 4 - more soldiers
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 5 - grand mosque
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 6 - golden dome
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 7 - Gipjak mosque
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 8 - controversial inscriptions
- Turkmenbashy mausoleum and mosque 9 - a glimpse inside