Sunday, 19 May 2013

Day 22 - The Ruins of Nisa

Turkmenbashi's great city looks like you would expect a city to look if you had the following ingredients:

1. An empty canvas (thanks to the earthquake of 1948)
2. A large number of petro-dollars
3. Post-Soviet architectural taste with a touch of regional identity
4. An all powerful President with a strong sense of his own importance but no sense of humour
5. Unlimited amounts of white marble

The economy is 90% state owned so the HQ of a corporation, the Ministry of Truth, the Presidential palace and a shopping mall all share the same architect.

The effect is like Las Vegas without the fun. An icing sugar and gold leaf essay in brutalism. Everywhere you look the president beams down. Here a life size statue covered in gold leaf. There a giant screen showing him inspecting the troops.

The only thing missing is real people. It is empty. Miles upon miles of new housing blocks without a pedestrian or a child playing. The city shuts at 10:30. On every corner a policeman ready to wave a stick and say nyet.

Get out of town though and you find the remains of the cities built last time someone with a vision came this way. Alexander built Nisa in 300BC. Not long after he left, the locals rebelled and created an empire (the Parthians) that lasted 500 years and inflicted one of the worst defeats on the Roman army in battle (Carrhae 53BC -The Parthian Shot)

The city changed hands a few times and was finally sent into terminal decline by Genghis Khan.

The ruins today are peaceful. The mud brick has melted the watch towers into enormous piles like a child's sandcastle on the beach.

Sheltering below the old walls, a small shrine to an ancient Muslim holy man offers good luck, health and love to women who come to pray.

M____ and his extended family offered traditional Muslim hospitality to the stranger (in this case Deefor). A place at the family table under the trees, bread, tea, soup, rice, salad, curdled milk, sweets and pastries.

As the frogs croaked their midday song and the children played in the sun, the true warmth of Turkmenistan was revealed.

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