This large arid country lies to the south of Uzbekistan, dominated by the Kara Kum desert in its center with mountains in the west and east. The country contains some of the world's largest natural gas and oil reserves and is a major cotton producer.
Historically, Turkmenistan has seen conquerors from Alexander the Great to Islamic Arabs to Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, but maintained its nomadic, equine identity until Soviet-era domination. In the post communist years, Turkmen language and culture have made a strong revival.
The Turkmen people are legendary horsemen and their tall, powerful horses were prized by the Chinese in ancient times. The national handicraft is carpet making and Turkmen carpets are prized through the world for their beautiful patterns and superb craftsmanship. An extension of the nomadic lifestyle of the people, carpets were
For tourists, Turkmenistan is garden of archaeological delights. Remnants of civilizations that have been swallowed by the centuries are everywhere to be found. In mountain foothills, in dry riverbeds, in caves across the country you can find tools, domestic utensils and artwork of bone, stone, ceramics and metals. Ruins of earthen houses and mountain fortresses remain from as long as 50 centuries ago.
A visit to Turkmenistan must include a stay in the ancient Silk Road city of Merv. It is an archeological wonderland, being actually 4 cities built during different periods, a testimony to the oasis' staying power as a major center along the Silk Road from the times of Alexander. It remained a commercial and cultural power for centuries before Mongol armies destroyed the town in 1221. One of its most imposing features today is the mausoleum of Sanjar the Great, the dome of which could have been seen by caravans a full day's journey away.
A day trip from Merv to the archaeological dig at Margush, where remnants of a Bronze Age civilization lived 3500 years ago. A palace, intricate fire temple and necropolis have been excavated and local museums contain numerous artifacts of gold and semi-precious stones.
Turkmenistan's capital is the city of Ashgabat, rebuilt using modern principles of city planning after being destroyed by an massive earthquake in 1948. Lush parks and hundreds of fountains create a pleasant microclimate that shields the city from the desert heat. All public buildings and apartments are clad in white marble, giving the city a unified beauty. The National Museum houses many culturally significant antiquities, and the Turkmen Carpet Museum contains many fine examples of world-renovated Turkmen carpet making skills, including one that covers a massive 294 square meters.
In the west near the Uzbekistan border, lies another stop along the Silk Road, Kunya-Urgench, site of the large State Historical and Cultural Museum-Preserve. The famous Kulug-Timur Minaret is thought to be the tallest in Central Asia, towering nearly 200 feet. Another must-see is the Turabeg Khanym Mausoleum, with its double cupola and perfectly preserved interior tile work is considered one of Asia's most outstanding constructions.
Of Turkmenistan's natural wonders, the Caspian Sea provides recreational facilities for boaters and water sports enthusiasts.