Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque (aka Gypjak Mosque) is the largest mosque in Central Asia and the main mosque of Turkmenistan. "Turkmenbashi" means "head of the Turkmen" and was the title the first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, gave to himself. In fact, it was he who ordered this mosque to be built and who chose the village of Gypjak for its location, about 5 miles outside of Ashgabat and "coincidentally" his birthplace.

The gold-covered dome is 164 feet wide. By way of comparison, the dome on the U.S. Capitol is 135 feet wide.
The mosque is surrounded by fountains:

Built between 2002-2004 at a cost of $100 million, the mosque has a footprint of almost 200 million square feet. The four minarets are each 91 meters tall to symbolize the year Turkmenistan gained its independence from Russia--1991. Ornate etchings create a filigree border at the base of the dome:

Cleanliness is next to godliness, which we saw all over the Stans:

The free-standing entry arches are massive:

The interior of the mosque is "gigantuous" (a word coined by our tour company owner, Jim) and can hold 10,000 people (our guide said 15,000). Men are given the ground floor, and women are sent upstairs to the second floor. The pillars are encased in Carrara marble:

Our eyes were drawn upwards to the source of light, a hundred or more peaked windows ringing the dome:

. . . and then to the spectacular dome itself:

And no less glorious is the hand-woven carpet under foot . . . 

. . . a patchwork of brilliant colors and complex patterns that would make any crazy quilt look boring by contrast:

A beautiful mihrab stands at one end of the main room:

This is a HUUUUUUUGE mosque, but where are the people? One answer is related to the ornamental text inscribed all over the room. It is common to include quotes from the Qu'ran and praises to Allah in the decor, but this mosque also had quotes from The Ruhnama (or Book of the Soul), written by President Niyazov, inscribed in several places around the mosque. Understandably, now that he is dead, many Turkmenis do not appreciate the way Niyazov's book is placed on equal footing with the Holy Qu'ran, and for that reason (according to our guide) many Muslims boycott this beautiful but heretical mosque. Some sources speculate that this mosque will soon be redecorated to remove any traces of The Ruhnama and the deification of Turkmenistan's first president/dictator.

We went downstairs to find a restroom and passed by dozens of faucets that are used for ablutions:

Noooooooooooooo!  The only toilets were "eastern style"!
We were pros at this kind of "rest stop" by now, but that doesn't mean we women liked it.

Time for our next venue. We left the building . . . 

. . . and walked to Sapamurat Niyazov's mausoleum, which is nearby, but inside of which we were forbidden to take any photos. (They were serious about that. The guards had guns.) 
In addition to President Niyazov, his two brothers killed in the quake at ages 6 and 10 and his mother killed in the quake are interred here. There is a marker for his father, who was killed in World War I, but I don't think they have the body. It's likely that Niyazov's wife and son, who live in Russia (and who lead reclusive lives), will also be buried there.

I did find a picture on the internet. Thanks, Wikipedia. The president, of course, lies in the middle of the double Turkmen star:
Picture from here

Later in the day we paid a visit to the Ertugrul Gazi Mosque (aka Azadi Mosque), located in the heart of Ashgabat on Azadi Street. While not as large as the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, it can still accommodate up to 5,000 people. It is named in honor of Ertogrul, the father of Osman I, who was the founder of the Ottoman Empire. It was a relief to see a color other than white:
This mosque was completed in 1998, just a few years after Turkmenistan achieved its independence (and soon after the restoration of Islam to the country, which had more or less been banned under the Soviet regime).

The mosque was built in the "Turkish style" and has many similarities with Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque:
Photo from my post about our 2010 trip to Istanbul

Note how the layering of domes in the Ashgabat version echoes the Istanbul architecture:

The decorative panel over the door reminds me if Iznik Turkish tiles:

The interior courtyard looks like a cross between the Alhambra and Siena, Italy:

Time to go inside:

There must be a name for the inside of architectural domes. Does anyone know what it is?  Maybe "shell" or "bowl"?

So many layers and patterns!

The light fixture looks like two dozen fireflies trapped in a spider web:
Unlike the earlier mosque we visited, this one was definitely being used by the locals. Of course, we could have just hit it at the right time and missed that time at the other mosque:

I wouldn't call it crowded by any means, but my guess is that it can get pretty busy for Friday prayer.


  1. I loved the second mosque, locals actually using it. Nice to constrast them together.

  2. Somehow I think that first mosque reminds me of a blown-up temple. (Can I say that?)