National Museum of History

National Museum of History

On the 12th of November the greatest museum complex in Turkmenistan and the Middle East opened its doors in Ashgabat, combining the collections of the former museums of history and ethnography, regional study and the arts.

About 500,000 exhibits are displayed in the new museum. It boasts a full collection of Turkmenistan’s most significant architectural finds of the XX century; a large number of ancient Turkmen carpets and rugs; examples of national dress and fabrics; traditional household equipment; musical instruments; weapons; jewelry; orders and medals, and historical documents. Its unique collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures includes not only Turkmen fine arts but also masterpieces of some Russian and Western European artists of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries. The collection includes early paintings, watercolors and icons among its exhibits. Moreover, the museum reveals the variety of Turkmenistan’s landscape: its floras and fauna, fossils and rare geological finds. Eight Halls of the Museum.

Hall 1, to the left of the main entrance on the ground floor, is dedicated to post-independence Turkmenistan, centered on a large picture of President Saparmurat Niyazov. Display cases set out the achievements of independent Turkmenistan in education, medicine and sport. There are a number of gifts presented to the president, including an ornate silver sabre. The museum then continues upstairs.
Hall 2 focuses on ancient history, including offering a diorama of Mesolithic life in the cave of Dam Dam Chashma in Balkan Region. There are some fascinating exhibits from Bronze Age sites, including a charming smiley-faced toy clay chariot from Altyn Depe and a terracotta female statuette with sharply pointed breasts. There is an interesting range of artefacts from the Bronze Age Margiana sites in Mary Region too, including stamp seals, ivory items and a bronze mirror.
Hall 3 is based around artefacts found at the Parthian site of Nisa. There are some wonderful items, including a marble statue of Princess Rodogon, daughter of Mithradates II. According to a popular legend, the princess was caught washing her hair when the royal residence was suddenly attacked. She jumped onto her horse and, wet-haired, led the Parthian forces into battle. The range of items on display is nicely captured by the display-case label reading: ‘Head of Aphrodite. Fragment of female statuette Bulls’. But the star exhibits here are the rhytons, the exquisitely decorated ivory drinking horns found at Nisa in 1948, their bases decorated with creatures such as gryphons and centaurs.

Hall 4 focuses on the medieval period. A model of the Merv site in the center of the room depicts the main surviving buildings, though not accurately placed in relation to each other. There are diorama scenes of Konye-Urgench and the mosque at Anau. Among the artefacts on display is the ‘Merv vase’, a beautifully decorated twin-handled jar, showing scenes depicting the stages of life, which was uncovered at the site of the Buddhist stupa in Merv. Other items include a range of glazed ceramics from Merv, and fragments of decoration from a mosque at Dandanakan, the site of the Seljuk victory over the Ghaznavids in the 11th century.
Hall 5 is devoted to ethnography, including displays of 18th- and 19th-century weaponry, a collection of Turkmen musical instruments, and a display focused on religion and belief, including a selection of amulets.
Hall 6. The ethnography continues in Hall 6, which has a wide range of Turkmen silver jewellery and displays of female dress from different parts of Turkmenistan. The collection then continues back downstairs.
Hall 7 is dedicated to carpets, and is dominated by remarkable one: 20.6m long, 12.9m wide, and weighing in at a tonne. Based around the Tekke design, and filling the rear wall of the hall, the carpet was the work of 38 carpet-makers, commissioned for the fifth anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence in 1996, and was named ‘Turkmenbashy’. It has lines of 20 Tekke motifs, or guls, across its width, signifying the end of the 20th century, and total of 480 guls in all, since the area of Turkmenistan is around 480,000km2. At a total of 266m2, it is a little over 30m2 smaller than the Guinness World Records certificate-earning example in the Carpet Museum. The room also includes carpets characteristic of different Turkmen tribes, carpetbags and prayer rugs.
Hall 8 is devoted to the natural environment. A display case in the center of the room houses an 820kg chunk of meteorite, which fall into a cotton field near Konye-Urgench in 1998, and was named the Turkmenbashy Meteorite. There are numerous stuffed animals, most of which have unfortunately acquired peculiar grins, including a four-legged mutant eagle, and a Turan tiger, now extinct, which once prowled the forests of the Amu Darya.

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