© Gualtiero Boffi / age fotostock
Turkmenistan's history stretches back over several millennia; archaeological excavations have resulted in the discovery of remains that are more than 5,000 years old. Many of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the archaeological site of Kunya-Urgench, the 'Ancient Merv' State Historical and Cultural Park, and the Parthian Fortresses of Nisa.
Like in many of the Central Asian countries, the Turkmen culture is a mix of diverse and varied influences. Originally a nomadic people, the Turkmen drew their inspiration, which can be seen in the literature, the music and the folklore, from the traditions of the Oguz people and the Turks.
Islam and Arabic writings were introduced to the Turkmens in the 13th century but the poets and writers of the time mostly stuck to Chagatai, a language very close to Persian. It was at the end of the 18th century and particularly at the beginning of the 19th century that the Turkmen language really began to be used, mainly in the poetry and political and social satires.
Music also plays a dominant role in Turkmen culture. The music of the nomadic and rural Turkmen people is closely related to the Kyrgyz and Kazakh folk forms. Turkmen music also plays a therapeutic role. Indeed, as in Kyrgyz and Kazakh music, important traditions in Turkmen music include warrior troubadours, travelling singers and veritable shamans.
Turkmenistan boasts many architectural sites that are unique in the world. Genuine feats, they include mausoleums that have been erected on the tombs of great men, with the most beautiful one surely being the that of Sultan Sandzhar in Merv, and magnificent mosques dotted about the country.
Many of the towns were first established in the Middle Ages and have hardly changed since then. This is notably the case for Parau, Darganata, Abiverd and Devkesengala.
An interesting thing to see in Turkmenistan is the Ekedeshik cave-city. Constructed in the Middle Ages, Ekedeshik was already inhabited as far back as the first century BC. Today it is listed is a State Historical and Architectural Reserve.
The archaeological sites of Nisa and Anau are also must-see sites for history buffs who love ancient ruins, or even for this who are simply curious about the history of Turkmenistan and wish to learn more.