Lying at the foot of the Great Balkan Range, the city of Balkanabat is the administrative center of the Balkan region of Turkmenistan. Located 400 kilometers from Ashgabat in the country’s western reaches, current estimates place the population at over 125,000 people.
Balkanabat is one of Turkmenistan’s youngest cities, having been founded in 1933 along the Trans-Caspian Railway in connection with the development of the oil field, and hence was originally called Nebit Dag (Oil Mountain). It officially obtained status as a city in 1946 but was only renamed Balkanabat in 1999. Today it serves as an industrial center for Turkmenistan’s oil and gas industry.
Balkan Region, covering a territory of 139 thousand square kilometers, or more than 28 percent of the country's total area, is the largest region in Turkmenistan. Hazar, Garabogaz and Serdar are some of the region’s larger cities, in addition to the famous Caspian Sea resort town Turkmenbashi. Turkmenistan’s Balkan Region borders Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the north, the Dashoguz Region of Turkmenistan in the northeast, the Akhal Province in the east and Iran in the south. In the west, its perimeter is washed by the waters of the Caspian Sea.
Balkan Region is a particularly fascinating area for archaeologists, for it was here, along the northern spurs of the Kopetdag Mountains, that the remains of Neolithic and Mesolithic people dating back to the 12th-7th millennia BC were found. Irrigated agriculture began developing here by the third millennium BC and continued for another three thousand years, until the water supply dried up and the ancestors of today’s Turkmenistan people were forced to relocate.
The largest remaining evidence of ancient culture in Balkan Region is Dekhistan, located in the Misrian Valley. Dekhistan, also called Mashat-Misrian, was the region’s largest city, reaching its heyday during the Islamic period. Today, the oldest surviving mosque in Turkmenistan, now called Shir-Kabir or Mashat-Ata, is located a short distance from the ruins of ancient Dekhistan. The Turkmenistan government still allows tourists to visit Dekhistan, which lays half-hidden in a remote part of the desert.
Less than 40 kilometers from Balkanabat, at the spring of Tasharvat, are picturesque ruins of Tasharvat Caravanserai, once located on ancient caravan tracks along a branch of the Great Silk Road. While often overshadowed by famed archaeological sites such as Merv, Turkmenistan’s Tasharvat Caravanserai ruins are nonetheless historically significant. The ruins consist of a rectangular fortification with a stone wall and an inner residential building with a large grove of karagach elm trees nearby. The Tasharvat fortification was first mentioned in historical writings in 1871-1872, and researchers believe that the structure was still inhabited by the end of the 19th century.
Key Sights of Balkanabat
- The Trailblazers Monument is dedicated to the founders of the city, who endured the harsh Balkanabat weather to develop the town into a stable industrial center.
- The Regional Library, State Drama Theater and Marriage Hall all impress with their grandiose and distinctly Turkmenistan architecture.
- Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an Eastern Orthodox church founded on August 11, 1990, is another significant landmark. In 1997 the church was consecrated by Archbishop Vladimir of Tashkent and greater Central Asia. In 2006, temporary oversight of the parish was entrusted to the priest of the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God, located in the city of Dashoguz, Turkmenistan.