The flagpole in Dusti Square (Freedom Square) in downtown Dushanbe is 165 metres tall. When it was completed in 2011 it was the tallest flagpole in the world, nudging out the flagpole built in Baku, Azerbaijan, one year earlier by just 3 metres. Since then an even taller flagpole has been erected in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (170m), which means, as it currently stands, Dushanbe can only lay claim to having a very big flagpole.
But Dushanbe has loads of other excessively big government structures to pick up the shortfall.
When I visited (2015) the city was building the world’s largest teahouse. Plans were changed along the way though, and the world’s largest teahouse became the Palace of Cultural Entertainment and Special Events – essentially a fancy conference and wedding facility, embellished with mosaics of the president.
In recent years Dushanbe has also completed Central Asia’s largest library and museum, and there are plans to spend a $100 million on a new theatre – evoking much controversy in this cash-strapped, foreign-aid-dependent nation.
Founding of Dushanbe
A settlement has existed here – at the junction of the Varzob and Kofarnihon Rivers – for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. By the 1600s the village had come to be known as Dushanbe, Tajik for two days after Saturday, after its large Monday bazaar.
In 1924 Dushanbe became the capital of the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1929 the city was renamed Stalinabad, a name it kept until 1961, when, following Khrushchev’s de-Stalinisation push, it returned to Dushanbe.
Until the 1900s Dushanbe was, and always had been, a small, rural settlement. Under the Soviets the region was transformed into a centre for cotton and silk production. The population steadily climbed over the years, eventually reaching 800,000, where it stands today.
Statue of Somoni, Dushanbe
When the Soviets departed in the early 1990s, Tajikistan found itself in need of a suite of national heroes. Ismoil Somoni, an emir of the Samanid Empire from the 10th Century CE, was one of the figures selected.
Somoni has the honour of having the country’s tallest mountain named after him (prior to this it was Stalin Peak, then Communism Peak). The national currency (the somoni) also bears his name.
Rudaki Statue, Dushanbe
Rudaki, another newly embraced historical figure, also of the 10th Century CE, was a court poet for the Samanid Empire. He is widely believed to have been blind – though this is now debated – and is regarded as a classic poet of the modern Persian language.
National Museum of Tajikistan, Dushanbe
The National Museum of Tajikistan retains the stylings of its Soviet past. Exhibits on archaeology, natural history, and art, are rounded out with displays on the president – the highlight of which are the gifts bestowed upon him by select world leaders.
Is Dushanbe worth a visit?
Those who finds themselves attracted to Soviet architecture will enjoy the plane-tree-lined boulevards and pastel coloured apartment blocks of Dushanbe, and there is a decent selection of cafes and restaurants (for Central Asia). It’s certainly a fine spot to rest up if you’ve just completed your journey of the Pamir Highway / Wakhan Valley.
Practical information and how to reach Dushanbe:
Most foreigners require a visa to enter Tajikistan (as of 2016 the visa can be arranged online). A seperate permit is required to enter the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. More info here.