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Credit: Frederic Chaubin

Architecture Across the Ages

Built spaces tell us the stories of the civilisations that shaped them. They’re products of their time; windows on the politics of the past. Architecture isn’t just art, it’s anthropology.

Architecture Across the Ages takes travellers to some of the most important – and most often overlooked – architectural sites across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Visit Uzbekistan’s towering turquoise mosques, see how Georgia shook off Soviet rule with cosmic-inspired superstructures, and witness the rebirth of Turkmenistan with its audacious white marble city.

Private bespoke tours from USD$13,500 p/p

Duration: 18 days/17 nights

Carbon footprint: 9.31 tonnes CO₂e p/p

or call +44 7397 297470

Built spaces tell us the stories of the civilisations that shaped them. They’re products of their time; windows on the politics of the past. Architecture isn’t just art, it’s anthropology.

Architecture Across the Ages takes travellers to some of the most important – and most often overlooked – architectural sites across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Visit Uzbekistan’s towering turquoise mosques, see how Georgia shook off Soviet rule with cosmic-inspired superstructures, and witness the rebirth of Turkmenistan with its audacious white marble city.

The Palace of Rituals in Tbilisi, Georgia. Its floor plan is based on an anatomical cross-section of the female abdomen. Credit: Roman Geber
The view from Chronicle of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia. Credit: Alex Pflaum
Georgia’s Deputy Minister of Highway Construction, George Chakhava was both the architect and client of the Ministry of Highways Building. Credit: Frederic Chaubin
View of the grey, low-cost Khrushchyovka apartment buildings from the Chronicle of Georgia monument in Tbilisi. Credit: Alex Pflaum
Highlight

Highlight: Georgia’s Cosmic Constructions

The Sovereign state of the Caucasus – and Stalin’s home nation – Georgia was a critical part of the USSR. In the late 1970s, it stepped out from its Soviet shadow and into a new architectural age. Khrushchyovka - the grey, low-cost apartment buildings that characterised the Soviet style – were replaced by massive, cosmic-inspired superstructures. Their ambitious and otherworldly designs were an explicit rebuke of Communism and its single, centralised apparatus.

Georgia’s struggle towards self-actualisation is visible in these two starkly oppositional forms of architecture, which still stand shoulder to shoulder. Learn what each tells us about the tussle between communism and individualism during the final days of the Soviet Union.

The Palace of Rituals in Tbilisi, Georgia. Its floor plan is based on an anatomical cross-section of the female abdomen. Credit: Roman Geber
The view from Chronicle of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia. Credit: Alex Pflaum
Georgia’s Deputy Minister of Highway Construction, George Chakhava was both the architect and client of the Ministry of Highways Building. Credit: Frederic Chaubin
View of the grey, low-cost Khrushchyovka apartment buildings from the Chronicle of Georgia monument in Tbilisi. Credit: Alex Pflaum
The 16th-century Kalon Mosque was used in Soviet times as a warehouse. It was reopened as a place of worship in 1991. Credit: Alex Pflaum
The Kalta Minor Minaret was begun in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan, who wanted to build a minaret so high he could see all the way to Bukhara. Credit: Alex Pflaum
The 2.5km-long Khiva mud walls were rebuilt in the 18th century after being destroyed by the Persians. Credit: Mehmet Ozbalci
Highlight

Highlight: Islamic Influence in Uzbekistan

The cradle of culture for more than two millennia, Uzbekistan lies at the crossroads of ancient trade routes connecting East and West. Home to empires and emirates that once stretched across much of central Asia, Uzbekistan’s beautifully-preserved examples of Islamic architecture and urban planning stretch back more than 700 years.

Travel by high-speed train to the famed silk road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. There, visit mosques and mausoleums covered with intricate turquoise tiles, and learn about these cities' cultural significance in the spread of art, architecture and ideas.

The 16th-century Kalon Mosque was used in Soviet times as a warehouse. It was reopened as a place of worship in 1991. Credit: Alex Pflaum
The Kalta Minor Minaret was begun in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan, who wanted to build a minaret so high he could see all the way to Bukhara. Credit: Alex Pflaum
The 2.5km-long Khiva mud walls were rebuilt in the 18th century after being destroyed by the Persians. Credit: Mehmet Ozbalci
The Alem Entertainment Center in Ashgabat is the world’s largest enclosed Ferris wheel. It cost $90m to build. Credit: Arnau Rovira
Newlyweds are required to pose in front of a portrait of the President at the Wedding Palace in Ashgabat. Credit: Arnau Rovira
The Ashgabat Olympic Stadium has a 600 ton white marble horse head. Credit: Arnau Rovira
Ashgabat has the highest concentration of white marble-clad buildings in the world. Credit: Arnau Rovira
Highlight

Highlight: Building the Future in Turkmenistan

Little of the Soviet legacy survives in Turkmenistan. Since gaining independence after the fall of the USSR, Turkmenistan has articulated a new identity and vision for itself through a series of remarkable architectural projects.

Over the last decade, ‘Distinguished Architect of Turkmenistan’ President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has embarked on a mammoth project of reconstruction and beautification of the capital city, Ashgabat. Dozens of historical monuments have been destroyed and thousands of buildings demolished. In their place stand enormous white marble stadiums and monuments, a modern citadel unlike anything seen in the West. Tour the ‘White City’, home to the highest concentration of marble buildings in the world, and get to know the insular country with the audacious voice. Read more →

The Alem Entertainment Center in Ashgabat is the world’s largest enclosed Ferris wheel. It cost $90m to build. Credit: Arnau Rovira
Newlyweds are required to pose in front of a portrait of the President at the Wedding Palace in Ashgabat. Credit: Arnau Rovira
The Ashgabat Olympic Stadium has a 600 ton white marble horse head. Credit: Arnau Rovira
Ashgabat has the highest concentration of white marble-clad buildings in the world. Credit: Arnau Rovira
Once a thriving sea port city on the Aral Sea, Mo‘ynoq is now home to just a few thousand residents. Credit: Martijn Munneke
A graveyard of ships kilometres from the shore of the Aral Sea. Credit: Vladimir Mulder
Highlight

Highlight: Empire-building in Uzbekistan

The unbridled ambitions of the Soviet regime had a catastrophic impact on the natural environment. Starting in the 1950s, thousands of prisoners and volunteers were enlisted to build more than 20,000 miles of irrigation canals. They channeled water to the cotton and wheat fields in the dry and arid lands of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, turning them into fertile farming ground. The more produce the USSR grew, the less dependent they would be on other nations.

The water that flowed through those canals once came from the Aral Sea. Now just 10% of its original size, the sea no longer supports much life at all. Tour the defunct port and empty seabed with conservationists who are working to slow its rapid desertification. Read more →

Once a thriving sea port city on the Aral Sea, Mo‘ynoq is now home to just a few thousand residents. Credit: Martijn Munneke
A graveyard of ships kilometres from the shore of the Aral Sea. Credit: Vladimir Mulder
Thirty years of desertification, as seen from space. Credit: Google Earth
The Gudauri Viewpoint, formerly the Georgia-Russia Friendship Monument, on the Georgian Military Highway. Credit: Egor Myznik
Mosaics at the Gudauri Viewpoint. Credit: Alex Pflaum
Mosaic near the Rustavi International Motorpark. Credit: Nino Sirazde, Soviet Mosaics
Highlight

Highlight: Soviet Street Art in Georgia

Street art was an important means of spreading the ideological message of Communism. The walls of factories, schools, and bus stations were a cheap and ubiquitous blank canvas through which propagandist ideas pervaded. Mosaics were as important as any media outlet – maybe even more so – because they took political messages to people where they lived, worked and played.

Some of them survive. Many are slowly crumbling, telling Soviet stories of military victories, space achievements, and their heroes of labour. Visit the everyday buildings that spread the promise of a socialist utopia. Read more →

The Gudauri Viewpoint, formerly the Georgia-Russia Friendship Monument, on the Georgian Military Highway. Credit: Egor Myznik
Mosaics at the Gudauri Viewpoint. Credit: Alex Pflaum
Mosaic near the Rustavi International Motorpark. Credit: Nino Sirazde, Soviet Mosaics
A late night commuter in Ming O’rik (Thousand Apricot) station in Tashkent. Metro trains run from 5 a.m. until midnight. Credit: Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space at Cosmonauts Station, Tashkent Credit: Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
A trip on the Tashkent metro costs 1,200 Uzbek soms (12p), the cheapest subway ride in the former USSR. Credit: Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
Highlight

Highlight: Space-age Subways in Uzbekistan

Public transit for the masses was one of the cornerstones of Communist ideology. In the 1930s, automobile production was limited in favour of building new metro systems. The best artists and sculptors were employed to decorate the stations with patterned ceilings, soaring arches and dazzling chandeliers. Many of the stations boasted elaborate mosaics of the Soviet space program or heroes of industry.

Tashkent’s Cosmonauts Station honors the enduring icons of the space race. Join one of the architects who designed the station on a historic tour of the Tashkent metro. Finish at Cosmonauts Station, with its Milky Way glass star ceiling and atmospheric azure walls.
Read more →

A late night commuter in Ming O’rik (Thousand Apricot) station in Tashkent. Metro trains run from 5 a.m. until midnight. Credit: Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space at Cosmonauts Station, Tashkent Credit: Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
A trip on the Tashkent metro costs 1,200 Uzbek soms (12p), the cheapest subway ride in the former USSR. Credit: Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
The ribbed walls of the Yangykala Canyon, Balkan province Credit: Kahkean Photography
The ribbed walls of the Yangykala Canyon, Balkan province Credit: Kahkean Photography
The Darvaza gas crater, also known as the ‘Door to Hell’ was created in 1971 by Soviet geologists. Credit: Ybrayym Esenov
Highlight

Highlight: Beyond any Empire in Turkmenistan

A million years ago, most of Turkmenistan was covered by water. As the oceans receded, they left behind a vast rocky landscape with high cliffs and ribbed canyons. In the far North-West of Turkmenistan, deep in the Balkan province, lies the Yangykala canyon, a rarely-seen and little-known natural wonder.

With bands of pink, orange and white, and jagged edges protruding from all angles, Yanhykala looks more like a Martian landscape, pockmarked and chaotic. It stands apart, unimpacted by the political influences felt across the rest of the region. Journey to an empty desert where few humans live, and even fewer visit. Spend the night at the canyon’s base before watching the sunrise over a relentless desert.

The ribbed walls of the Yangykala Canyon, Balkan province Credit: Kahkean Photography
The ribbed walls of the Yangykala Canyon, Balkan province Credit: Kahkean Photography
The Darvaza gas crater, also known as the ‘Door to Hell’ was created in 1971 by Soviet geologists. Credit: Ybrayym Esenov

Safety & Security

While we love adventure, we don’t like unnecessary risk. The safety and security of our travellers comes first. We will not hesitate to alter or cancel travel due to changing security dynamics. Working with local guides, we receive real-time security updates, and plan our tours to minimise risks, mitigate consequences and put travellers’ minds at rest.

Our partners, Joro Experiences, are experts when it comes to travelling to remote parts of the world. Both founders have lived or worked in conflict-affected regions. They ensure that travellers are always in the very safest of hands.

You can choose to do this exact tour or personalise it. All trips are 100% bespoke, and we will work with you to build an adventure that fits your budget, timeline and interests.

Our Commitment to Freedom & Equality

Human rights: We’re respectful of being guests in other countries with different cultures, but won’t stand silent when human rights are violated. In some of the countries we visit, the authorities regularly crack down on the media, harass peaceful protesters, engage in smear campaigns against political rivals, and ban independent foreign organisations.

Our commitment to freedom and equality is unwavering. We donate 1.5% of the price of each tour to Human Rights Watch, an independent, non-profit NGO that exists to give voice to the oppressed and hold those responsible accountable. Read more about our commitment to freedom and equality for all here.

Supporting Local Communities: We work with the communities we travel through to ensure that our tours have a positive impact. We select local hotels where available, and pay local guides and fixers a living wage.

Comrade Kiev donates a further 1.5% of the price of this tour to Blue Shield in Georgia, a network that is committed to the protection of the world’s cultural property. Blue Shield works to restore, conserve and maintain late Soviet Modernist buildings in Georgia. Read more about their work here.

Our Commitment to the Environment

There is no better way to understand other cultures than to visit them. But ultimately, all travel has an impact on the environment. We’re working with values-led businesses like Joro Experiences to find the least carbon-intensive options for every stage of each tour. Here’s our journey so far.

Where we started: To reduce the carbon footprint of this tour, we first measured it. That number was estimated at 9313 kg of CO2e per person. This included return flights from New York, internal transport, food, hotels and all activities.

Our progress so far: We’ve reduced the original carbon footprint of this tour by approximately 12% (1191 kg) already through the following actions.

Exchanging flights: Flights were by far the largest CO2 contributor. While we couldn’t avoid all flights, we’ve exchanged them for high speed trains and 4X4s between the following cities: Tashkent • Samarkand, Samarkand • Bukhara, Bukhara • Khiva, Nukus • Ashgabat.

Reducing power consumption: We request that hotels and homestays do not wash sheets or towels for stays less than 3 nights.

Eating Local: Our guides will also recommend local restaurants which use regionally sourced produce to reduce the food miles of each meal.

Eliminating plastic waste: The average traveller drinks two bottles of water per day. With an average working life of less than 15 minutes, single use plastics like bottled water take 450 years to completely degrade. We will provide a reusable water bottle if you don’t have one.

Offsetting emissions: All remaining unavoidable carbon emissions are offset through our partners at Chooose. Chooose uses that money to capture the equivalent carbon emissions from the atmosphere and store it in stable ways.

Our future plans: We’ve set a goal to reduce the average footprint of each tour by a further 50% by 2026. In order to meet that target, we’ll work to find new ways to reduce impact, but we’ll also be reliant on local infrastructure improvements like the electrification of railways and installation of electric car charging stations. We’ll also be watching for technological advancements like zero-emission commercial aircrafts. We’ll advocate for them, and will be the first to adopt them as they become available.

Shop the Tour

Our Buildings | Ukraine | 1981£150.00
The Audience | Poland | 1973£200.00
Come to Poland | Poland | 1971£650.00
List of all posters

Further Reading

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Soviet Status Symbols: The Unique Balconies of the USSR

In Ukraine, there are balconies shaped like ship hulls and castles. DIY renovations extend over the streets below, each decorated in a unique style representative of their owner’s identity and requirements.

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Celebrating 60 Years of Humans in Space with a New Tour

60 years ago today, humans left Earth for the first time. On 12th April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, achieved Godlike status when he orbited the earth for 1 hour and 48 minutes onboard the Vostok 1. From outer space, borders vanish; and the conflicts that divide nations fade away. Space is our future.

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Announcing Sustainable, Ethical, Design-led Tours to the Former USSR

Posters tell the stories of the USSR. But not the whole story. The rest needs to be experienced. I’ve had several customers ask for advice on travelling to the former Soviet republics. In my own experience, I’ve found that travelling to many of these countries is often difficult. I wanted to change that.

architecture

Photo Essay: Inside Tashkent's Space-aged Subway Station

Public transit for the masses was one of the cornerstones of Communist ideology. In the 1930s, automobile production was limited in favour of building new metro systems. The best artists and sculptors were employed to decorate the stations with patterned ceilings, soaring arches and dazzling chandeliers. Many stations boasted elaborate mosaics of the Soviet space program or heroes of industry.

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