Turkmenistan strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on Friday opened a giant five-star hotel worth over $100 million, shaped like a cruise ship, at the country’s main Caspian Sea resort.
The 13-floor, 350-room hotel is the biggest in Turkmenistan’s Avaza tourist zone, which the government is trying to promote despite an incredibly restrictive visa regime for foreigners.
“The purpose of this resort is to create the best conditions for interesting recreation time for the Turkmen people,” Berdymukhamedov said of Avaza, adding that the hotel was called “Gami”, or “Boat” to symbolise “the boat of our friendship.”
“And since we are on a boat, we will be having nautical pasta — a cheap Soviet pasta dish with minced pork and beef — for lunch,” he joked, before the dish was served to officials, diplomats and journalists at the ceremonial lunch.
The Central Asian country’s leader, 59, also quoted a nautically-themed poem by Russian wordsmith Mikhail Lermontov.
The 90-metre by 200 metre (300 by 650 feet) white marble-clad hotel was built to echo a “snow-white ocean ship” a representative of the state company that ordered it built, told AFP .
A giant portrait of Berdymukhamedov spanned three floors of the building as dancers performed in front of it.
The hotel was built by the Turkish construction and logistics firm Ekol.
Hydrocarbon-rich Turkmenistan’s secretive government has a reputation for lavish spending on frivolous architectural projects, even in times of economic crisis.
The country devalued its manat currency by around twenty percent in early 2015 under pressure from low prices for hydrocarbons, which account for practically all of the country’s exports.
On the black market the currency’s value can fetch up to 6 manats to the dollar against an official rate of 3.5 to the dollar, down from 2.8 to the dollar in 2014.
Despite Berdymukhamedov officially encouraging belt-tightening, the country has continued to spend heavily on infrastructure ahead of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games it will host in the capital Ashgabat.
In 2013 Ashgabat earned a Guinness World Record as the city with the highest density of white marble-clad buildings.
“If the marble was laid out flat, there would be one square metre of marble for every 4.87 m² of land,” Guinness said at the time.
The city also hosts a golden statue of Berdymukhamedov and a similar statue of predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov, which once rotated with the movements of the sun.