Soaring into the skies above the Uzbek Capital, the Tashkent TV Tower tops out at 375 meters (1,230.3 ft), making it the 3rd tallest tower in the former Soviet Union, and is currently ranked the 12th tallest tower in the world. Like the CN Tower in Toronto, and the Fernsehturm in Berlin, the Tashkent TV tower’s primary purpose was to serve as a platform for television and radio broadcasts for a growing population ever more dependent on telecommunications technology as a part of every day life.
Construction on the tower started in 1978 and took six years to complete, but planning began as early as 1976. Soviet officials realized that the existing 180 meter transmission tower built in 1957 was insufficient to reach the edges of a growing city, and television was already the most valuable tool for communicating directly into the homes of the people. It was also an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world how important Tashkent was as the 4th largest city in the Soviet Union, deserving of such a high profile project.
Intended to rival similar towers all over the world going up at that time, the plan for Tashkent was to not just build a TV tower, but to make it a centerpiece of progress in Central Asia. The tower was complemented by a sports training complex, exposition center, and amusement park. When completed in 1985, the tower was the 4th tallest in the world, surpassed only by the Ostankino Tower in Moscow, the CN Tower in Toronto, and the Kiev Television Tower, in Ukraine.
Because of the active seismicity of the region, and the memory of the 1966 Tashkent earthquake still fresh in the minds of city planners, the tower is supported by an over-engineered foundation 11 meters thick, with three massive steel-reinforced concrete support struts extending like a tripod to a point 85.4 meters (280 feet) up the 8 meter diameter central shaft. Each of these flexible tripod legs support struts weighing 540 tons each and are designed to dampen sway caused by regular winds blowing across the Central Asian Steppe, and reduce horizontal motion from even distant earthquakes not felt at ground level, but exacerbated by the height of the structure.
The tower features two “tower baskets” at 100 meters (328 feet) and 220 meters (721 feet). the first basket is open to the general public, and contains an observation deck and restaurant on two levels. The first level (floor number 6 according to the elevator) has a snack bar and viewing windows with a few coin operated sets of binoculars. The second level is an over-the-top “European” revolving restaurant with blue themed Soviet era decor. Decorative melted glass sculptures similar to those featured at the Parkent Solar Furnace adorn the walls, as booth style seating on a circular raised platform slowly rotates giving patrons a panoramic experience of the Tashkent skyline. The second tower basket at 220 meters is not open to the public. Guidebooks will tell you that it’s possible to pay off the guards to take you to the upper level (40,000 сўм should do the trick) but this information is out of date.
Guidebooks will also tell you the price of admission is $15 (120,000 сўм), but this is also wrong. On today’s visit we paid 40,000 сўм each ($5) which is probably the most expensive attraction we’ve ever visited in Uzbekistan. Price for locals is just 25,000 and kids get in for 12,500. As the tallest tower in Central Asia, with loads of high tech communications equipment and weather monitoring stations, security is very tight. Until recently, cameras weren’t even allowed, which begs the question, why pay to go up a tower with a view if you can’t take pictures? Needless to say we put off visiting this iconic Soviet era landmark until authorities lifted this draconian restriction.
The check-in process is much like an airport. Visitors are required to first visit the registration desk, turn in their passports, and take a slip of paper. That slip of paper then needs to be taken across the room to a cashier. The cashier collects your money and the registration slip, feeds the slip through a machine, hands it back to you, and then tells you go back to the registration desk on the other side of the room. The registration desk then takes the registration slip, gives you back your passport, and issues you an admission ticket. Security is also airport style, where each ticket holder, one at a time, goes through a metal detector after dumping the contents of every bag for inspection. Through the turnstiles and you’re in the clear! Proceed to the elevator and up you go.
Like many attractions in Uzbekistan, the whole experience takes visitors back in time. In this case, to the glory days of 1980s Soviet Union. The lobby is a monument to accomplishments of the USSR, with mosaics featuring productive workers, cosmonauts, Uzbek architecture, and an austere modernist mosaic representation of the tower itself. It’s obvious the tower was built to be visited by thousands of people per day, and has great potential as a tourism gold mine, but we don’t get the impression visitors are actually encouraged. The largely empty hallways and minimal staffing indicate that as an attraction, the Tashkent TV Tower probably peaked in popularity 30 years ago. For fans of Soviet nostalgia and architecture, the tower is a must see.