Statues, Monuments and Museums: A Post-Soviet Tour of Bishkek

Bishkek Travel Blog

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The Kyrgyz White House

Although I went to bed a little before 11pm it took me until 8:30 to finally get up. All that walking must have worn me out. Today was another day of walking, but not nearly as much. I did a proper city tour today, starting from Alexandra's flat walking south and back along Chuy to the Philharmonia to get some pictures. I detoured at the large Beta department store just to see what they had and I was impressed at their selection of furniture, clothing and groceries, including hard-to-find things like North Face jackets, various facial cleansers, Sensodyne toothpaste, imported chocolates, tahini and breakfast cereals. I did not find peanut butter or hand sanitizer, but they seemed to have everything else and prices weren't as high as I would have expected. After purchasing a tiny apple-carrot juice box, I made my was eastward along Chuy, passing imposing government buildings and shops.

State History Museum and Erkindik statue
Featured as a centerpiece in a wide square or tucked amongst pine trees, statues can be found everywhere in Bishkek. From Soviet leaders, national poets, war memorials and a sculpture garden, the Kyrgyz capital is a monument-lover's haven. Several statues still promote the virtues of communism, which complement the gradiose marble and concrete architecture the USSR was known for. In this department, Bishkek did not disappoint.

Ala-Too Square is the large open area on either side of Chuy Boulevard, and formerly known as Lenin Square (of course). His pose-striking statue was moved in 2003 to behind the State History Museum and replaced with a statue of Erkindik, or "Freedom" in Krygyz.

Soviet glory at the Mikhail Frunze Museum
Independence Day is celebrated on August 31st here, but today it was rather somber. Two guards stood rigidly on either side of a pillar guarding an eternal flame. Just before approaching Ala-Too, I passed the Kyrgyz White House and the "Dom Druzhby," a community center for various advocacy groups, according to Lonely Planet. I continued along Chuy until I passed the TsUM department store, which had attracted a large crowd outside its closed front doors waiting for a uniformed man to unlock it for the Saturday shoppers.

From the TsUM store I turned north to Victory Square where three large arches met at a crown-shaped wreath above a woman with arms outstretched next to another eternal flame, commemorating World War II. A wedding party was waltzing beneath the arches and another was on its way.

Lenin waves hello
I turned west again, passing the Circus and in search of the Frunze Museum. Instead I found the State Museum of Fine Arts but declined to take a tour. Across the street was the ornate State Opera and Ballet Theater, next to the Hyatt Regency Bishkek that was under renovations.

The Frunze House-Museum is just that, a two-storey museum containing the actual cottage young Mikhail supposedly was raised in. Everything was in Russian but photographs illustrated nearly every momentous occasion in the man's life, featuring letters, books, military paraphernalia and chronological picutres of the mustachioed man. The top floor contained a larger than life-sized statue of the man, probably in his upper 30s amidst Soviet flags and banners. The second floor was a bit more mysterious, containing mostly information on cosmonauts, Lenin and post-mortem (he died in 1925) war history, although I found a corner niche with a family photo near a plastic model of a submarine.

Surprise! Another monument!
Although the city was called Frunze for some 55 years, Bishkek was quick to rename itself in 1991 but the museum still pays tribute to a man who was born here and nevertheless was part of history.

The pinnacle of my post-Soviet Union sightseeing was hands-down the State Historical Museum. Again nothing was in English, but the highlight of the museum is the museum itself. Grand marble staircases open up to the largest exhibition centering around Lenin that I'd ever seen. The entire second floor offered 360 degrees of none other than Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and a stern bust greeted me as soon as I had ascended the stairs. Not only were books, letters, newspaper articles and photographs crammed in the display cases and on wall exhibits, enormous bronze statues depicting battle scenes and victorious moments in Lenin's life covered the entire floor.

The Ala-Too Theater
Even the ceilings depicted scenes of history, and I'll admit were eye-catching. The top floor contained Kyrgyz cultural exhibits, embroidery, artifacts and even the mummified remains of a woman in an open coffin. A real yurt was camped at the top of the stairs. From the main entrance another set of stairs led to an L-shaped hall featuring gifts donated by foreign countries to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan (or in pre-1991 cases the Kyrgyz SSR). A tiny side exhibit featured Kyrgyz prisoners of war. The lobby had two corners stuffed with overpriced but quaint souvenirs. 

By then it was 2:30 and I was starving, so I headed back to Chuy to find an Indian restaurant I'd read about but it must have closed so I settled for pizza and managed to eat the entire 8 slices by myself, washing it down with coffee that tasted like it came from a truck stop. I ventured back to a bar I'd seen earlier in the day called Krasny Amerika (Red America) and tried an Arpa beer on tap for 40 som. Towards dusk I strolled through Panfilov Park, which was nearly deserted except for a few families letting their children play on the decaying rides. While I didn't go to the art museum, I considered the day a fait accompli in terms of Bishkek tourist attractions, and checked with the guidebook to verify that I indeed saw all the major sites in the city.

adastra23 says:
I'm pretty into Soviet propaganda stuff too. It's too bad that there aren't posters up too.
Posted on: Nov 15, 2008
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The Kyrgyz White House
The Kyrgyz White House
State History Museum and Erkindik …
State History Museum and Erkindik…
Soviet glory at the Mikhail Frunze…
Soviet glory at the Mikhail Frunz…
Lenin waves hello
Lenin waves hello
Surprise! Another monument!
Surprise! Another monument!
The Ala-Too Theater
The Ala-Too Theater
Bishkek
photo by: londonstudent