Soviet Era Architecture and Monuments Tour, Bishkek

Soviet Era Architecture and Monuments Tour (Self Guided), Bishkek

While nomadic communities of yurt-living, horse-riding sheep herders are still thriving in the most remote valleys of Kyrgyzstan, the capital city of Bishkek shows a different facet of this Central Asian nation.

Built practically from scratch during the Soviet era, Bishkek experienced significant transformation in terms of urban planning and is packed to the rim with a well-preserved collection of modernist concrete experiments. Soviet-style architecture in Bishkek was characterized by the use of monumental, imposing structures that reflected the ideals and power of the Soviet state.

The local White House hardly bears any resemblance to its US counterpart. Still, similarly to its world-famous namesake, the building serves as the seat of the national government and is one of the most recognizable local landmarks.

The National Library of Kyrgyzstan is a notable piece of the Soviet Modernist style. Its design features a combination of glass, concrete, and sharp angles, reflecting the architectural trend of the late-Soviet period.

The Bishkek State Circus – unique in its design resembling a yurt, a traditional nomadic dwelling in Central Asia – is yet another iconic Soviet-era remnant. Much like it is the Ala-Too Movie Theater, constructed during the 1960s, showcasing a blend of modernist and brutalist influences.

Apart from the ubiquitous throughout most of the former Soviet Union monuments of Lenin, founder of the USSR, in Bishkek, you can also find the Friendship Monument and the one commemorating martyrs of the Socialist Revolution of 1917.

The five-year plans implemented under the Soviet Union to rapidly industrialize and modernize the country left a lasting impact on Bishkek's urban landscape in the form of wide boulevards, large public squares, and monumental structures. Although the country gained independence from the USSR in 1991, some of the architectural oddities that characterized the Soviet period can still be admired today in all their former glory. To acquaint yourself with the legacy of the Soviet era in architecture, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Soviet Era Architecture and Monuments Tour Map

Guide Name: Soviet Era Architecture and Monuments Tour
Guide Location: Kyrgyzstan » Bishkek (See other walking tours in Bishkek)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Frunze House-Museum
  • Old Square and Government House
  • Lenin Monument
  • Friendship Monument
  • White House
  • Ala-Too Movie Theater
  • Martyrs of the Revolution Monument
  • National Library
  • Circus
Frunze House-Museum

1) Frunze House-Museum

The M. V. Frunze Museum is a significant cultural institution dedicated to showcasing the life and artifacts of Mikhail Frunze. The museum, first opened in December 1925, holds historical importance as it is housed in the very building where Frunze, a prominent figure in Soviet history, was born. The house, constructed in 1879 by Vasily Frunze, Mikhail's father, serves as a symbolic setting for preserving and commemorating his legacy.

Over the years, the museum has undergone several renovations and additions. In 1967, it was renovated to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution, and renowned muralists Alexei Kamensky and Alexander Voronin participated in embellishing the building. The museum's historical and cultural significance was officially recognized in 2002 when the building was included in the State List of Historic and Cultural Monuments of Republican Importance.

Unfortunately, the museum has experienced instances of theft and loss. In 2014, three exhibits, including the banner of the 46th regiment of the Red Army, were stolen. Furthermore, in 2019, jewelry from the museum's collection was also stolen. Despite these unfortunate incidents, the museum continues to house a substantial collection of artifacts related to Mikhail Frunze.

The museum's collection comprises various objects, including books, manuscripts, documents, photographs, and paintings. Some of these items were donated by Mikhail's family and friends, providing valuable insights into his personal life. The exhibition once featured an adobe hut, adding to the authenticity and historical context of Frunze's upbringing.
Old Square and Government House

2) Old Square and Government House

Old Square is a prominent public square located in the heart of Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. Its construction began in 1936 to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the October Revolution, and despite the challenges posed by the Great Patriotic War, the square was finally completed in 1954.

One of the notable structures in Old Square is the Government House, which was constructed in 1957. This historic building served as the meeting place for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kirghizia and the Council of Ministers of the Kyrgyz SSR. With its grand architecture adorned with classic columns, the Government House stands as an impressive landmark in Bishkek. However, it is regrettable that the building is not accessible to the public, and its interior remains closed to visitors.

The square underwent a significant reconstruction project in 1964, led by renowned Soviet architect Yevgeny Pisarskoi. This endeavor aimed to revitalize and improve the square's overall appearance and functionality. By 1970, the square had been enriched with the addition of a city theater, further enhancing its cultural significance and providing a venue for various performances and events.

During the Soviet era, Old Square played a crucial role in hosting military parades and political rallies, symbolizing the power and achievements of the Soviet Union. However, with the opening of Ala-Too Square in 1984, which became the new central square of the city, Old Square gradually diminished in importance and saw reduced usage over the years.

In June 2016, a group of private investors took the initiative to renovate Old Square as a gift to the city of Bishkek. This project aimed to restore the square's historical and cultural value, creating an attractive and revitalized public space for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Lenin Monument

3) Lenin Monument

The Lenin Monument has a complex history that reflects the changing political landscape of the country. The statue was originally erected in 1984 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic. Like many Lenin statues across the former Soviet Union, it was a symbol of the communist regime's influence and power.

Following the fall of communism in 1991, there was a wave of decommunization efforts, and Lenin statues were taken down in many cities. However, the Lenin statue in Bishkek remained in place until 2003, standing prominently in a square. At that time, plans were underway to renovate the square as part of the celebration of the 2,200th anniversary of Kyrgyz statehood.

The decision to relocate the Lenin statue near the Old Square sparked controversy and triggered a process of contestation. The government's explanations for the relocation were vague and inconsistent, leading to different interpretations and reactions from the public. The lack of clarity surrounding the decision fueled discussions and debates about the significance of the statue and its place in contemporary Kyrgyzstan.

The relocation of the Lenin statue in Bishkek can be seen as a reflection of the country's evolving identity and its attempts to navigate its post-Soviet era. It symbolizes the ongoing debate over the legacy of communism and the desire to redefine national symbols in the context of a new political and cultural landscape.
Friendship Monument

4) Friendship Monument

The Friendship Monument is a magnificent example of monumental Soviet art and a symbol of a bygone era. Situated on Prospect Chuy, near the Historical Museum, the monument was unveiled in 1974 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's voluntary accession to Russia. It stands as a testament to the bond of friendship between the Russian and Kyrgyz people.

The monument consists of two tall pylons crafted from white marble. These pillars are adorned with expressive high reliefs that depict figures symbolizing the Russian and Kyrgyz people. The artwork portrays the deep and unbreakable ties of friendship between the two nations.

The Friendship Monument is not only a remarkable artistic creation but also carries historical significance. It reflects the era when Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union and emphasizes the unity and cooperation between different ethnic groups within the union.

The monument's design and execution showcase the grandeur and artistic prowess of Soviet-era monumental sculptures. The expressive reliefs capture the spirit of camaraderie and unity, reinforcing the ideals of friendship that the Soviet Union aimed to promote.

Over the years, the Friendship Monument has become an iconic landmark in Bishkek, attracting visitors with its imposing presence and symbolic message. It serves as a visual reminder of the historical and cultural ties between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
White House

5) White House

The White House in Bishkek serves as the presidential office building and holds significant historical importance. It has been the backdrop for pivotal events in the country's recent history, including the 2005 Tulip Revolution and the 2010 Kyrgyzstani riots.

Located on Chuy Avenue, between the Philharmonia building and the Monument to the Martyrs of the Revolution, the White House is a seven-story structure constructed in the Stalinist modern architectural style. It was designed with the STO (Gosplan, Duma) building in Moscow as a model. Originally built in 1985, the building was intended to house the headquarters of the Communist Party's Central Committee.

The White House gained notoriety during the 2005 Tulip Revolution, when large-scale protests erupted in response to allegations of electoral fraud. Demonstrators rallied outside the building, demanding political change and the resignation of the incumbent president. Subsequently, in 2010, the White House became the center of attention once again during the Kyrgyzstani riots, characterized by widespread unrest and clashes between different ethnic groups. Tragically, during the 2010 riots, a fire broke out within the White House, resulting in significant damage to the building and the destruction of numerous government records stored in hard copy format.

Interestingly, there are rumors of an underground complex beneath Ala-Too Square, purportedly connected to the White House via a network of underground tunnels. While the existence and purpose of this underground structure remain speculative, it adds an air of mystery and intrigue to the White House's history.
Ala-Too Movie Theater

6) Ala-Too Movie Theater

Ala Too Cinema, situated on the main square in the heart of Bishkek is the largest cinema in the city. With its rich history and captivating architectural features, it offers not only a cinematic experience but also an opportunity to appreciate artistic sculptures adorning its walls.

Established in the early 1960s, Ala Too Cinema holds the distinction of being the oldest movie theater in Kyrgyzstan. Despite its age, the cinema has undergone renovations to incorporate modern technologies, including digital 3D projections, ensuring an enhanced viewing experience for moviegoers.

As you approach the cinema, the first thing that catches your attention is the concave facade adorned with bas-relief sculptures. These sculptures depict Soviet cosmonauts and other heroes, adding a touch of nostalgia and historical significance to the building. They serve as a reminder of the Soviet era and the achievements celebrated during that time.

Inside Ala Too Cinema, visitors can immerse themselves in the world of cinema, enjoying the latest movies on the big screen. The theater offers a comfortable and spacious environment, allowing audiences to relax and fully engage with the cinematic experience.
Martyrs of the Revolution Monument

7) Martyrs of the Revolution Monument

The Martyrs of the Revolution monument stands as a testament to the brave individuals who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of a brighter future. Erected in 1978, this monument serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles and aspirations of the revolutionary era.

The centerpiece of the monument is a grand statue of a woman, depicting Urkuya Salieva (1910-1934), an influential socialist organizer. Her likeness embodies the spirit and dedication of those who fought for social change during a time of upheaval and transformation.

Commonly referred to as the Statue of War, the Martyrs of the Revolution monument was awarded the prestigious 'All Union Lenin' prize during the Soviet era. Its design and symbolism capture the essence of the revolutionary movement and its ideological underpinnings.

The monument features additional statues of socialist warriors standing behind the central figure. These warriors represent individuals who fell victim to the actions of "rich peasants" during the turbulent times of the revolution. Together, these sculptures form a powerful ensemble that conveys the struggles and sacrifices made by those who fought for a more equitable society.

As a product of the Soviet era, the Martyrs of the Revolution monument reflects the artistic style and ideology prevalent during that time. It showcases the skill and craftsmanship of the sculptors involved and stands as an excellent example of Soviet-era statuary.
National Library

8) National Library

The National Library has a rich history that reflects the country's evolution and commitment to preserving its cultural heritage. Established in 1934 during Soviet rule in Frunze (now Bishkek), the library was formed by merging the Central City Library and the Scientific Library. Initially named the N.G. Chernyshevsky State Library of the Kyrgyz USSR, it paid homage to the ideologies that fueled the project, with Chernyshevsky being seen as a forerunner to Lenin.

Over the years, the library played a vital role in collecting and preserving publications. In 1939, it became a book depository, receiving mandatory copies of items published in the USSR. In 1940, it started receiving mandatory copies of domestic publications as well. The library's work expanded, and in 1950, the Department of Local Studies and Kyrgyz Books was established to promote Kyrgyz press and local history literature. In 1961, the National Bibliography Department was formed to document works published in Kyrgyzstan, making the records accessible to citizens and centralized authorities in Moscow.

In 1984, the library moved to its current location, a large seven-story building designed to store three million storage units. The building was named after Vladimir Lenin during the Soviet era. After Kyrgyzstan gained independence, the library was renamed the National Library of the Kyrgyz Republic and classified as a valuable national heritage representing the country's historical and cultural legacy. Today, the library is named after Alykul Osmonov, a Kyrgyz poet.

The National Library of Kyrgyzstan serves as a significant cultural institution, preserving and promoting the country's literary heritage. With its vast collection and modern approach to engagement, it continues to play a crucial role in providing access to knowledge and preserving Kyrgyzstan's rich cultural history for present and future generations.

9) Circus

The Bishkek Circus, constructed in 1976, stands as a distinctive architectural marvel resembling a massive flying saucer that has landed in the northeastern part of the city. Circuses have long been a source of entertainment, initially catering to the aristocracy before the Russian Revolution. However, following the revolution in 1917, circuses were nationalized, allowing the general public to enjoy their performances. Throughout the USSR, including cities like Almaty and Kharkiv, similar circus buildings emerged, playing a significant role in propagating culture during Soviet times.

The Bishkek Circus, with its vibrant yellow and green exterior, represents this cultural phenomenon. However, it gained unexpected international attention for unfortunate reasons in 2009. During a rehearsal of the popular "ice-skating bears" show, a tragic incident occurred when a brown bear attacked and killed the circus administrator. This incident brought attention to the risks involved in working closely with wild animals.

Despite this unfortunate incident, the Bishkek Circus continues to be a venue for captivating performances and entertainment. Inside its unique structure, audiences can witness thrilling acrobatic acts, comedic clown performances, and daring stunts. The circus serves as a hub of amusement and cultural exchange, showcasing the talents of local and international performers.

Walking Tours in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Create Your Own Walk in Bishkek

Create Your Own Walk in Bishkek

Creating your own self-guided walk in Bishkek is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Bishkek Introduction Walking Tour

Bishkek Introduction Walking Tour

The capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, is set against the picturesque backdrop of the snow-capped Tian Shan mountains at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level.

Compared to other major cities in Central Asia, Bishkek has a relatively short history. It was founded in 1825, as the Pishpek fortress, during the Russian colonization of the region. The fortress served as an administrative...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles