One of the things that most excited us for our trip to Central Asia was the number of well preserved buildings from the Soviet Era. Bishkek, in particular, had a great concentration of the buildings, ranging from Stalinist to Socialist Modernist, all within easy walking distance from one another. As you know by the title of my blog, I am a big fan of concrete architecture, and this post is for all of those wishing to see the greatest examples of the medium in the shortest amount of walking time. I did a great amount of research before our trip to ensure our two days in the Kyrgyz capital wouldn’t be spent idling about. We had an itinerary, and we stuck to it.
To start, here’s the route we’ll cover:
We start at the western end of Chuy Ave, the main thoroughfare through downtown Bishkek. As our interests were more modern than classical, we started at the Philharmonic Hall. If you’re interested in the more Classical/Stalinist type of architecture, start a bit further west of that, even. The Osh Bazaar (not to be confused with the town of the same name) is about a mile west of the Philharmonic Hall, and there are Stalinist beauties aplenty between the two.
The Kyrgyz Philharmonic Hall (built in 1980) is an imposing building with a front courtyard to be rivaled by any post-Soviet capital. A statue of Manas, the epic nation founder of Kyrgyzstan, is found front and center, among water features in various states of disrepair. When we disembarked our gypsy cab, we were immediately met by friendly faces asking us about where we were visiting from and how we found Kyrgyzstan. In a word, “fabulous” came to mind as a response.
We then skirted around the back of the building to see the following monument. Or I should say, we stumbled upon it. An asymetrical gathering of cubes meant to symbolize the Fathers of the Kyrgyz Nation, it whet our thirst for the rest of Bishkek’s treasure trove of Soviet monuments and architectural gems.
From there we continued eastward on Ryskulov Street (the street parallel to Chuy, but one block north) to the Kyrgyz Sports Palace. I recommend approaching the Sports Palace on Ryskulov because you can see this amazing concrete spiral staircase.
The Sports Palace was built in 1974 and has a fantastic statue in front of Kojomkul, a historical Kyrgyz strongman noted for carrying his horse over a mountain pass when it could no longer walk. If you want to get huge, better get tips from this guy. Did they have creatine or HGH in 1920s century Central Asia?
Take a right on the street in front of the Sports Palace (Togolok Moldo) and then a left on Chuy to get back on the main drag. From there you’ll walk past the Kyrgyz “White House” and then the National Museum of History – both notable beautiful buildings in the Modernist style. Once at the National Museum of History, take a look to your right and admire the extremely impressive Ala-Too Sqare.
Once passed this, you’ll have a few blocks to ingest the beautiful geometry of what you’ve just witnessed before taking a left on Yusup Abhdramanov Street. On your walk northward on this street you’ll get to see the Stalinist State Opera House on your right, and the Gapar Aitiev Museum of Art on your left.
Walk a couple of more blocks and the impressive Kyrgyz State Circus (built in 1976) will be on your right. I’m not a fan of circuses in general – animal rights and all that – but there’s something to be said for Soviet-era circus buildings. We’ve seen them across the post-Soviet world, and Kyrgyzstan’s has been my favorite to date. Take a look at these pictures:
And right behind the Circus is the Palace of Weddings. Go inside, admire the stained glass for a bit before being asked to leave for taking too many pictures, then gawk at the accumulation of stretch hummers outside. KA-CHING.
The last stop on the tour is the old abandoned casino on the northern edge of Victory Square. I plan on writing more on this place later, but I think it’s up and coming on the list of international Urbex hot spots.
There you have it, folks! Bishkek was a truly lovely city to visit, and not just for its amazing examples of Soviet-era architecture. I see it as a place we could retire, so keep on the lookout for a concrete and kitsch sponsored villa in Bishkek in coming years!