• FINDING FRUNZE

    SOVIET-ERA ART & ARCHITECTURE IN BISHKEK

    A minimal shot of the green top of the Soviet era State Circus in Bishkek, with Russian letters in yellow and a blue sky background
  • FINDING FRUNZE

    SOVIET-ERA ART & ARCHITECTURE IN BISHKEK

    A minimal shot of the green top of the Soviet era State Circus in Bishkek, with Russian letters in yellow and a blue sky background

FINDING FRUNZE

SOVIET-ERA ART & ARCHITECTURE IN BISHKEK

Frunze was a name I’d never heard of before setting foot in Bishkek. Leningrad, Stalingrad, Stalinabad, sure. But Frunze? This was news to me. 

Like many other great Soviet cities, Kyrgyzstan’s capital was renamed under communism. The Bishkek born Bolshevik hero Mikhail Frunze lent his name to the city for more than sixty years. During this time, a change in name wasn’t the only revamp Bishkek experienced. In true Soviet fashion, the city underwent a physical transformation. People’s art adorned the walls of apartment blocks, work buildings and public spaces. Imposing Socialist Modernism architecture dominated civic design. Parks and green spaces sprung up across the city. It’s a legacy that endures to this day.

While Frunze is no more, the monumental art and architecture of the Soviet-era remains, and exploring modern day Bishkek through its recent past is a fascinating way to discover the city. From colourful mosaics to towering statues, there’s a lot to uncover. That is, if you know where to look. 

On the hunt for Soviet-era Art & Architecture in Bishkek

We spent a week in Bishkek hunting out such Soviet-era delights. Our explorations had us strolling the city’s streets and leafy boulevards, getting to grips with the public bus and marshrutka network, and diving head first into residential micro-districts. We wandered far beyond the usual tourist trail, in what’s already a fairly obscure travel destination. As such, sourcing the location of many of these Soviet relics proved challenging. 

Researching Soviet mosaics in Bishkek, I came across a few articles about a 2012-2014 project by STAB called Fragmented Dream. Reference kept being made to a map of key works produced by the group – exactly the kind of thing I wanted to get my hands on. But it was easier said than done. A pdf of a calendar produced a year later was all I could dig up, complete with the location of some of the most special mosaics. I pored over the details, translating the Russian or Kyrgyz addresses where necessary, and bookmarked them all on Maps.me. 

This was the best I could hope for it seemed. Until that is, an email reply from STAB confirmed they still had some maps, and I could come by to get one. After a Cold War drama-esque exchange with the office security guard, we had our hands on the precious map! It showed that I already had the right location for a number of works, and it outlined a few more, mainly in the 5th microdistrict on the outskirts of the city centre. The detective work had paid off and we had ourselves a plan for the week, well, in between eating and drinking the best Bishkek could offer

Here you’ll find the best of Bishkek’s Soviet-era art and architecture, ready and waiting for you to discover for yourself.

Soviet Bishkek Map

To save you the hard work we’ve detailed all of the mosaics, statues, buildings and pieces of interest that we discovered in Bishkek on the map below. You can also download our Maps.Me Bishkek bookmarks for offline use here. Just make sure you download the app first (iOS/Android).

MOSAICS & RELIEFS

LABOUR

1966
Artists: Michael Bochkarev & Altymysh Usubaliev
Materials: Pebbles, Ceramics


If you’ve ever wandered the streets of Bishkek, chances are you’ve passed right by Labour without even realising it. Adorning an apartment block wall just off Chuy Avenue, this is one of Bishkek’s most easily accessible Soviet-era mosaics. In fact, you can spot it right across the street from the outdoor seating area of Bukhara restaurant. 

The mosaic, made of pebbles and ceramics, symbolises Soviet class structure. A countrywoman stands beside an industrial worker complete with bushy moustache, and an intellectual dressed in a white coat and tie. 

This is still a lived-in apartment building, where a stream of people young and old come and go through the locked front gate. Hang around and flash a smile, and your camera, if you want to gain access to the small entrance courtyard for the best view.

A Soviet era pebble mosaic called 'Labour' on the external wall of an apartment block in Bishkek

The view of ‘Labour’ from inside the small courtyard of the apartment building


A Soviet era pebble mosaic called 'Labour' on the external wall of an apartment block in Bishkek

The view of ‘Labour’ from inside the
courtyard of the apartment building



THE PATH OF ENLIGHTENMENT

1978
Artist: Satar Aitiev
Materials: Smalt Tiles


This unique Soviet-era mosaic strays, quite surprisingly, far from the realm of traditional Socialist Realism. Boldly marking the entrance to one of Kyrgyz National University’s campus buildings, it’s not hard to find. Dream-like figures of men and women, some dressed in traditional Kyrgyz hats, emerge from the sky, looking towards a central ghostly shape. Wispy clouds float by and the whole mosaic takes on an ethereal, painterly feel. Indeed, the artist is a prominent Kygryz painter. This monumental artwork is a far cry from stereotypical Soviet ideology, and it created quite a stir when it was first revealed.

Detail of the mosaic called 'Path of Enlightenment' at Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek

Dreamlike figures in traditional dress on ‘The Path Of Enlightenment’



Detail of the mosaic called 'Path of Enlightenment' at Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek

Dreamlike figures in traditional
dress on ‘The Path Of Enlightenment’



The mosaic is complemented by a number of smaller works either side of the main panel. They’re easy to miss, hidden behind trees and fading in colour. Each is made from smalt, a special kind of cobalt glass sourced from the Baltic. 

The main mosaic is in excellent condition and can be easily appreciated from the large open courtyard in front.

The Path of Enlightenment mosaic above the entrance to a Kyrgyz National University building in Bishkek

The mosaic as viewed from the front courtyard of the Kyrgyz National University campus building


The Path of Enlightenment mosaic above the entrance to a Kyrgyz National University building in Bishkek

The mosaic as viewed from the front courtyard
of the Kyrgyz National University campus building



SONG

1966
Artist: Alexei Kamensky
Materials: Smalt Tiles


One of the earliest Soviet mosaics in Bishkek, Song is beautifully preserved to this day. It is the only interior mosaic we found, located on the back wall of a bright open space in the corridors of the Shubin Music School.

The Soviet mosaic 'Song' in the Shubin Music School in Bishkek

‘Song’, well protected and maintained on the wall inside the Shubin Music School



The Soviet mosaic 'Song' in the Shubin Music School in Bishkek

‘Song’, well protected and maintained on
the wall inside the Shubin Music School



The bold colours and detail of the clothing is wonderful, and you can appreciate it up close. You’ll need to visit during opening hours as the school is still active, and the mosaic is best viewed in the afternoon light.

Detail of colourful smalt tiles in the Soviet era mosaic 'Song' in Bishkek

Inspecting the fine detail of the tilework 


Close up shot of a woman's head in the Soviet mosaic 'Song' in the Shubin Music School in Bishkek

Close up of the colourful tiles and woman’s head


Close up shot of a woman's head in the Soviet mosaic 'Song' in the Shubin Music School in Bishkek

Close up of the colourful tiles and woman’s head


Detail of colourful smalt tiles in the Soviet era mosaic 'Song' in Bishkek

Inspecting the fine detail of the tilework



OUR WORK TO YOU, MOTHERLAND!

1984
Artist: Theodore Herzen
Materials: Smalt Tiles


This monumental mosaic is as bold and rousing as the title suggests. Dominating the entrance to a textile factory, Our Work To You, Motherland! is dedicated to the workers. The purpose of the building remains unchanged today, although the people working there don’t seem to pay the mosaic much attention. 

The artist, Theodore Herzen, lived nearby and based the central female figure on his wife, also an artist. The work is striking, yet delicate. Flowing fabrics melt into the sky, with doves and a beautiful sunset completing the scene. 

It’s impossible to inspect up close due to the sheer scale of the work and the height at which it’s displayed, but you can get a great view from the entrance way of the building.


The Soviet mosaic 'Our Work To You, Motherland!' in Bishkek

The Soviet mosaic 'Our Work To You, Motherland!' in Bishkek

The dominant Our Work To You, Motherland!’
above the entrance to the textile factory



RADIO AND NOWADAYS

1967
Artist: Alexander Veronin
Materials: Pebbles


Much like Our Work To You, Motherland! reflects the function of the textile factory it adorns, Radio and Nowadays boldly announces the city’s radio station. It’s one of the few mosaics in the city to be made of cheap local pebbles and not costly smalt tiles (most of these are from the early period of creation). This makes the colours a little more subdued but the scale of the work is impressive. A giant of a man cups hand to mouth, radio waves emanating skyward. He stands level with a radio mast, symbolising the enormous scientific achievements of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet mosaic 'Radio And Nowadays' in Bishkek

‘Radio and Nowadays’, subdued in colour but impressive in scale


The Soviet mosaic 'Radio And Nowadays' in Bishkek

‘Radio and Nowadays’, subdued in
colour but impressive in scale



LENIN IS WITH US

1978
Artist: Lydia Ilina
Materials:
Smalt Tiles


This large mosaic takes on a three dimensional appearance, with curved sections protruding from the wall. ‘All Soviet People’ are represented; a Red Army soldier, male and female students, a scholar, a scientist, a young pioneer, a worker and so on. They are spread across numerous panels, all connected by a flowing red banner.

The Soviet mosaic 'Lenin Is With Us' in Bishkek

The sprawling bas-relief/mosaic, ‘Lenin Is With Us’



The Soviet mosaic 'Lenin Is With Us' in Bishkek

The sprawling bas-relief/mosaic, ‘Lenin Is With Us’



Lenin stands separate on the left, arm extended in his familiar pose: he is presented atop a pedestal in statue-like form, facing right towards the others. On the opposing side of the mosaic is a Madonna-like figure with child: dressed in white robe and head covering, she looks directly back towards Lenin. She is surrounded by the Soviet people, and is seemingly the centre of their world.

Close up of Lenin from the Soviet mosaic 'Lenin Is With Us' in Bishkek

Lenin shown in his characteristic pose



Close up of the madonna-like figure from the Soviet mosaic 'Lenin Is With Us' in Bishkek

The madonna-like figure, facing back towards Lenin



Close up of Lenin from the Soviet mosaic 'Lenin Is With Us' in Bishkek

Lenin shown in his characteristic pose


Close up of the madonna-like figure from the Soviet mosaic 'Lenin Is With Us' in Bishkek

The madonna-like figure, facing back towards Lenin



It’s curious to me, this bold religious figure sat in direct contrast to Lenin. The title suggests that even in this modern age, the early Soviet ideals and teachings of Lenin remain at the heart of everything the people do. But the composition shows such a distinction between the two, that you can’t help but wonder if the artist is suggesting that Lenin is being forgotten.

More Soviet-era Art & Architecture


WELCOMING GUESTS

1964
Artist: Andrej Mihaliov
Materials: Smalt Tiles and Ceramics


This was the first mosaic to appear in Frunze, positioned boldly by the road to the old airport. It was created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the accession of Kyrgyzstan to Russia. Its style is unique compared to others created later in the city, still owing its influences to the Socialist Realist Stalinist style. It’s bright and colourful, and remains in excellent condition.

The Soviet mosaic 'Welcoming Guests' in Bishkek

A bright and colourful welcome as you head into the centre of Bishkek



The Soviet mosaic 'Welcoming Guests' in Bishkek

A bright and colourful welcome as
you head into the centre of Bishkek



Men, women and children are shown in a variety of dress, some in traditional Kyrgyz clothing, others wearing modern European style suits and dresses. The red communist flag, complete with yellow hammer and sickle, flies triumphantly above them all.

Close up of people from the Soviet mosaic 'Welcoming Guests' in Bishkek

A variety of Russian and Kyrgyz people from throughout the countries’ shared history are shown


Close up of people from the Soviet mosaic 'Welcoming Guests' in Bishkek

A variety of Russian and Kyrgyz people from
throughout the countries’ shared history are shown



ALA-TOO CINEMA

1964?
Artist: Unknown
Style: Bas Relief


Ala-Too Cinema is still in operation to this day, a prominent building found on central Chuy Avenue. Its distinctive curved facade is topped by seven bas relief panels, depicting the great achievements of the Soviet Union.

The Ala-too Cinema in Central Bishkek

The noteable curved facade of the Ala-Too Cinema



The Ala-too Cinema in Central Bishkek

The noteable curved facade of the Ala-Too Cinema



They are not the original panels, having been re-designed to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Kyrgyzstan’s accession to Russia. The outer panels commemorate the occasion, with distinct Kyrgyz motifs. The central panels symbolise peace, scientific progress and the advancement of education under Soviet rule. The classic hammer, sickle and star emblems also appear.

The Central Bas-reliefs of the Ala-too Cinema in Bishkek

The left side bas-relief panels of the Ala-too Cinema in Bishkek

The right side bas-relief panels of the Ala-too Cinema in Bishkek

The left side bas-relief panels of the Ala-too Cinema in Bishkek

The left-sided panels with cosmonaut, Kyrgyz motifs
and the names of the both Russia and Kyrgyzstan


The Central Bas-reliefs of the Ala-too Cinema in Bishkek

The central panels with the recognisable
Soviet symbols and a focus on education


The right side bas-relief panels of the Ala-too Cinema in Bishkek

The right-sided panels with Kyrgyz motifs,
the centenary dates and a focus on peace



FESTIVE PROCESSION OF THE PEOPLE OF HARD LABOUR, CULTURE AND SCIENCE

1978
Artists: Alexey Kamensky, Albert Bekdzhanyan
Materials: Armenian Coloured Tufa and Travertine


Boldly adorning either side of the Southern Gate, these two panels were originally designed to be purely decorative. This wasn’t acceptable to officials however, and the artists were ordered to incorporate ideology into the design, told to celebrate the achievements of the republic in the fields of science, culture, agriculture and industry. A compromise was made by the artists, interspersing figures of people to symbolise these achievements.

The Soviet-era mosaic ‘FESTIVE PROCESSION OF THE PEOPLE OF HARD LABOUR, CULTURE AND SCIENCE’ in Bishkek

The figures that feature on the eastern mosaic



The Soviet-era mosaic ‘FESTIVE PROCESSION OF THE PEOPLE OF HARD LABOUR, CULTURE AND SCIENCE’ in Bishkek

A view of the western mosaic



The Soviet-era mosaic ‘FESTIVE PROCESSION OF THE PEOPLE OF HARD LABOUR, CULTURE AND SCIENCE’ in Bishkek

The figures that feature on the eastern mosaic


The Soviet-era mosaic ‘FESTIVE PROCESSION OF THE PEOPLE OF HARD LABOUR, CULTURE AND SCIENCE’ in Bishkek

A view of the western mosaic



The use of tufa and travertine creates a muted colour palette, and in its faded state today, the monumental art blends in somewhat with its everyday surroundings. 

A travertine Soviet-era mosaic among everday surroundings

Looking at home among functional surroundings


A travertine Soviet-era mosaic among everday surroundings

Looking at home among functional surroundings



FLOURISH, KYRGYZSTAN!

1978
Artist: Satar Aitiev
Materials: Smalt Tiles


This enormous mosaic covers the entire end of an apartment block opposite the VEFA shopping centre. The residents have been approached many times with numerous requests to cover the monumental art with advertising billboards, but each time they’ve refused. This is heartening to know, as Soviet-era mosaics are in danger of being damaged or destroyed across Bishkek and the entire former USSR. 

The state of this mosaic is in decline, with the colours fading and many tiny cobalt glass tiles missing due to neglect. But the overall impression remains visible, and is best appreciated from across the street. The central figure of a woman, dressed in traditional Kyrgyz clothing, stands open-armed in front of her fellow male and female citizens. They look hopeful, triumphant and prosperous. Skyscrapers, flowing ribbons and rays of sun tower above them, reaching to the sky and beyond. It’s a rousing piece of propaganda art, no doubt intended to instill a notion of pride and determination in all those Kyrgyz citizens who gazed upon it.


The Soviet mosaic 'Flourish, Kyrgyzstan!' in Bishkek

The Soviet mosaic 'Flourish, Kyrgyzstan!' in Bishkek

The faded glory of  ‘Flourish, Kyrgyzstan!’



SPACE AND PROGRESS OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

1984
Artist: Momunbek Akmatkulov
Materials: Smalt Tiles


While Flourish, Kyrgyzstan! endures thanks to the refusal of local residents to cover it up, not all Soviet-era mosaics in Bishkek have been so lucky. While all of these mosaics should be maintained by the government as monuments of history and culture, in reality little is done to protect them. Some, like Women (1985), have been covered over by new building owners, completely hidden from view. Others, like Space and Progress of Science and Technology, have been purposely and irrevocably damaged. 

On the side of the former House of Science and Technology, this spectacular mosaic was painted over by the new owners, and holes were drilled through it to insert external air conditioning units. After a campaign by STAB, the owners were forced to wash off the paint and were fined a measly 1000 soms (about $14). However, the brown paint remains on the cracks between the tiles, and while you can just about make out the imagery of a cosmonaut soaring towards the sun, it’s in a very sorry state.

A man photographing a damaged Soviet era mosaic on a wall in Bishkek

The cosmonaut is still just about visible



The damaged Soviet-era mosaic 'SPACE AND PROGRESS OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY' in Bishkek

The cosmos has been taken over by air-conditioning units



The damaged Soviet-era mosaic 'SPACE AND PROGRESS OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY' in Bishkek

The scene of the cosmos has been
taken over by air-conditioning units


A man photographing a damaged Soviet era mosaic on a wall in Bishkek

The cosmonaut is still just about visible



While in the area, keep an eye out for the 2014 street art murals on a school nearby. The most interesting is a modern reinterpretation of Semyon Chuikov’s famous painting ‘Daughter of Soviet Kirghizia’. Instead of books, she carries an iPad, and listens to headphones while wandering through an urban landscape (replacing the rural backdrop of the original).

A modern mural of Semyon Chuikov’s famous painting ‘Daughter of Soviet Kirghizia’ on a Bishkek building. The girl is holding an iPad and has white headphones in her ears.

A Bishkek street mural with a modern perspective


A modern mural of Semyon Chuikov’s famous painting ‘Daughter of Soviet Kirghizia’ on a Bishkek building. The girl is holding an iPad and has white headphones in her ears.

A Bishkek street mural with a modern perspective



Fuel Up For Your Explorations


SOVIET-ERA MOSAICS OF BISHKEK MICRO-DISTRICTS

Away from the grand avenues and official buildings of central Bishkek, Soviet-era mosaics and other forms of art thrived in the micro-districts of Frunze. Their function was far less ideological, existing largely to brighten up local neighbourhoods and combat the monotony of mass construction. As such, these projects were allocated significantly less funding than the big budget pieces on display elsewhere. 

Uniquely, design and execution was carried out not by master craftsmen and members of the Union of Artists, but by local workers themselves. Besides a few notable pieces such as Male Athletes and Female Athletes, these works are largely undocumented. Titles, dates of construction and artists involved are unknown. But there’s something enjoyable about wandering the neighbourhood and stumbling across little pieces of history here and there.

MALE ATHLETES

1970
Artists: Construction and Installation Management of Leninsky District
Materials: Ceramics


Alongside Female Athletes, this is the only mosaic in the micro-districts that overtly extols Soviet ideology. Images of powerful athletes and the promotion of healthy, active lifestyles was a common theme in Soviet propaganda. Male Athletes is in pretty good condition, on the south-west facade of an apartment block facing a leafy park. It can be appreciated up close, or from a perfectly positioned park bench across the path.

The Soviet mosaic 'Male Athletes' in the 5th microdistrict of Bishkek

Taking in the scene from the park bench


The Soviet mosaic 'Male Athletes' in the 5th microdistrict of Bishkek

Taking in the scene from the park bench



FEMALE ATHLETES

1975
Artists: Experimental Group For New Technology Of Frunze Construction Plant, Instructor A.I Bylenkov
Materials: Ceramics


Stylistically similar to Male Athletes, Female Athletes holds a more prominent position on a residential block facing a main road. Two women leap skywards, arms raised triumphantly, a flag in each hand. Unfortunately, the mosaic was damaged when the building resident renovated, the upper portion no longer resembling the original work. A state archive photo from 1979 shows the Olympic torch and rings on the upper left of the mosaic, with the women soaring towards it. It remains an impressive piece regardless.


The Soviet mosaic 'Female Athletes' in the 5th microdistrict of Bishkek

Stylistically similar to Male Athletes, Female Athletes holds a more prominent position on a residential block facing a main road. Two women leap skywards, arms raised triumphantly, a flag in each hand. Unfortunately, the mosaic was damaged when the building resident renovated, the upper portion no longer resembling the original work. A state archive photo from 1979 shows the Olympic torch and rings on the upper left of the mosaic, with the women soaring towards it. It remains an impressive piece regardless.

The Soviet mosaic 'Female Athletes' in the 5th microdistrict of Bishkek

‘Female Athletes’: changed from
the original but still impressive



VARIOUS WORKS OF THE 5TH MICRO-DISTRICT

Date and Artists Unknown


With pleasing the state of little concern or necessity, the works of the 5th Micro-district of Bishkek are varied and intriguing. My favourite is the figure of Khottabych, a character from a 1957 Soviet fantasy film called Old Man Khottabych, flying through the sky on his magic carpet. Below, you can see the Sphinx and pyramids of Egypt, as well as mosque minarets. Much of it is decoratively embellished with what appears to be fragments of patterned ceramics, resembling smashed up traditional Kyrgyz teacups.

Soviet era mosaic mosque minarets below the figure of Khottabych, a character from a 1957 Soviet fantasy film called Old Man Khottabych, flying through the sky on his magic carpet

The mosque minarets sitting below Khottabych



A Soviet era mosaic of Khottabych, a character from a 1957 Soviet fantasy film called Old Man Khottabych, flying through the sky on his magic carpet

Khottabych, flying through the sky on his magic carpet



A Soviet era mosaic of Khottabych, a character from a 1957 Soviet fantasy film called Old Man Khottabych, flying through the sky on his magic carpet

Khottabych, flying in the sky on his magic carpet


Soviet era mosaic mosque minarets below the figure of Khottabych, a character from a 1957 Soviet fantasy film called Old Man Khottabych, flying through the sky on his magic carpet

The mosque minarets sitting below Khottabych



Elsewhere, snow leopards and deer roam the sides of buildings, and a man dressed in Kyrgyz attire rides a white horse. A sgraffito image of three children marching forth adorns one apartment block. And a huge decorative pattern of blue and yellow Kyrgyz motifs emblazons the side of another multi-story block. Their conditions vary, with little being done to prevent natural erosion and decay.

Click on the images below to see them enlarged
A huge decorative pattern of blue and yellow Kyrgyz motifs emblazoned on the side of a multi-story block in Bishkek

Soviet era mosaics of snow leopards and sharp mountain peaks on an apartment block wall in the 5th micro district of Bishkek
A Soviet era mosaic of a deer next to a satellite dish on the wall of an apartment block in the 5th micro district of Bishkek

A mosaic of a man dressed in Kyrgyz attire riding a white horse on the side of a building in the 5th micro district of Bishkek
A sgraffito image of three children marching forth on the side of an apartment building in the 5th micro district of Bishkek

A Soviet era mosaic of a deer next to a satellite dish on the wall of an apartment block in the 5th micro district of Bishkek

A deer kept company by a satelite dish


A huge decorative pattern of blue and yellow Kyrgyz motifs emblazoned on the side of a multi-story block in Bishkek

The decorative pattern of blue and yellow Kyrgyz
motifs on the side of a multi-storey block

A sgraffito image of three children marching forth on the side of an apartment building in the 5th micro district of Bishkek

Those children marching forth,
looking like they mean business



UNKNOWN WORKS THROUGHOUT THE CITY

On our wanders around Bishkek we came across numerous other interesting works of art. We can only assume they are of the Soviet era, but who knows? They include bas relief works, ceramic panels and statues.

Relief of women and babies found on the wall of the Kyrgyz Dramatical Theatre in Bishkek

This strikingly simple bas-relief of mothers and babies is found on the walls of the Kyrgyz Dramatical Theatre on the eastern side of Panfilov Park



Relief of three women found on the wall of the Kyrgyz Dramatical Theatre in Bishkek

Another simple but impressive bas-relief on the walls of the Kyrgyz Dramatical Theatre



Relief of women and babies found on the wall of the Kyrgyz Dramatical Theatre in Bishkek

This striking bas-relief of mothers and babies is
found on the walls of the Kyrgyz Dramatical
Theatre on the eastern side of Panfilov Park


Relief of three women found on the wall of the Kyrgyz Dramatical Theatre in Bishkek

Another simple but impressive bas-relief
on the walls of the Kyrgyz Dramatical Theatre


Frieze of men and women in traditional Kyrgyz dress on a building near Panfilov Park

A bas-relief of men and women in traditional dress on a building just off Mikhail Frunze Street on the north side of Panfilov Park



Unknown horesman bas-relief on a building near Panfilov Park in Bishkek

An unknown horseman basking in the afternoon sun on the same building on the corner of Mikhail Frunze Street



Frieze of men and women in traditional Kyrgyz dress on a building near Panfilov Park

A bas-relief of men and women in traditional
dress on a building just off Mikhail Frunze
Street on the north side of Panfilov Park


Unknown horesman bas-relief on a building near Panfilov Park in Bishkek

An unknown horseman basking in the
afternoon sun on the same building on the
corner of Mikhail Frunze Street



SOVIET-ERA ARCHITECTURE IN BISHKEK

Locating Bishkek’s prominent Soviet era architecture proved far less challenging. The buildings are relatively well documented and easily accessible on a self-guided walking itinerary through the city.

STATE HISTORY MUSEUM (1984)

Dominating the northern side of Ala-Too Square, this impressive marble and glass cube is particularly attractive in the golden hour glow. The museum itself is currently closed for renovation, with no apparent completion date. There’s a huge statue of Manas, the Kyrgyz national hero, in the square in front. The whole area is popular with rollerbladers, and you can even rent a pair from the boot of nearby cars.

The huge marble cube shaped State History Museum in Bishkek, with the Ala Too mountains reflected in the glass front

The State History Museum, with the statue of Manas and mountains of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too Range reflected in the windows  


The huge marble cube shaped State History Museum in Bishkek, with the Ala Too mountains reflected in the glass front

The State History Museum, with the statue of Manas
and mountains of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too Range
reflected in the windows



WEDDING PALACE (1987)

Wedding Palaces are a feature of many ex-Soviet cities, a non-religious place where couples could marry. To this day, weddings are still held here. The inside of the building is impressive, with colourful stained glass covering the tall, narrow windows with classic Kyrgyz motifs. Outside, a crumbling mosaic fountain presides over the small square.

The Soviet era Wedding Palace in Bishkek

The very grand looking Wedding Palace, still used today


A colourful trio of stained glass windows with traditional Kyrgyz designs inside the Soviet era Bishkek Wedding Palace

The colourful stained glass windows inside


The Soviet era Wedding Palace in Bishkek

The grand looking Wedding Palace, still used today


A colourful trio of stained glass windows with traditional Kyrgyz designs inside the Soviet era Bishkek Wedding Palace

The colourful stained glass windows inside



PRESIDENTIAL PALACE (1984)

Known locally as The White House, this is home to the national parliament, but not actually the president.

The Soviet era Presidential Palace in Bishkek

The marble covered seven storey Presidential Palace was built in the Stalinist modern style


The Soviet era Presidential Palace in Bishkek

The marble covered seven storey Presidential
Palace was built in the Stalinist modern style



STATE CIRCUS (1976)

Another common feature of ex-USSR cities, the State Circus is a classic example of Soviet kitsch and quirkiness. The bright yellow and green facade resembles a giant flying saucer, complete with bas relief clown figure embellishment.

The yellow and green flying saucer shaped Soviet era State Circus in Bishkek

The spaceship-like State Circus in Bishkek


A huge, colourful bas relief clown on the side of the Soviet era state circus in Bishkek

Bas-relief clown figures round the side


The yellow and green flying saucer shaped Soviet era State Circus in Bishkek

The spaceship-like State Circus in Bishkek


A huge, colourful bas relief clown on the side of the Soviet era state circus in Bishkek

Bas-relief clown figures round the side



PALACE OF SPORTS (1974)

My personal favourite when it comes to Soviet-era architecture in Bishkek, the Palace of Sports is an angular behemoth of concrete, marble and glass. A giant statue of mythical Kyrgyz strongman, Kojomkul, was erected outside in 2004.

The Soviet era Palace of Sports building in Bishkek

The Palace of Sports, a building full of geometric appeal


The Soviet era Palace of Sports building in Bishkek

The Palace of Sports, full of geometric appeal



STATUES

LENIN

Many Lenin statues have been removed from cities across the former USSR, but this one remains, moved from Ala-Too Square to a less prominent position behind the State History Museum in 2003. He is shown in his familiar stance, arm outstretched, pointing the way to communism.

A Lenin statue in Bishkek, with arm outstretched showing the way to Communism

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin depicted in his familiar pose



A Lenin statue in Bishkek, with arm outstretched showing the way to Communism

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin depicted in his familiar pose



MAXIM GORKY

Standing in a park of the same name, this statue is dedicated to the famous Russian writer.

A Soviet-era statue of Maxim Gorky against a blue sky, Bishkek

Maxim Gorky looking strong and dignified in Gorky Park



A Soviet-era statue of Maxim Gorky against a blue sky, Bishkek

Maxim Gorky looking dignified in Gorky Park



FATHERS OF THE NATION

This imposing statue by T Sadykov is from the post-Soviet era, erected in 1995, but certainly worth checking out. Originally, it had many life-size bronze statues of prominent Kyrgyz political and public figures. Gradually, the figures started to disappear, possibly stolen for scrap metal. Today, only the names remain, inscribed under the platforms where the statues once stood. Nevertheless, it’s impressive, bold and intriguing.

The huge block-like statue, 'Fathers of The Nation' in central Bishkek

A post Soviet-era statue that’s perhaps more striking given the absence of so many of its original components


The huge block-like statue, 'Fathers of The Nation' in central Bishkek

A post Soviet-era statue that’s perhaps
more striking given the absence of so
many of its original components



USEFUL INFORMATION

‘Fragmented Dream’ Map

I contacted [email protected] to ask about the original ‘Fragmented Dream’ map and Asel replied (in Russian) with instructions for collecting one. It cost 200 Som. 

Accommodation

We stayed at the central Interhouse Hostel in Bishkek and can recommend it. The location means you can walk almost everywhere, and if you want to take a bus or marshrutka, there are stops nearby. Apple Hostel is a good option if you want to be close to the bus station, however not so handy for exploring Bishkek itself. 

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Getting Around

We used the 2GIS app (iOS/Android) for getting around the city.

FINDING FRUNZE

SOVIET-ERA ART & ARCHITECTURE IN BISHKEK

That’s it for the tour of Soviet-era art and architecture in Bishkek. If you’re travelling to the Kyrgyz capital, enjoy visiting these fascinating and intriguing works. And if you know of any other interesting pieces of monumental art in the city, or have more information regarding anything mentioned above, get involved and leave a message in the comment section below.

ORGANISE YOUR TRIP TO BISHKEK NOW


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