Centrally located in Bishkek’s Ala-Too Square, the National Historical Museum of the Kyrgyz Republic boasts an impressive 90,000 exhibits covering Kyrgyz culture and history. Here, you will find a variety of artifacts including rock paintings, bronze and ceramic artifacts as well as artifacts made from precious metals. Also on display are national musical instruments, clothing and goods significant to the Kyrgyz nomadic culture and history.
History of the National Historical Museum of the Kyrgyz Republic
The National Historical Museum was founded in 1925 (then called the State Historical Museum) with the intention of storing important historical and cultural artifacts of Kyrgyzstan. It was first opened to visitors in 1927, located at the site of Commander M.V. Frunze’s childhood home. Frunze, born in Kyrgyzstan, played an important role in early Soviet politics and military campaigns and holds special importance in Kyrgyz memory and tradition. The initial location of the museum at his former home shows the importance that both his history and the museum itself were given.
In 1984, the museum’s current premises were constructed, and from 2016-2021 the museum underwent renovations and changed its name to from “state” to “national,” likely to additionally encompass the Kyrgyz outside of Kyrgyzstan and more specifically focus on Kyrgyz culture. It opened to visitors in November of 2021.
The first phase of reconstruction was funded by the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency and the second phase was funded by the Kyrgyz State Treasury. The museum has international connections to the German government and a German company, Vitrinen-und Glasbau REIER GmbH, which provided equipment during the reconstruction of the museum from 2016-2021. On the third floor of the National Historical Museum, there are a number of poster boards commemorating the role of Kyrgyz-German relations in the reconstruction of the museum. The work, however, was surrounded by corruption scandals and government mismanagement. Renovations that were supposed to be completed in 18 months were finished only after 5 years. Indeed, it seems that some parts of the museum were left unfinished. There is no gift shop onsite despite there being a gift shop tab on the museum’s website. This section on the website remains empty too.
Exploring the National Historical Museum of the Kyrgyz Republic
The museum presents the path of the Kyrgyz nation from its founding to current times. Its exhibition covering stories of nation building is especially strong and devotes significant attention to Manas, one of the most important historical figures in Kyrgyz memory and history who is credited with uniting the lands of the Kyrgyz nation under his leadership. The museum also emphasizes Kyrgyz achievements and contributions in various fields under Soviet sovereignty in Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps the largest collection of artifacts in the museum are those covering the transition of the Kyrgyz nation to a protectorate of first the Russian Empire and then to part of the Soviet Union. Explanations of these periods of transition for Kyrgyzstan are balanced and provide an relatively unbiased overview of the effects of Soviet sovereignty over Kyrgyzstan.
Most exhibits have English descriptions available. While some may be slightly confusing and long-winded, they are still successful in communicating the needed information. Unfortunately, there were no English descriptions of Kyrgyzstan’s political history following its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In fact, coverage of post-Soviet political developments is generally sparse, with only a few displays of documents and news media covering the tumultuous political landscape of post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.
Overall, the premises have a modern feel and incorporate modern elements such as touch screen displays that play audio, video, and text. These displays include an audio recording of the epic of Manas and an interactive touchscreen that invites the user to place objects inside a traditional yurt that were particularly effective and engaging uses of technology. The museum had a balanced number of artifacts in glass display cases as well as larger-scale displays such as a traditional yurt and life-sized stuffed horses displaying traditional Kyrgyz equipment for horses. The museum is aesthetically beautiful in its presentation of Kyrgyz history and culture which contributes to the overall impact of the museum. One aesthetically strong display shows a number of Chingiz Aitmatov’s books translated into different languages and is especially successful in conveying the widespread impact of Aitmatov’s work.
Planning Your Visit to the Museum
The museum website is available only in Russian and Kyrgyz but is navigable and attractive if you speak either or those languages or use Google translate.
Entrance is highly affordable at just under $4 for foreigner ticket, which includes a guided tour. Tours are offered in Russian twice a day and Kyrgyz 7 times daily Tuesday-Sunday. The facility is closed on Mondays. There are no tours in English.
The National Historical Museum provides an overview of a multitude of elements of Kyrgyz history and culture. The broad scope of the content of the museum’s exhibitions hardly limit the effectiveness of its presentation of the major historical and cultural developments of Kyrgyzstan. Despite a few imperfections, the newly renovated National Historical Museum is well worth visiting for those wanting to better understand Kyrgyzstan’s culture and place in history.
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