National Historical Museum in Bishkek
Entrance Fee: 75 soms ($1.50) for one person
One of the best places to visit first in Bishkek is the History Museum in Ala-Too Square. A tour of the museum gives you a quick overview of Kyrgyz history from the Stone Age to the present, and there are always new exhibits on various topics.
The standard guided tour starts at the third floor with prehistoric Kyrgyzstan. Many of these early exhibits are the kind of thing you would find in most museums dealing with prehistory: reconstructions of faces, petroglyphs, artist’s depictions, items from excavations of simple burial mounds, etc. But then we get to the Yenisei Kyrgyz, the Karakhanid Khaganate (with a reconstruction of Burana Tower), the Mongol invasion, and finally “наша девушка,” a female mannequin dressed in traditional Kyrgyz garb next to a yurt and various other national symbols.
The second floor focuses on the history of the old Kyrgyz SSR and Kyrgyzstan after independence. Naturally, there are plenty of statues of Lenin, Marx, and Engels, as well as exhibits on the Russian Civil War and World War II. The newest additions include an exhibit on Xinjiang Province just over the border in China, and an exhibit on the April 2010 protests that overthrew the Bakiev regime.
The first floor is usually where the special exhibits are set up. There was nothing there the last time I came, but past exhibits have dealt with calligraphy in various periods of Kyrgyz history (which included several examples of ancient Syrian Aramaic, a legacy of Kyrgyzstan’s place on the Silk Road), and an exhibit on the celebrated Kyrgyz author Chinggis Aitmatov.
A trip to the Historical Museum is one of the standard excursions that we SRAS students at the London School all have very early in the semester or summer term, and with good reason. Although it’s only three floors, the museum introduced many themes and images that you will come back to again and again during your stay.