Bishkek (in Kyrgyz and Russian: Бишкéк), formerly Pishpek and Frunze, is the capital and the largest city of Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek is also the administrative centre of Chuy Province which surrounds the city, even though the city itself is not part of the province but rather a province-level unit of Kyrgyzstan.
According to the post-Soviet ideology, the name is thought to derive from a Kyrgyz word for a churn used to make fermented mare’s milk (kumis), the Kyrgyz national drink, which is rather debatable. Founded in 1825 as a Khokand fortress of “Pishpek” to control local caravan routes and to get tribute from Kyrgyz tribes, on 4 September 1860 the fortress was destroyed by Russian forces led by colonel Zimmermann, with approval of the Kyrgyz. In 1868 a Russian settlement was founded on the fortress’s spot, adopting its original name – Pishpek, within the General Governorship of Russian Turkestan and its Semirechye Oblast.
In 1925 the Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast was created in Russian Turkestan, promoting Pishpek as its capital. In 1926 the city was given the name Frunze, after the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Frunze, who was born here. In 1936 the city of Frunze became the capital of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic during the final stages of the national delimitation in the Soviet Union.
In 1991, the Kyrgyz parliament changed the capital’s name to Bishkek (although without quorum). Bishkek is situated at about 800 metres (2,600 ft) altitude just off the northern fringe of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range, an extension of the Tian Shan mountain range, which rises up to 4,855 metres (15,928 ft) and provides a spectacular backdrop to the city. North of the city, a fertile and gently undulating steppe extends far north into neighbouring Kazakhstan. The Chui River drains most of the area. Bishkek is connected to the Turkestan-Siberia Railway by a spur line.
Bishkek is a city of wide boulevards and marble-faced public buildings combined with numerous Soviet-style apartment blocks surrounding interior courtyards and, especially outside the city centre, thousands of smaller privately built houses. It is laid out on a grid pattern, with most streets flanked on both sides by narrow irrigation channels that water the innumerable trees which provide shade in the hot summers.
Though the city is relatively young, the surrounding area has some sites of interest dating from prehistory, the Greco-Buddhist period, the period of Nestorian influence, the era of the Central Asian khanates, and the Soviet period.
Russian Orthodox cathedral of Holy Resurrection.
National Historical Museum
The central part of the city is primarily built on a rectangular grid plan. The city’s main street is the east–west Chui Avenue (Chuy Prospekti), named after the region’s main river. In the Soviet era, it was called Lenin Avenue. Along, or within a block or two from it, many of the most important government buildings, universities, the Academy of Sciences compound, and so on, are to be found. The westernmost section of the avenue is known as Deng Xiaoping Avenue.
The main north–south axis is Yusup Abdrakhmanov Street, still commonly referred to by its old name, Sovietskaya Street. Its northern and southern sections are called, respectively, Yelebesov and Baityk Batyr Streets. Several major shopping centres are located along it, and in the north it provides access to Dordoy Bazaar.
Erkindik (“Freedom”) Boulevard runs from north to south, from the main railroad station (Bishkek II) south of Chui Avenue to the museum quarter and sculpture park just north of Chui Avenue, and further north toward the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the past, it was called Dzerzhinsky Boulevard—named after a Communist revolutionary, Felix Dzerzhinsky—and its northern continuation is still called Dzerzhinsky Street.
An important east–west street is Jibek Jolu (‘Silk Road’). It runs parallel to Chui Avenue about 2 km (1 mi) north of it, and is part of the main east–west road of Chui Province. Both the Eastern and Western bus terminals are located along Jibek Jolu.
There is a Roman Catholic church located at ul. Vasiljeva 197 (near Rynok Bayat). This is the only Catholic Cathedral in Kyrgyzstan.
Ala-Too Square, Bishkek’s main square
State Historical Museum, located in Ala-Too Square, the main city square
State Museum of Applied Arts, containing examples of Kyrgyz traditional handicrafts
Frunze House Museum
Statue of Ivan Panfilov stands in the park near the White House.
An equestrian statue of Mikhail Frunze still stands in a large park (Boulevard Erkindik) across from the train station.
The train station itself was built in 1946 by German prisoners of war and has survived since then without further renovation or repairs; most of those who built it perished and were buried in unmarked pits near the station.
The main government building, the White House, is a huge, seven story marble block and the former headquarters of the Communist Party of the Kirghiz SSR
At Ala-Too Square, there is an Independence monument where the changing of the guards may be watched.
Osh bazaar, west of the downtown area, is a large, picturesque produce market
The Dordoy Bazaar, just inside the bypass highway on the north-eastern edge of the city, is a major retail and wholesale market.
Outside the city
The Kyrgyz Ala-Too mountain range, some 40 kilometres (25 mi) away, provides a spectacular backdrop to the city; the Ala Archa National Park is only a 30 to 45 minutes drive away.