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Regional Museum of History

Regional history museumThe whole of the north side of Constitution Street between the junctions with Park and Zhambyl streets is filled with a line of attractive red-brick merchant houses of the Tsarist period. In two of these adjacent properties is accommodated the smartly restored North Kazakhstan Regional Museum of History and Local Lore. The lobby of the museum features, self- referentially, a model of the building in which you are standing, with a wall map of North Kazakhstan Region behind it. The displays start with natural history. A palaeontology room includes mammoth tusks and bison horns, arranged in front of paintings of the animals they once formed part of. A corridor follows, walled with seasonal dioramas populated by stuffed animals. A snowy winter scene depicts lynx eating hare. Summer sees a large elk standing in front of a painted expanse of feather-grass steppe. In autumn a hedgehog burrows amongst the fallen leaves.

North Kazakhstan Region claims 3,000 lakes, and there is, predictably enough, a good range of stuffed waterfowl on show. Archaeology comes next, with a room devoted to the Stone Age featuring a range of implements. The next room showcases the Botai culture of the Eneolithic period, between around 3600BC and 2300BC. This is named after the Botai site, in the southwestern part of North Kazakhstan Region close to the Iman-Burluk River, a tributary of the Ishim. Archaeologists from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History have been collaborating with those of the North Kazakhstan State University for several years in unlocking the secrets of the Botai culture: here, some researchers argue, may have been the place of first domestication of the horse. While this is the subject of continuing academic debate, it is clear that the lives of the Botai people were entwined very closely with horses. They ate horsemeat, drank kumiss, made their clothes from the skins of horses, and fashioned tools from horse bones. They may have been among the first peoples to ride horses. There is a model of the Botai settlement, showing the distinctive dwellings of two circular earth- walled rooms, linked by a short corridor, their roofs formed by hides placed across branches, and then covered in turf. The exhibits in this room and the next, covering Bronze Age artefacts, are well presented, with photographs demonstrating how the various tools might originally have been used.

A room devoted to the early Iron Age contains the skeleton of a warrior unearthed in 1972 from a kurgan near Pokrovka, southwest of Petropavl. There is a reconstructed head on display, sculpted using the characteristics of the very skull lying in the case. The resultant head has a rather disapproving expression. The next room displays two Turkic-era balbals, one male, the other female, artistically placed in front of a painted sunset across a field of grazing horses. Then comes Kazakh ethnography, with a yurt standing in front of a mural depicting an encampment of nomads of the Middle Zhuz. There is a bloodthirsty painting of the Kazakh victory against the Dzhungars at Anrakay in 1729, and a display of weaponry. More peaceful life is illustrated by a pair of early 20th-century shoes embellished with silver ornamentation, a saddle covered in semi-precious stones, jewellery and a selection of costumes. One late 19th-century Kazakh female costume contains elements of decoration typical of Ukrainian dress, demonstrating a degree of cultural mixing as Slavonic peoples arrived into the area from across the Russian Empire. A copy of the sumptuously embroidered costume of 18th-century Kazakh leader Ablai Khan is on display, as is a reverential modern painting depicting him as a young man squatting beside a friendly snow leopard. The final room downstairs has models of Petropavl's new mosque and Russian Orthodox church, opened symbolically on the same day in 2005.

Upstairs stands a display highlighting the warmth of relations between Kazakhstan and Russia, with photographs of meetings between Nazarbaev and both Yeltsin and Putin. Then follow rooms describing the history of the region from the 18th century, with a model of the wooden fortress of St Peter which became the embryonic town of Petropavlovsk. The construction in 1768 of a church honouring both Saints Peter and Paul heralded the change of name. There are interesting photographs of old Petropavlovsk, showing the development of a merchant quarter of smart brick buildings in the upper part of town, which now forms the town centre. The earlier development of the town had been focused on the bottom of the hill, closer to the Ishim River to the west. The lives of the shopkeepers of Petropavlovsk are highlighted in mock-ups of a photo studio and of a shop, with samovars and tins of chocolates for sale. There's a fierce-looking metal door to protect those samovars and chocolates. There is a selection of furniture which might have belonged to a well-to-do merchant, including a piano with a couple of candlesticks to illuminate the keyboard.

The displays in the next room have a red background, signifying the arrival of Bolshevism. They chronicle the Civil War, hard fought in northern Kazakhstan, the consolidation of Soviet power and the years of Stalinist repression. There is a display about the writer and poet Magzhan Zhumabaev, considered one of the founders of modern Kazakh literature, who was executed in 1938. The next room focuses on World War II, with exhibits about the 314th Infantry Division, established in the town, and its commanders, including General Afanasii Shemenkov, Hero of the Soviet Union. The home front is also depicted, with an interesting publicity photo of a horse-drawn cart laden with provisions, and bearing a banner proclaiming that everything is for the front, and for victory over the enemy. Post-war displays highlight the Virgin Lands Campaign, in which North Kazakhstan Region was to play a leading role. A map highlights the 19 new Sovkhoz farms established in two years of the campaign, mostly in the southern part of the region. The region was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1966 for its record production of grain, meat and milk. The establishment of Petropavlovsk's heavy machine-building plants is outlined, and there is a training spacesuit belonging to Alexander Viktorenko, one of two cosmonauts produced by the region.

The independence of Kazakhstan is marked by a change of background colour to turquoise. Key moments in Kazakhstan's independence are described, and there are photographs of Nazarbaev meeting world leaders. The last room focuses on North Kazakhstan Region in the post-independence period, with photographs of new housing, hospital facilities and religious buildings. There are pictures of local celebrities, including cyclist Alexander Vinokourov, and photographs of President Nazarbaev's visits to the region.
On the outside wall of the museum is a plaque, installed in 2005, bearing a relief portraying Dostoevsky and Valikhanov. The Russian writer and Kazakh ethnographer are accompanied by a quote from Mukhtar Auezov, to the extent that the friendship between the two men is an excellent testimony of the historical friendship between the Kazakh and Russian peoples. This is one of several examples around Petropavl of attempts to highlight the strength of ties between Russia and Kazakhstan.