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Region Museum of History & Folklore

On the southern side of Dostyk Square, next to the regional marriage registry office, stands the Zhambyl Region Museum of History and Local Lore. Painted pink like most buildings on Dostyk alangy it was completely renovated for the city’s official 2000th anniversary celebrations in 2002 and is one of the best local museums in the country.

Its pride and joy is the domed rear building housing an impressive collection of balbals, totemlike stones bearing the carved faces of honoured warriors or chieftains, dating from the 6th to 9th centuries AD. Nomadic early Turks left these monuments at many sacred sites in southern Kazakhstan.

Displays start with nature and the usual stuffed animal-populated dioramas to illustrate the ecosystems of the region. A stuffed saiga sticks its head into a desert tableau, much to the annoyance of an eagle, flapping its wings furiously at the thought of being upstaged.

Upstairs the displays continue with archaeology. A first room runs from the Stone Age, with a female Bronze Age burial in the centre of the room, and some Scythian artefacts, including a helmet and some delicate animal figures. The next room covers the Karakhanid period, offering a diorama of urban life and some line ceramic faces with clown-like expressions. Another flight of stairs brings you up to a display on the Kazakh Khanate, illustrated with quotations from President Nazarbaev about the importance for Kazakhs of knowing their ancestors to seven generations. Genealogy for the steppe Kazakh was, says Nazarbaev, like a compass for the sailor. The next room covers the capture of the city by Chernyaev in 1864, and the subsequent arrival of Russian immigrants. There are Dungan and Uzbek household items on show, as well as those of Russian migrants. Kazakh ethnography in the next room includes a life-sized diorama of a nomadic camp, with a woman boiling up the family dinner in front of a yurt. Then comes a room covering the establishment of Soviet power in the region, the arrival of the TurkSib Railway and the repression of the 1930s. Next are displays relating to World War II, with a golden bust of local war hero Bauirzhan Momishuly, one of the commanders of the Panfilov Division who fought bravely in the defence of Moscow. Back downstairs are displays highlighting the ethnic diversity of modern Kazakhstan, and the artistic and sporting figures linked with Taraz.

The real pride of the museum lies in the courtyard at the back, a glass-walled yurt-like building. Inside are two floors of balbals, the best collection of these fascinating Turkic stone anthropomorphic figures assembled in Kazakhstan. The balbals always faced westwards, but were not associated with places of burial. The sculptures displayed here were found across the southern part of the region, and are helpfully exhibited next to photographs of the sites on which they stood. This collected group of quizzical stone faces makes for an almost disconcerting sight. Also here is a replica of the Golden Man found at Esik, unusually displayed lying horizontally as at burial. There are also copies of gold Scythian jewellery.

In another building, abutting the courtyard, are displays related to the history of Taraz. A somewhat fanciful mural portrays the coronation of Zhizhi Shanyu, back in the 1st century BC, and here depicted as the founder of the town. The procedure being adopted in this portrayal is that used much later for the Kazakh khans: the lifting of the new ruler aloft on a white felt carpet. The growth of the city as a trading centre on the Silk Routes is chronicled, and there are ceramic jugs and ossuaries, the latter ghoulishly decorated with little human heads on their lids. A frieze depicts Taraz as a powerful city in the Karakhanid period, lhere are green glazed ceramics on display which would not look out of place in the catalogue of a modern pottery, but which are several centuries old. And there are fragments of delightful ornamental brickwork from the Mausoleum of Aisha Bibi. A final panel shows modern Taraz.

Another building behind the main museum block houses the Art Museum of L V Brummer, displaying the works of Leonard Brummer, an artist born in Ukraine in 1889 to a German father and French mother. He was deported to the Pavlodar Region of Kazakhstan in 1941, and then moved to Taraz in 1955. He died in 1971 and bequeathed his paintings to the city. They are mostly landscapes of the various places he lived and worked. A 1961 painting of April in Zhambyl depicts a ferociously rutted muddy urban street.