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Mangistau Region Museum of History

A few metres northwards along the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Avenue from the war memorial, beyond the Ardager Shopping Centre, stands the Mangistau Region Museum of History and Local Lore. Well laid out, with some interesting displays, this is one of the better regional museums, though labelling is in Kazakh and Russian only.

The displays kick off with rooms displaying a wall map of the region, and accounts of the early explorers and adventurers who visited the place, including an English merchant, Anthony Jenkinson, in the 16th century. Next come minerals, fossils (pleasingly laid out in the form of a giant ammonite) and palaeontology, with portholes offering views of prehistoric dioramas. In the next room the walls are painted blue, to highlight displays on the Caspian, with pickled fish in jars. Next comes nature on dry land, with desert, steppe and shoreline dioramas. The wild sheep of the Ust-Urt Plateau are highlighted in a mountainous tableau. A display titled 'botanic garden', featuring samples of introduced plants, is a reminder of Aktaus botanical garden, which once sat across the road from the museum, and is now giving way to residential construction, its remaining areas of greenery (not quite the right word in the context) dry and unkempt.

A circular room devoted to archaeology features a collection of Stone Age implements, identified by archaeologist Alan Medoev as part of his work to demonstrate the antiquity of settlement in the area. There is a diorama of prehistoric hunting techniques, the hunters driving animals over a cliff to their death by channelling them between specially constructed stone walls. Remnants of these stone structures have been identified in the region. There are also Bronze and Iron Age implements on display, and ceramics from the medieval settlement of Kyzylkala. The next room starts with the Kazakh khanates, and has a line of tribal signs, tamgas, running along the top of the display cases, including that of the Adais, the most prominent of the local Kazakh tribal groups. The arrival of the Russians is covered by photographs of migrant families: they were given 20-year rights for tax-free fishing and the collection of salt to encourage them to come. The Adai rebellion of 1870 against Tsarist taxation is illustrated with a diorama depicting the grave of a Kazakh warrior. A few steps lead down to displays covering the economy of the region during the Tsarist period, when nomads wintered in the Mangyshlak Peninsula, migrating northwards to the Aktobe Region for the hot summer. The importance of fishing is illustrated with a diorama and a striking photograph of a Turkmen fisherman straddling a huge sturgeon. A yurt houses a family of mannequins. A display of silver jewellery includes rings worn across two fingers, a symbol of the uniting of two families by marriage.

The displays continue with coverage of the Civil War and World War II. Then there is a room on the post-war period, when fishing and pastoralism remained the mainstays of the local economy. The next room covers the sacred places of Mangistau, with displays on underground mosques, mausolea and necropolises, as well as noted local musicians such as Kashagan Kurzhimanuly, whose bust is on display. There follows a room describing the construction of the town of Aktau, which displays photographs of local cultural, scientific and literary figures, and a frog from the puppet theatre. The independence room is painted a patriotic turquoise. A golden bust of President Nazarbaev stands in front of the Kazakhstani flag, and there are photographs of the president visiting the region. The next room focuses on the history of oil exploitation in the region, with photographs of the pioneers of the industry. The first wells were drilled in 1961 around the settlements of Ozen and Zhetibay. The final room is devoted to the life of the writer and politician Abish Kekilbaev. The displays here include quotations from various international figures praising his work, a carpet bearing the writers portrait and a photograph of him in traditional Kazakh costume, flanked by the presidents of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. There is a photograph of the huge cauldron now housed in the Khodja Ahmed Yassaui Mausoleum in Turkestan, in recognition of Kekilbaev's role in securing its return from the Hermitage in St Petersburg.