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Regional Museum of History

Turn right onto Altynsarin Street, and after a block-and-a-half, on your left is a pleasant, two-storey, Tsarist-era building, with four Corinthian columns and a balustraded balcony enlivening the facade. This houses the Regional Museum of History and Local Lore. The first room, natural history, features displays on two meteorite craters in the territory of Aktobe Region. The larger of these, Zhamanshin, an unpromising name which means roughly 'bad place' in Kazakh, is a crater more than 5km in diameter and some 700m deep. There is also a display on the Aidarlyash Creek, approximately 50km east of Aktobe, where an exposed geological section was recognised in 1996 by the International Union of Geological Sciences as the global stratotype section and point for the Permian system. There is a model of a hornless rhinoceros, which apparently inhabited the earth around 40 million years ago and was the largest land-dwelling mammal ever known. The first skeleton of this animal to be uncovered was unearthed in 1912 near Lake Shalkarteniz in the southeastern part of the region.

Further displays highlight the mineral wealth of the region, including the development of oil reserves from the early 1930s and the development of the chromite deposit near the village of Donskoye, now the town of Khromtau, from 1937. Much of Kazakhstan boasts an extreme continental climate, but the extremes in Aktobe Region are sharper than most, with winter temperatures dropping to -48°C, and summer ones reaching +43°C. There is a photo of the golf ball-sized hailstones which fell in 1974. The Turgai Nature Reserve, established in 1968, is illustrated with a diorama filled with stuffed waterbirds. The reserve, covering 348,000ha in the eastern part of the region, includes a network of lakes formed at the confluence of several steppe rivers. The lakes attract large populations of migratory birds in spring and autumn. Other dioramas showcase the wildlife of the desert, riverbank, semi-desert and steppe. And alongside all the stuffed animals there is a foam-stuffed armchair in the middle of the room.

The other room on the ground floor is devoted to archaeology and ethnography. Items on display include Stone Age implements, attractive necklaces from the Sarmat period and a line of stone figures of a range of ages. There are photographs of beautiful carved kulpytases from necropoli across the region and a model of the 14th-century Abat-Baitak Mausoleum, to the southwest of Aktobe. Ethnographic displays include the interior of a segment of yurt, jewellery, saddles, and mannequins in Kazakh costume.

The displays continue upstairs. Some of the prodigious number of museum staff may well be switching on the lights as you go to illuminate your ascent. The next room, its inscriptions in the Kazakh language only, focuses on Kazakh heroes linked with the region, such as Abulkhair Khan and Eset Batyr. The next room is about the Tsarist period, the viewpoint of the museum authorities evident from the very first exhibit in the room: an illustration of a claw reaching out to seize Kazakhstan. There are displays on the founding and history of Aktobe, and a description of the work of the pioneer educator Ibrai Altynsarin. The displays continue into the pre-war Soviet period, with items on the Civil War, collectivisation, the Alash movement and Stalinist repression. A room devoted to World War II includes descriptions of the local Heroes of the Soviet Union, most prominently female sniper Aliya Moldagulova, whose rather unhappy-looking bust stands at the end of the room. The displays also highlight the efforts of those working behind the line in the factories of Aktobe. The other bust in the room honours a figure very different from Aliya Moldagulova: a bearded farmer named Chaganak Bersiev, whose scythe and Order of Lenin award are on display.

Next comes a room focused on the post-war Soviet period. One side of the room is devoted to the space programme, with a bust of Aktobe-born cosmonaut Viktor Patsaev, killed on the Soyuz 11 mission. Patsaevs posthumous award of Hero of the Soviet Union is on display, as is a model of a scientific research vessel named after him. The other side of the room focuses on the works of local scientific and cultural figures from the Soviet period. The last room highlights the post-independence period. There are displays highlighting the ethnic diversity of the region, and photographs of the schools, hospitals and industries of Aktobe, including a display of local biscuits. The large engraved wooden chairs on which President Nazarbaev and his wife were seated during a visit to Aktobe in 1995 are on display, as is a selection of Nazarbaev's written work.