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Atyrau Regional Historical Museum

Housed in a two-storey building with orangey- hued walls, entered from a curious glass pavilion tacked onto the side, the regional historical museum is the place to discover that there is more about Atyrau than oil. From the entrance, turn right along the central corridor to reach the room housing Atyrau's very own 'Golden Man'. A seated mannequin in the centre of the room wears the golden mail and weapons of the Sarmat chief whose remains were unearthed in 1999 in the Araltobe Barrow in Atyrau Region. A frieze decorating the wall behind this figure depicts Sarmats before Battle, our golden hero being dragged in an ornate cart across a remarkably muddy field (clearly, some things in Atyrau don't change) by less privileged compatriots.

The large room across the corridor, used for conferences, is dominated by a diorama of life along the Silk Road, starring a stuffed horse, wolf, saiga and camel, a painted medieval caravan, and a carved stone sheep. The room also houses a yurt, and a clump of the intricately engraved funerary standing stones known as kulpytas which are a characteristic feature of the graveyards of western parts of Kazakhstan. Two more decorated stone rams, a rarer type of funerary monument known as a koshkartas, guard the entrance to the next room: archaeology. This room focuses on the important medieval site of Saraichik, with a relief model of the town, in a meander of the Ural River, occupying its centre. There are photographs of the site, a collection of ceramics, and a painting of happy archaeologists at work. A diorama of life in a Saraichik street features a blacksmith's forge and a pottery.

The next room is nature, centred on an illuminated globe which has not been plugged in. Stuffed animals populate dioramas illustrating various ecosystems. Caspian seals gambol around a water hole in the ice. A pelican flies out of a waterside scene. A cage of budgies adds some, albeit discordant, real birdsong to the picture. Sturgeon impress by their size.

The museum continues upstairs. The first room off the corridor is devoted to post-independence Atyrau, its walls a patriotic blue, featuring displays of the work of the main oil and gas companies active in the region, plus a display of locally produced food products, including loaves of fake bread, cans of fish and tins of caviar. Along the corridor, the room focusing on pre-Soviet history is potentially interesting, though the displays are over-cluttered and much of the labelling is in Kazakh only. There is a painting of Sultan Baybars, wistfully contemplating a glorious Caspian sunset while a sphinx hangs dreamlike in the sky. There are more ceramics from Saraichik, and a display on the founding of Guryev. Many of the displays in the room are devoted to various insurrections against Tsarist power and its allies, including the Pugachev Rebellion in the 18th century, and the campaign of Makhambet and Isatay against Zhangir Khan, ruler of the Bukei Horde, in the 19th. On display is a copy of the finery worn by Fatima, the wife of Zhangir Khan, during ceremonies to mark the coronation of Nicholas I. Fatimas refinement, intelligence and beauty were said to have bowled over the new Tsar as he waltzed with her. Another display case features Makhambet s dombra, along with a souvenir plate marking the 200th anniversary of his birth.

The next room is ethnography, with a collection of sheep vertebrae used for children's games (a kind of central Asian version of 'Pass the Pigs'), plus jewellery, copper and wooden utensils, saddles and clothes. There is a collection of dombras, including one gifted to President Nazarbaev. The final cases show off the work of modern handicraft makers, fashioning decorated wooden bowls and replica weapons. The next room, across the corridor, covers the period 1917-90 with a cluttered display of photographs, letters, medals and awards. These take you from the establishment of communist rule through the development of the oil industry, Stalinist repressions, local war heroes, and the post-war local Communist Party bosses, the last pictured in group photos of the 1950s and 1960s, sitting with their comrades beneath enormous chandeliers in the Kremlin. The last room is devoted to the leading cultural lights of the region. The room focuses on a painting of the musician Kurmangazy. His rifle is also on display. Another featured artist is the singer and dombra player Dina Nurpeisova. Items on show include her dombra, Soviet-era awards to her and a carpet bearing her face, its expression quizzical.