Mikhail Frunze Museum/Музей М. В. Фрунзе
346 ул. Фрунзе
Open Wednesday-Monday, 10-17:30
Tickets: Adults 25 som, Students 15 som, Foreign Visitors 50 som, Russian Excursion Service 30 som, English Excursion Service 50 som
Bishkek hasn’t always been called Bishkek. The city situated in the Chui valley of northern Kyrgyzstan went by the name “Pishpek,” during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in 1926, its name was changed to “Frunze.” The linguistic jump between Bishkek and Pishpek is not huge – but Pishpek to Frunze?
To give the name change a little bit of context, it’s helpful to know that Mikhail Frunze was an important military leader of the early 20th century and served the USSR as the People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs in 1925. He also happened to be born in the city now known as Bishkek. To learn more about the man significant enough to be the one-time namesake of my current location, I took myself on a little fieldtrip to the Frunze Museum of Bishkek.
I showed up at the museum and thought it was closed. It seemed kind of dark inside, dusty, maybe like they were doing renovations – fortunately a printed sign on the door read “The Museum is OPEN” in Kyrgyz, Russian, and English. After entering and buying a ticket (no student discount without your ID, but if you talk to the attendant long enough she’ll forget about the “Foreign Visitor” price), I made my way up to the third floor and the beginning of the Frunze exhibit.
The third floor is a large collection of late 19th and early 20th century pieces related to war or Frunze’s personal life. The red and white room is shaped like long rectangle, anchored at the back end by a massive stature of Frunze with binoculars and a long military jacket. This floor explains Frunze’s travels in Kyrgyzstan, his influence as a military and political leader, and has an interesting collection of items including cannons, official declarations, and schoolbooks from Frunze’s childhood.
The next stop on your tour of the museum is the second floor exhibit, a much smaller room entitled “Frunze and Modernity.” A large portion of this floor is dedicated to pictures of and documents relating to things named after Frunze. You can learn about the Frunze Aviation and Cosmonaut House, or the Frunze Soviet Army House in Moscow. Scattered amongst these artifacts are quotes from speeches given by Lenin and Frunze, presented both in Kyrgyz and in Russian. Flags of various Soviet affiliations hang from the ceiling and there’s even a bust or two of Frunze.
The first floor, the last exhibit hall in the museum, is definitely the coolest. The exhibit is one large room with good use of natural lighting and a ceiling that is about two stories above its floor. This room encases a smaller house, which is claimed to be the actual childhood home of Mikhail Frunze. You can poke around in Frunze’s house and see how a typical home of the intellectual class from the period would be set up. Cool. There aren’t any little plaques or info sheets within the house – it’s presented entirely without comment or explanation, which somehow makes it feel cooler than the rest of the museum. Frunze’s home is the main attraction, which is why visitors are instructed to start on the third floor and make their way down to it, saving the best for last. Outside the house (but still within the house’s first floor exhibition room) is a small, newer exhibit dedicated to Chingiz Aitmatov, a famous figure in Kyrgyz and Russian literature who died in 2008. This exhibit has more information in Kyrgyz than in Russian, and has virtually no English translations.
If you’re planning a trip to Bishkek, the Frunze museum is worth a visit. Its most expensive ticket price including an English excursion service is 100 som per person (just under two USD) and the quantity and range of things on display are worth a $2 entrance fee. (f you don’t read Kyrgyz or Russian, it’s a good idea to get the English excursion service, as the English translations are limited.) Though a bit shabby in overall presentation, the actual items on display are both interesting and well-kept, as if to emphasize that the point of the museum is remembering history, and not the museum itself. If you’re interested in Soviet history, military history, or just curious about Bishkek’s former name, the Mikhail Frunze Museum is a good place to spend an afternoon.