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Independence Square, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan May Fourth Square, Qingdao, China
Ala-Too Square, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic - Famous City Squares
86    Dibyendu Banerjee    12/10/2022

Located in the centre of Bishkek, the capital and largest city of Kyrgyzstan and designed to overlook the Tien Shan mountains, Ala-Too Square, the main square of the city, was built in 1984 to commemorate the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic. During that time, the square was named Lenin Square and an imposing statue of the Russian leader Vladimir Lenin was installed in the centre of the square.

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The name of the square continued until the independence of the country from the USSR in 1991 and the statue of Lenin was moved to a smaller square in the city in 2003 and a new statue called Erkindik, which means Freedom, was installed in its place. However, later in 2011, that statue was also replaced by a statue of Manas, the hero of the Kyrgyz folk epic, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's independence.

ala too square

Kyrgyzstan, officially the Kyrgyz Republic, a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia, is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the south and the People’s Republic of China to the east. In concurrence with the mountainous terrain and the nature of the country, the main square of the country, located in the capital city of Bishkek, was named Ala-Too Square, as Ala-Too in Kyrgyz means Great Mountain.

ala too square

The Ala-Too Square, regarded as the cradle of the democratic aspirations of the country, is surrounded by several official buildings, including the National Historical Museum of the Kyrgyz Republic, and is beautifully flowered, creating an appreciable contrast with the grey of the concrete. During summer, lovely fountains, often accompanied by music, are turned on to complete the poetic vision of the site.

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Apart from the 33 feet (10 m) imposing statue ofManas, installed on a huge pedestal, the square contains the official flagpole of the Kyrgyz Republic, proudly holding the huge national flag, permanently guarded by the soldiers. The changing of the guard ceremony occurs every two hours in summer and every hour in winter. There is another monument, located a little further away, installed in the memory of the countrymen, who were killed during civil unrest in 2002 and 2010.

ala too square
The National Historical Museum and the statue of Manas

Centrally located at the Ala-Too Square, the National Historical Museum of the Kyrgyz Republic, formerly known as the Lenin Museum, contains an impressive 90,000 exhibits covering Kyrgyz culture and history. However, the construction of the museum building had to face protests by the local architects and artists, who resisted putting up a museum commemorating the Bolsheviks. However, eventually the cubic white building was completed in 1984, with a statue of Lenin installed at the entrance. Subsequently, the statue was moved from the prime position in 2003 and was shifted to a less visible location, behind the museum. The collection of the museum includes rock paintings, bronze and ceramic artefacts as well as artefacts made from precious metals. The exhibits also include several national musical instruments, clothing and significant items belonging to the Kyrgyz nomadic culture and history.

ala too square

The Ala-Too Square also contains the White House, the Presidential Palace, commissioned in 1976 to house the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Designed by Alexander Zusik, the seven storey building, clad in white marble was completed in 1985.The building came into the global media spotlight in 2005, when during the Tulip Revolution, an angry mob stormed and ransacked the building, demanding the resignation of President Askar Akayev, allegedly accused of nepotism and corruption. Although a mounted charge by government cavalry dispersed the crowd, President Akayev fled with his family by helicopter to Kazakhstan, from where he subsequently flew to Moscow.

ala too square
The White House

Unfortunately, the subsequent regime, led by Kurmanbek Bakiev, proved even more corrupt and authoritarian. Consequently, the protesters, led by the opposition leaders filled the Ala-Too Squareand surrounded the White House on 7 April 2010. At first, the police tried to disperse the crowd by using non-lethal methods like baton charge and tear gas. But when the mob grew violent and clashed with the guards, stormed the building and set it ablaze, the security force began to fire indiscriminately into the crowd, killing about 90 protesters. The ensuing fire damaged the building considerably and destroyed several official records, but the names of the dead protesters are memorialised on plaques mounted on the enclosing fence.

ala too square
Colourful night lights forming a Kyrgyz flag above the square

Today, the Ala-Too Square serves as an attractive place both for the locals and the visitors alike, where one can spend time leisurely, taking pictures, roaming aimlessly or enjoying eatables from the local vendors. People also love to hang out at the square in the summer evenings to watch the lovely fountains, accompanied by music. It is a popular place to enjoy festivals, celebrations and holidays, where magnificent events take place during the festivals like Nowruz, the first day of spring, which usually occurs on 21 March. The square is usually decorated with lights for celebrating Independence Day on 31 August, the Defender of The Fatherland Day on 23 February and New Year’s Day, featuring a large tree, decorated with traditional Kyrgyz designs.

Independence Square, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan May Fourth Square, Qingdao, China
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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