It used to be the Lenin Museum. After everyone got bored with that guy, it transformed into the State History Museum of Uzbekistan. Lots of old stuff. A must for history lovers. For others? It depends.
The simple cube of the History/Lenin Museum is covered by a continuous skin of intriguing lattice work called pandzharas. Pandzharas are traditionally placed in front of facades in Uzbekistan to regulate shade and light and act as a type of decoration. The abstract patterns formed are reminiscent of mosque interiors.
After the 1966 earthquake, when many architects came to Tashkent to rebuild the city, a new style formed, based on their Modernist ideas, fused with oriental decorative patterns. It started in Tashkent and then spread throughout Central Asia. The Lenin Museum was one of the first, and still is one of the greatest examples of this style.
The museum has real treasures on display. Since there is currently only 1 floor dedicated to 2500 years of history, we can only imagine the bounty still stuck in the archives. Uzbekistan’s history deserves more space, but you get a decent overview.
While regional museums have copies, the originals are all here. The highlight is the astoundingly pristine 2000-year-old Buddha under the bodhi tree from Fayaz Tepe, but there is more.
Look for the head of a Kushan prince from Dalverzin Tepe, the original Ambassadors fresco from Afrosiyob (Samarkand), an original Behzod miniature (fakes in the Behzod gallery), the town clock that still points out the time of the disastrous earthquake of 1966, something that is possibly the very first tv, pictures from the Basmachi rebellion and images from early Soviet times, magnificent clothes from the Khorezm region (more in the Savitsky museum), a silk paper decree from the Khan of Khiva, …
The second floor is given over to the glorification of Islam Karimov’s policies. As his influence fades after his death, it will be interesting to see how this exhibition will change.
Get a guide
The exhibits are badly marked. There are no explanatory texts guiding you through history, just little cards in bad English telling you what you are looking at and how old it is. There are no audio guides and definitely no tablets with indoor GPS. It’s difficult to make sense of it all if you are not really well-read on the topic.
So, we feel getting a guide here really makes sense. Guides speak different languages and are very inexpensive: 8000 sum will get you a tour of an hour.
Visit on the way back
Lots of people who are on a short trip and only visit Uzbekistan, will arrive and depart from Tashkent. If that is the case for you too, we recommend you visit the History Museum at the end of your trip.
When you visit on arrival, it’s just a bunch of old stuff behind glass.
But, when you have seen the petroglyphs at Sarmysh, explored the Kushan and Graeco-Bactrian heritage of Termez, seen remnants of Zoroastrianism in Karakalpakstan, marveled at the achievements of the Timurids, and got a sense of Soviet history talking to old people, then the exhibits will come alive.
Guides are trained historians who can tell you everything, but if you don’t have interesting questions ready to engage them, they might just steer you through the exhibits in a monodrone.