Ala Too Cinema …

March 20th, 2016 Sections: Bishkek, Cutural Life
Ala Too - illuminated

Ala Too – at night

There are some scenes that are instantly recognizable … the Eiffel Tower, the Collesium in Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, The houses of Parliament, the Lincoln Memorial … to name just a few.  Bishkek also has it’s distinctive features that are instantly recognizable … one of which is the Ala Too Cinema at the intersection of Prospects Chui and Erkindik.

It is one of those sights that is not only a favourite with tourists – thanks to its distinctive architecture – a concave curved main entrance with its ceramic tiles decorating the facade, including images of cosmonauts floating in space – featured in many photographs … but is also a subject for artist’s paintings of the city … which may be offered  for sale in the city’s galleries including the open air gallery just opposite.

As it used to - before the eramic tile decorations were added. Photo:

As it used to – before the ceramic tile decorations were added. Photo:

It was originally opened in 1938 – long before the cosmonauts that inspired that decoration went into orbit.  Although it is sometimes referred to as Bishkek’s first cinema, in fact there were others that came before it.  In 1911, two small cinemas, Mars and Meteor, (there’s that space theme again), in older buildings, followed a couple of years later by the Edison, situated in Oak Park.

For the record: It was in 1963 that the ceramic decorative panels were added; interestingly, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan entering the Russian Empire.

Originally, it was going to be called the Avant Garde, (or Vanguard), but the Kyrgyz poet Dkoormat Bokonbaev proposed the name Ala Too and that’s the name that eventually found favour.

The architecture was probably the first of its kind seen in the city.  The architect, Kalmukov, was well known for his theatrical designs and was responsible for designing most of the cinemas built in the Soviet Union during the 1930’s (50 out of 60 such projects according to one source.)

The original cinema could seat some 600 people in one hall, but this was later adapted to two auditoria; one seating 500 people (although now accommodating just 344 – with 12 VIP seats) and the other 200, (although now accommodating just 159).  In 1976, the small auditorium was converted into, Ulan, dedicated for showing cartoons, children’s movies and documentaries … but it has now reverted to a general purpose auditoria.

In the 1970’s there was a proposal to demolish the building, (as it was considered outdated and not in keeping with the general view of the city which was being remodeled), but this met with some resistance from the local population and the building was granted a reprieve … then  in 1981 it was added to the list of monuments of historical and cultural importance and thus gained state protection as a ‘listed building’.

In 2007, the building underwent renovation and new equipment was installed to enable the cinema to show films in a variety of formats, including 3D – being the first cinema in the Republic able to do so.

The area in front of the cinema has always been a popular meeting place, and a place for celebrations.  The portion of Erkindik from Prospect Chui to Oak Park, being pedestrianized makes for a pleasant place to promenade … or just relax … with flower beds, ‘point zero’ (supposedly the point from which all distances are measured), the Ak Suu pavilion next door and the monument to Kurmandjan Datka … and not forgetting that open air art gallery.




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