Day 20: Palace of Arts – Turkistan

Turkistan Theater is one of Tashkent’s most imposing Soviet era architectural landmarks.

Located between Independence Square and the Monument of Courage, directly across the street from Tashkent’s Crying Mother Monument, the Palace of Arts “Turkiston” is another of the Uzbek capital city’s most imposing Soviet era monuments visitors will find hard to miss.

Construction started in the final days of the USSR, but was derailed by lack of funding as the authorities in Moscow struggled to hold things together. Rather than admit the deteriorating state of affairs inside the Kremlin, officials maintained a flexible position that the Turkistan Palace was instead simply in a sate of “long term construction” to be opened at an as of yet to be determined later date.

With Uzbek independence in 1991 came a flurry of monumental construction projects to symbolically solidify the State, and give citizens something to be proud of. Through the initiative of the first President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, construction on the Palace of Arts was restarted and overseen by Uzbek architect Valerij Akopjanyan. Valerij is also known for several other high profile projects of the same time period in Tashkent, including the International Exhibition Hall, Supreme Assembly Chamber of the Uzbek Parliament, the Amir Timur Museum on Timur Square, and the Alisher Navoi Monument within Alisher Navoi National Park.

President Karimov formally opened the Turkistan Palace as the center of national music culture in 1993 in honor of the second anniversary of Uzbek Independence. The newly opened palace would fall under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

During the extensive renovation of the Alisher Navoi Opera House, Turkistan Palace hosted the state opera and ballet company on a temporary basis. Today the Turkistan is used primarily as the preferred venue for diplomatic and ministerial cultural and special events. Along with the Istiqlol Palace and Palace of International Forums, the Turkistan theater is one of the three largest venues in Tashkent. For VIP events, Turkistan is second only to the Palace of International forums in terms of prestige.

Diplomatic and cultural exchange events such as the annual Chinese New Year concert put on by the Chinese embassy utilize the Turkistan theater as a preferred venue. As a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Council, Uzbekistan is an important economic and strategic partner. As such, this annual cultural event draws large crowds from the diplomatic, expat, and ministerial community, making the Turkistan theater an ideal venue.

Another large annual event which has made use of the Turkistan theater is the International Jazz festival. This festival uses a number of venues across the city, including the State Conservatory, but since the Turkistan was designed to seat 894 guests, the theater is ideal for large VIP events. Featured concerts by the Latvian Radio Big Band and Alice Underground always fill the house with fans of international culture as was the original intention of Soviet planners, and finally realized by the government of a newly independent Uzbekistan.

The venue is also used for symposiums, conferences, exhibitions, presentations, contests, commercial concerts, and special State and ministerial events not open to the general public. Security is always tight, even when events are not being held, so the only way to explore this brutalist architectural masterpiece is to snag an invitation to one of many international special events.

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