Beautiful and bizarre Soviet sanatoriums in Kyrgyzstan

Gulzat Matisakova | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Sanatorium industry (holiday and recreational resort) was born in the Soviet Union in the 1920s when the mandatory 2 weeks vacation for workers was added into the Labor Code. The right of workers to a vacation was also included in the Constitution in 1936. A large number of sanatoriums started to be built all around the Soviet Union, and by the end of the 1930s, there were around 2000 health and wellness complexes that could host 250.000 visitors. Vacationing in these beautiful and bizarre health resorts was an essential part of a Soviet person's life, who needed to relax, regain his wellbeing, and come back to work energized. 

Although, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many sanatoriums came to decline because of the lack of governmental funding, some* **still run to this day,  regaining former popularity in the new capitalist regime. But one sure thing is that sanatoriums* are the gate to our Soviet past, the era of the utopian vision of a glorified worker lifestyle and retro-futuristic architecture

Photo credit © Aurora Sanatorium

Abundance among scarcity

Nowadays, Kyrgyz citizens can choose any spa resort around the world, but during the Soviet Union, they could only get tourist-vouchers to the Soviet sanatoriums, to enjoy in the mineral water treatments, followed by the strict staff control. The vouchers were either free of charge or very cheap, as workers would have to pay only 10% of the total costs. But, not everyone could get it. There was a strict committee that would give away the vouchers to those who needed them the most. The workers had to bring medical reports to get into the sanatoriums. Additionally, they would also get a check-up in the sanatorium, and the treatments included different kinds of baths, mineral water treatments, inhalations, the Charcot's douche, massages, and so on.  

Food for body and soul

Visitors also had to undergo gastrointestinal diagnoses, and based on their health condition, they would get specialized diets. The only product forbidden in the sanatoriums was alcohol. People had to respect the rules of the spa-hospitals because if they didn't, they might be forever banned to get into another similar health-resort in the Soviet Union. Besides all the health remedies, the Soviet government made sure that there was also food for the soul. Different artists would visit the sanatoriums, and there would be concerts, lectures, workshops, and cinema screenings held there. 

Photo credit © Goluboi Issyk-Kul Sanatorium

Sanatoriums worth visiting around Issyk Kul Lake

In contrast to the common belief that the Soviet architecture is nothing else than huge monotonous grey matchbox blocks, the Soviet sanatoriums are among the most innovative buildings of their time. Such is a ship-shaped sanatorium Aurora, located in the north shore of the Issyk-Kul Lake. It is an example of a modern architecture style born and developed in the Soviet era. There are other worthy sanatoriums around the Issyk-Kul Lake. Kyrgyzskoe Vzmor'e, Goluboi Issyk-Kul, Gos Rezidenciya 1 and 2, are the ones known for their comfort, beauty, and the medical facilities of great quality

Sanatoriums in other parts of Kyrgyzstan

Sanatorium in Jeti-Oguz is another unique place, located close to the canyons, where you can be treated by kymyz, horse milk, which is considered to have healing properties. Yssyk-Ata, which is one hour away from Bishkek, is a complex where you can get treatment directly from the mineral water springs. In the south, you can also check out Jalal-Abad, a top-rated wellbeing resort, with medicinal mineral water.

Photo credits © flickr/ExpatMonkey

The Soviet legacy is not valued very much, either by the present Kyrgyz government or by our population. That's why some buildings, factories, mosaics, and other cultural heritage is abandoned and ruined. As a part of the anti-colonial fight, many of the Soviet monuments were either demolished or neglected. No one can say for sure how long will the Soviet sanatoriums exist in their original beautiful and bizarre state. But, they are the witnesses and reminders of a past culture and way of life that we should not forget. Visiting the mosaics which celebrate the space research, looking at the buildings decorated in the red communist color, and admiring the architecture that tried to predict the future, we can have a taste of what the Soviet life used to be. 

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