In the Soviet Union, places of worship were largely shut down, in line with communist ideology’s denunciation of religion as “the opium of the masses”. However, Soviet authorities did not want to leave citizens without lavish temples to celebrate rites of passage or family milestones. Instead, they built state-run wedding palaces that would offer grandeur while avoiding the pesky burden of spirituality.
One of these pompous buildings was Bishkek’s Wedding Palace, a pointy glass-and-marble venue built in the northeast of Kyrgyzstan’s capital in 1987. Conceived by architects A. Logunov and A. Klishevich as a non-denominational, state-run house of worship, they wanted its design to combine the futuristic, monolithic trends of the era, with elements of traditional religious venues. By mimicking the grandeur of cathedrals and mosques, they hoped the building would evoke the same sense of reverence and spirituality as traditional temples.
The building stands at one end of a circular square, in front of a water fountain comprised of colourful mosaics. Its facade is almost entirely made of stained glass windows, only interrupted by marble columns. Its irregular roof, marked by spiky towers on the four corners, makes the palace look like a futuristic castle, where an opulent staircase leads to the main door. Inside, marble-heavy interiors, vaulted painted ceilings, and colourful stained glass windows create a grandiose, cathedral-like atmosphere. In the centre of the main room, a maroon carpet leads up a flight of stairs into a ceremonial chamber, through a glass painted window surrounded by circular mouldings. Through the door of the main chamber, a celestial stream of light inundates the venue.
While the building is now in need of repair due to the lack of state funds, many Kyrgyzstani couples still choose to get married at the wedding palace in Bishkek. Over the years, a bazaar-like setup has developed around the venue to cater for wedding-goers’ demands, from gifts to outfits and picture props. Across the street, colourful flower stands fight for the attention of ceremony guests. A large store sells silk wedding dresses, party attire, and shiny tuxedos. Nearby, doves are kept in cages, and, for a small price, they can be released by happy couples (before happily returning back to their perches). On a nearby road, a limousine rental company allows couples to choose from a fleet of luxury cars, to leave the lavish wedding palace in an equally extravagant manner.