Probably one of the finest examples of Soviet architecture in Tashkent, the impressive facade of the concert hall “Palace of Friendship of Peoples” dominates the large public square as you come up the stairs from the Bunyodkor metro station. Both the metro station and the square were formerly of the same name as the palace, Friendship of the Peoples, until 2008, when all the names were changed. Today, the concert hall is known as Istiqlol Palace, while both the square and the metro station go by the name Bunyodkor.
The Palace of Friendship of Peoples was built between 1980 and 1981, designed by Evgeny Rozanov, People’s Architect of the USSR. As the centerpiece of the vast public square, this was the premier concert and event venue of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. In addition to hosting cultural events and international artists, the palace also hosted meetings of heads of state and important conferences as one of the primer conference venues in Central Asia prior to the completion of the Palace of International Forums in 2009.
Following independence, in 1992 the Palace of the Friendship of Peoples hosted the historic first meeting of the heads of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The palace also appears on the back of the Uzbek 100 сўм banknote. In 2008, in accordance with the decree to rename various streets, metro stations, and landmarks in the former Soviet city to more Uzbek sounding names, the palace was given the official title “Palace of Arts Istiklol” (Istiqlol San’at saroyi), and underwent an extensive refurbishment.
Our first visit to the Peoples’ Friendship Palace was in June 2017 just before flying out for the summer. Andrea Bocelli was brought in for a first of its kind concert and we’d managed to snag tickets for a ridiculously low 150,000 сўм ($18.75) each. Granted, these were the cheap seats since we didn’t have a bag full of cash with us on this day, but the venue is well designed and even on the 4th mezzanine level the acoustics were fine and we had an unobstructed view. A 90 minute concert and six curtain calls later we definitely got our money’s worth.
The scale of this building is simply massive, with a 12,000 square meters (130,000 sq ft) footprint alone. Although the the massive decorative concrete facade was supposed to have been inspired by the desert fortresses of the Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm, the building looks more like a space station, in a classic example of the Soviet Modernist Architectural style. The theater holds nearly 4,000 people, and everyone gets a good view no matter where you sit. Unfortunately, planning for good views didn’t extend to the bathrooms at intermission, where it was like trying to get to the last lifeboat on the Titanic.
Today, Istiklol Palace is still an impressive Soviet era architectural wonder. Worth a visit just to get up close and personal with the details, and walk the interior public areas with floors, walls, and ceilings of polished stone and concrete, with massive dimly lit blown glass chandeliers providing an eerie post-Soviet atmosphere. With police security patrols and bizarre molded concrete fins attached to the ceiling you could be in the middle of a James Bond villain’s fortress and not even know it.