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Siberia’s Fascinating City, Kyzyl

The city of Kyzyl is the capital of the Tuva Republic in the extreme east of Siberia, Russia. Kyzyl lays claim to being located precisely in the geographical center of Asia - a claim that has proven to be somewhat controversial. Nonetheless, there is a monument in the city that is labeled in English, Russian and Tuvan as the “Center of Asia”. Established in 1914 under the name of Belotsarsk, the city was renamed in 1918 as Khem-Beldyr, before finally being named in Kyzyl in 1926. The Tuva Republic joined the Soviet Union in 1944.

Kyzyl is located in scenic surroundings where the Yenisei River converges with the Little Yenisey River to become the Upper Yenisey, with most of the urban development being south of the river. Situated about nine kilometers south of Kyzyl, is the Tos-Bulak – an area of open fields and mineral springs where the annual Naadym festival for the Tuvan Republic Day is held.

Buildings that are of cultural and political importance in the city of Kyzyl include the National Theater, Tuvan Parliament Building, the National Museum of Tuva and the International Scientific Center Khoomei, which is dedicated to the study of Khoomei – Tuvan throat-singing. The popularity of this unusual type of singing, in which a singer can sing two notes simultaneously, is believed to have come about as a result of the geographic location, where the open landscape allows sounds to carry for great distances. The root of Khoomei lies in human mimicry of nature’s sounds. Khoomei is an integral part of ancient pastoral animism that is still practiced in the Tuvan region today. The local shamans are held in high regard and tours are offered where visitors can meet with a shaman to enquire about their state of health, the future, or undergo purification rituals.

In 1999, the film “Genghis Blues” won an award at the Sundance Film Festival for best documentary. The documentary recounts the true-life journey of blind American singer Paul Pena to Tuva to pursue his interest in Tuvan throat-singing. In his book “Tuva or Bust” Ralph Leighton chronicles the attempt made by himself and his friend, Novel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, to travel to Tuva. Sadly, Feynman died before they reached their destination.

Certainly, Kyzyl in Siberia is a fascinating town and one well worth exploring when visiting the vast and diverse country of Russia.


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