On a travel blog that I read before our trip, the city of Elista was described as a place where "two hours was an hour too long." There's not much to do here tourism-wise: a visit to the main temple, a quick loop around downtown, and maybe making the trek out to the deportation memorial.
On this roster of attractions, a (the?) highlight of any visit to Elista--whether short or long (read: one hour or two)--has to be Chess City. How to describe it? Imagine a shoddily-built condo complex placed in the middle of the steppe. Or, according to the Atlas Obscura entry, a "Russian City...Built for Chess Fanatics According to Alien Specifications."
|The Museum-Restaurant-Chess Tournament Complex at Chess City|
|View of the condos - and the empty steppe beyond - from the Chess City complex|
|Another view of Chess City condos|
There's a lot to unpack here. First, Chess City isn't a separate city; it is an enclave of Elista and includes, or has included: a hotel, residences, the Mongolian consulate (which was busier when Russians needed visas for Mongolia), and a museum-restaurant-chess tournament complex.
|Inside the museum/event center|
Second, it was built for the 1998 World Chess Championships, but wasn't completed on time (as I understand it). The top players were housed with local residents since the facility wasn't finished. (The construction of Chess City was itself controversial, as it occurred during Russia's post-Soviet economic low point in the mid- to late 1990s). It has hosted several major international tournaments since 1998, including the 2006 Women's World Chess Championships.
And third, the former head of Kalmykia (Kirsan Ilyumzhinov) indeed claims to have been abducted by aliens. He has also been the president of FIDE (the International Chess Federation) since 1995.
We visited Chess City during our first week here and spent a couple of hours there in total (we've needed at least four hours to see Elista's sights). Some of the highlights:
|The car of a wedding party|
|Ignore me. This was a stealth picture of the wedding party photo shoot in the background - |
the bride kept her powder blue down jacket on for all the photos.
|The Chess Champions of Kalmykia|
Chess sets given as gifts to Ilyumzhinov (this was a world leaders board with interesting geopolitical overtones):
|King = G.W. Bush; Queen = C. Rice; Bishop = A. Merkel; Knight = J. Chirac; Rook = J. Koizumi; Pawn = John Howard|
|King = V. Putin; Queen = B. Bhutto; Bishop = F. Castro; Knight = H. Chavez; Rook = M. Ahmadinejad; Pawn = M. Gaddafi.|
And clothing in the Kalmyk museum: