In the marvelous steppes of southwestern Russia, there stands the largest Buddhist city in all of Europe, a town called Elista. Amidst the breathtaking monasteries and Buddhist sculptures, the City of Elista safeguards the “kingdom 64 squares”-Chess.
Beside the east side of Elista is the Chess City. A culturally and architecturally distinct territory in which, as the New York Times phrases it chess is king, and the people are pawns.
Chess City was built in 1998 by chess devotee Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the leader of Russia’s Kalmykia province. Further, he is the president of the International Chess Federation, who claims to have been kidnapped by aliens with the crazy mission of bringing chess to Elista.
Following the aliens’ recommendation, Ilyumzhinov built Chess City just in time to host the 33rd Chess Olympiad in grand fashion. Further, the city features a swimming pool, a chess museum along with a large open-air chess board. Also, a museum of Buddhist art is accessible to the people. Chess City hosted hundreds of super grandmasters in 1998 and was home to many smaller chess championships in later years.
However, while Chess City brought short-term international attention to Elista, it was also heavily condemned. Evidently, in the impoverished steppes of Elista, cutting food subsidies to fund a humungous, $50 million complex for the periodic use of foreigners wasn’t a popular idea with much of the region. Moreover, once the Chess Olympiad was over, Chess City became barely used and mostly vacated. This became a symbol to the people of Elista of the local government’s unwise priorities.