Trip to the Capital – Astana

Sorry for the delay in creating a new post.  My internet service has been down at my apartment for the past two weekends, so that has delayed things a bit.  I was also out of town recently.  It was my first trip to another part of the country.  I flew with a work colleague to Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.

Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, is an architectural wonderland. The symbol of the city (and country) is the Baiterek, or Tree of Life from Kazakh legend.

Astana has been the capital of Kazakhstan since 1997.  The word literally means “capital” in Kazakh and the decision was made to create this new capital and move it from Almaty (which is where I am based) only three years earlier, in 1994.  There were lots of unofficial explanations for the move.  Almaty is basically hemmed in on three sides by mountains, thus limiting growth potential.  Almaty also sits just over 100 miles from the Chinese border and this may have affected the decision as well.  Another explanation is that creating a new capital gave the country (and its president) the opportunity to showcase a newly independent and confident nation.

Although Astana was previously named Akmola and had a population of about 300,000 people, today the population is effectively double and the city is much more sprawling.  The new part of the city was planned by famed Japanese architect, Kisho Kurokawa and most of the new government buildings were designed by Norman Foster.  It’s not often that one gets to plan a city from scratch (i.e. Dubai), so the results are really interesting.

My itinerary in Astana consisted of many meetings so there wasn’t really ample time to check out the sights.  Our driver was courteous enough to give us a windshield tour of some of the highlights, however.

Arrival at the Astana airport. Although this was mid-October, our early morning arrival was greeted by a -8 C temperature on the northern steppe!!

The Nur Astana Mosque, with enough room for up to 5,000 worshippers.

An interesting triad of office buildings seen from our windshield tour.

Another interesting building...quite the monolith once up close

Independence monument against the beautiful sky of the northern steppe

Close-up of the Independence monument

Across from the Independence monument is the Palace of Peace and Harmony.  The inspiration for the building came from the First Congress of World and Traditional Religions which was held in Astana in 2003.  Apparently, it was so successful that the President had this building commissioned to host the second Congress in 2006.  It was designed by Foster and Partners and replicates the proportions of the Great Pyramids of Giza.  Besides being an ecumenical and non-denominational spiritual space, it also houses a 1,350 seat opera house, a Museum of Precious Metals, and a Winter Garden in the top of the pyramid.

The Palace of Peace and Harmony

This building sits next to the Independence monument. I was told it was an art university.

Not sure about this building, but interesting none the less.

Statue of the omnipresent Abai

I think that is the Kazakhstan Sport Center but I'm not entirely sure.

The Presidential Palace, known as "Ak Orda."

This wall-like building sits near the Presidential Palace and is known as the House of Ministers. It spans several blocks and houses twelve difference Ministries, each with their own separate entrance.

Buildings across the street from the House of Ministers

I believe this is a hotel but I can't recall the name.

I'm told this is the Ministry of Transport and Communications. People have nicknamed it "the lighter" as it does look a Bic lighter. Unfortunately, the top floors caught fire in 2006 and helped cement the name!

Well, that was my whirlwind trip to Astana.  It would have been nice to have some free time to explore the city in a bit more depth, but I am grateful for being given the opportunity to go in the first place.  While cold to me, I can’t imagine visiting in the heart of winter when the temperatures are much, much colder and the wind off the steppe is brutal.  My hat’s off to the denizens of this very interesting capital city!

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