Saturday, June 20, 2015

Astana, Kazakhstan

Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan.  It was originally founded in 1830 as Akmoly and it was used as a fort by Siberian Cossacks.  In 1832 the town became known as Akmolinsk and then in 1961 it became Tselinograd.  After independence from the USSR, it became Akmola in 1992.  In 1997 the capital was moved from Almaty to Akmola.  In 1998, it was given the name Astana.  Very original.  In Kazakh, Астана means "capital".

With over 835,000 people it is the second-largest city in the country after Almaty.  It is also the second-coldest capital city in the world.  Winter temperatures run from -30°C to -35°C (-22°F to -31°F).

Astana is a planned city.  Planned to stand out that is.  It's an architect's dream because everything is unique.  It's like the Dubai of Central Asia.  And the construction continues especially since the city will host the 2017 Expo.  It's clear to see where so much of the country's oil and gas revenue has been invested.

The Bayterek monument symbolizes a Kazakh folktale about Samruk, a magical bird of happiness who lays its egg between the branches of a mythical tree of life.  It's also an observation tower and on the top level there is a gilded hand print of President Nazarbayev that people place their hand and make a wish.  The locals refer to it as Chupa Chyp, like the lollypop.

The Nur-Astana Mosque is the second-largest mosque in the country.  It was a gift from the Emir of Qatar and has capacity inside for 5,000 people.

The Central Concert Hall was completed in 2009.  Its walls are designed to resemble a flower petal.

The Shabyt Palace of Art is part of the local university.  It is often referred to as the dog bowl.

Opened in 2012 the Nazarbayev Center is a multi-functional research and public education institution with a focus on Kazakh society.  I'm not sure what the nickname is for this one.

The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation opened in 2006.  The pyramid is 62 meters (203 feet) high and cost about $58 million to build.  It was built as a center for religious understanding.  Inside is also a 1,500 seat opera house, Kazakh museum of culture, and a library.

The Hazrat Sultan mosque opened in 2012.  It is the largest mosque in Central Asia and can hold up to 10,000 people.

The "Kazakh Eli" monument shows the mythical bird Samruk on a 91 meter column that honors 1991 when Kazakhstan became an independent country.

The Presidential Palace was modeled after the White House in Washington, DC.  It has a bit of a Disney look to it.

KazMunayGas is the state-owned oil and gas company and its headquarters are in the city.

The Justice Monument is located near one of the courts.  It shows Tole bi, Kazybek bi, and Aiteke bi.  I'm told that every true Kazakh can trace their lineage back to one of these three.

The Khan Shatyr is the world's largest tent.  It is 150 meters (500 feet) high and covers 140,000 sq. meters (35 acres).  The area under the tent is bigger than 10 football stadiums.  It was completed in 2010 after four years of construction and cost $400 million.

The tent has a special chemical lining that protects against the bitter cold.  It also lights up at night.  Inside is a just your normal shopping mall, complete with a roller coaster, boating river, mini golf, dinosaurs and an indoor beach resort that is always 35°C (95°F).

There is way more things in Astana to see than in Almaty.  The only bummer is that I haven't been able to find any postcards.  I don't understand a capital city that is trying to be at the forefront of some very cool construction and there are no postcards at all. 

Update:  On 20 March 2019, Astana was renamed to Nur-Sultan in honour of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

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