Previously, Almaty was the capital city of Kazakhstan. However, in 1997 the city of Akmola replaced Almaty as the capital and in 1998 it was renamed Astana. In Kazakh, Astana literally means “the capital”. Several reasons justified the move including Almaty’s history of earthquakes, limited room for expansion and also close proximity to the Chinese border.
A New City
Akmola was a remote settlement founded in 1830 by Siberian Cossacks. However, in 1999 Astana had a population of 281,000 with 30% Kazakh and 70% Russian, Ukrainian and German. But since becoming the capital, the population of Astana exploded to 835,000 in 2014 and it is now 65% Kazakh. Additionally, Astana is the location of many new buildings since becoming the capital. Examples include, the Ak Orda Presidential Palace, Bayterek and Khan Shatyr.
In Kazakh, Bayterek translates as “tall poplar tree”. Bayterek symbolizes an ancient myth about a magical bird of happiness called Samruk. The magical bird has laid an golden egg in the mythical tree of life between two poplar branches. The mirrored sphere (egg) is 22 meters in diameter and contains 2 observation decks with views of Astana. Symbolically, the first deck is 97 meters above ground commemorating the city becoming the capital in 1997.
The Gilded Hand
On the 2nd observation deck there is a gilded hand imprint of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. President Nazarbayev was the first president of the Independent Republic of Kazakhstan and has been continuously re-elected ever since 1991. Visitors are invited to place their hand in the imprint and make a wish.
Ak Orda Presidential Palace
The presidential palace is situated on the left bank of the Ishim River and it was opened officially in 2004. Although the palace is the place of work for the president it is not the presidential residence. However, the palace houses the presidential administrative staff that works at the palace.
Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center
More recently, the Khan Shatyr was completed and opened to the public in 2010. Historically, the Kazakhs have lived a nomadic lifestyle. Therefore, this may explain why the building is actually a giant fabric tent. Even so, the “tent” features modern facilities such as a shopping center, mini golf, a river boating center and even a indoor beach resort.
Efficiently, the fabric tent maintains a moderate internal temperature while outside the climate can fluctuate dramatically. Transparently, the fabric allows sunlight to enter the structure which greatly assists with temperature regulation. Additionally, the structure is 150 meters high at the apex and has an elliptical base covering 35 acres.
The mosque was a gift from the Emir of Qatar following the agreement between him and President Nazarbayev. The architecture of the mosque is dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, it is 40 meters high which is the age of the prophet when he first received revelations from God. Furthermore, the height of the minarets are 63 meters each symbolizing the age of the prophet when he died.
Geography and Climate
Astana is located 1200 kilometers north of Almaty in the semi-arid steppe region that covers most of Kazakhstan. In comparison, the previous capital Almaty was located near the Zailisky Alatau Mountain Range. The Ishim River separates Astana into the older segment on the north side and the newer segment on the south side of the river. Although it is hot in the summer it is extremely cold in winter. As a result, Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world behind only Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Astana is a modern phenomenon similar to other new cities located in China. After all, many of China’s new major cities were mostly built in the last 20 years. As a result, it creates a mix of old and also new attractions.