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Astana was built almost overnight on the tundra. The brand new capital began as a Russian fort but was relegated to the background for a long time. In 1994 when the city suddenly became the new capital of Kazakhstan, it underwent an enormous growth spurt. Thanks to the dedication of internationally renowned architects and a huge dollop of glitz and glamour, the city has deservedly been nicknamed the Dubai of the Tundra.
In 1997, the symbol of Kazakhstan progress was completed: the 105-metre-high Bayterek Tower. The tower’s shape represents a popular myth about the tree of life and the bird of happiness. The bird’s bullet-shaped ‘egg’, which measures 22 metres in diameter, adorns the tower. There are 2 floors inside. The top level displays a golden handprint of the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The lower level houses the observation deck. From here you enjoy a 360-degree view of the Astana skyline. This makes the tower the perfect spot to admire the city’s latest architectural highlights. Here are 3 striking examples.
In 2006, a pyramid of glass and steel became the symbolic centre of Astana. This Palace of Peace and Harmony was designed by the British architecture firm Forster + Partners and is a symbol of harmonious relations between world religions. In addition to a conference centre, the palace also encompasses a 1500-seat concert hall and a beautiful atrium. The peak of the pyramid features a ‘top’ conference room where guests are surrounded by stained-glass doves. Take a 30-minute tour to admire the building.
The Ak-Orda Palace is sometimes irreverently, but somewhat accurately, described as a Disney version of the American White House. Since the end of 2004, this has been the home of the president of Kazakhstan, who is also responsible for inventing the outline of the Bayterek Tower. One of the highlights of the daily guided tours is the Oriental Hall. It has the shape of a traditional yurt – a type of nomadic tent where Kazakh civilisation began – albeit a very swanky ornate version of one.
The Central Concert Hall was designed by Italian architect Manfredi Nicoletti. He felt that the tundra was lacking in colour so he designed the building in the shape of an abstract flower. In addition to a large auditorium for classical music, ballet performances and pop concerts, the venue also houses restaurants, shops and 2 cinemas. The largest space is the 3000-square-metre lobby. It serves as a huge indoor square where Astana residents love to gather during the extremely cold winter months.