SIGHTS IN NUR-SULTAN
Nurzhol Boulevard and Round Square feature a row of fountains, flower paths, and interesting national sculptures opens up before our eyes. Every fountain of the Nurzhol boulevard, formerly known as Water-green boulevard, has its own architectural shape and unique engineering solution performed according to the latest progress in the sphere of fountain building.
As for the sculptures, there are 12 of them here. They are Nomads of the Kirghiz authors Zh.Bayaliyev and R.Nurgaziyev. The guard, the horseman, the wise man, the shaman with kobyz, the dancer, and other sculptures symbolize the key Turkic images. They are like petroglyphs revived in bronze ‒ light, even elusive figures, the decorations of the boulevard. Following the line of the boulevard, we get to the Round Square, also marked by a large fountain in the centre. Along the inside circle of the square, there are restaurants, shops, a supermarket. On the outside, it is framed by the buildings of Transport-Tower, the two-tower building of the National company “KazMunayGaz” represented by quite a round massive complex of administrative, office, and living spaces.
Central Mosque “Nur-Astana” opened in March, 2005. It looks quite unexpected in the neighborhood of super-modern houses, but harmonious. Elegance of the Orient is interlaced with the ensemble of glass, concrete, steel, granite, and alucobond. The mosque is crowned by four minarets, each of 62 meters height. Cupolas are gold-plated. Eight shells supporting the cupola are ably decorated with not just ornamental patterns, but graven surahs (parts of the text of the Holy Koran). Inside, we are met by a large hall where, simultaneously, five,000 people may pray. On the second floor, there is a balcony designed for praying of two thousand women. The mosque area amounts to about 4000 square meters.
Triumph of Astana is a 480-apartment housing estate that compactly unites monumentality, majesty, and elegance of the Astana architecture. This housing estate creates unforgettable silhouette of the capital. It covers 112 000 square meters and is 142.5 meters tall. It embraces a covered skating ring, сinemas, cafes, bars, restaurants, a hall for family celebrations, a poolroom, around-the-clock medical service, a centre of children’s development, a supermarket, and a shopping centre. The pride of the Triumph of Astana is a 25 meters swimming-pool occupying the whole separate porch of the estate.
Monument “Astana-Bayterek” tower for some has become a symbol of modern, striving Nur-Sultan and Kazakhstan as a whole. Weighing over 1, 000 tons and standing on 500 piles, it is a 105-meter-high glass-and steel observation tower with a huge sphere made of glass “chameleon” on the top. The spherical, golden-hued viewing deck symbolizes a Kazakh fable in which a mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg each year in a poplar tree. At night the tower is lit up with changing-colored lights and can seen for miles around. Visitors can place their hand in a hand print of President Nazarbayev. Locals call the building Chupa Chups, after a popular brand of lollipops.
At 97 meters, there is a viewing area from which a picturesque panorama of the present-day city opens up. The number 97 is not random; it symbolizes the year of transfer of capital from Almaty to Astana. In the centre of the panoramic hall, there is a wooden globe with 17 petals signed by 17 representatives of different world’s religions. And near the globe, there is a mould of the palm of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, to whom the idea of creation of the monument belongs. People believe that, if you put your palm in the mould, your dreams will come true. At night, the monument is impressively illuminated from beneath.
John Lancaster wrote in National Geographic: Baiterek “does not lend itself to nicknames, for the simple reason that it looks like nothing else. Not on this planet, anyway.“Baiterek, which means "tall poplar tree" in Kazakh, is a 318-foot tower buttressed by an exoskeleton of white-painted steel. At the top is a gold-tinted glass sphere. According to the epigraph at its base, the monument represents the Kazakh myth of Samruk, a sacred bird that every year lays a golden egg — the sun — in the crown of an enormous tree of life. Its designer? None other than Nur―sultan Nazarbayev, the steelworker turned strongman who has run the country since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He is said to have roughed out the original concept on a paper napkin. [Source: John Lancaster, National Geographic, February 2012]
“Perhaps the best place to appreciate the scope of Nazarbayev's ambition — and ego — is the observation chamber atop the Baiterek. Amid the 360-degree views and a bar serving cold Turkish beer is a malachite pedestal capped by a 4.4-pound slab of solid gold, in the center of which is an imprint of the president's right hand. Visitors make a wish as they place a palm in the impression, which on special occasions triggers the playing of the national anthem, its lyrics said to have been written by the president.”
Palace of Peace and Concord
Palace of Peace and Concord is perhaps the grandest and weirdest building of all in Kazakhstan. Describing by some as the Eighth Wonder of the World, it was constructed in the form of regular pyramid with height of 62 meters and the same width at ground level. Summer Coish wrote in the New York Times: “President Nazarbayev chose the British architect Norman Foster to design this structure, a 203-foot-high pyramid of glass, stone and steel. The shape is religiously neutral, an important consideration given the Kazakh population’s roughly even split between Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Completed in 2006, the palace plays host to the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, first held in Astana in 2003 and now held every three years to promote religious tolerance. The building also houses a research center, library, museum and 1,500-seat opera house (Nazarbayev’s late request). [Source: Summer Coish, New York Times, March 23, 2008]
Keith Gessen wrote in The New Yorker: “The Palace of Peace is, just as Nazarbayev had hoped, a classic pyramid shape; inside, it is divided into three levels. The first is recognizable as the elegant black granite foyer of an opera house, which seats fifteen hundred. The second level, which is reached by a small elevator that travels at an angle, like elevators in dreams, is a magnificent high-ceilinged meeting hall, in white granite; and the third level is a skylit conference room, of the sort familiar to students of Foster’s other buildings — a space bathed in natural light interrupted only by the angled lattice of the building’s frame. In this room, the leaders of the world’s nations, whether old and powerful or new and a little shaky, can meet around a big round table to discuss whatever troubles them. The windows are decorated with a series of stained-glass portraits of white doves, commissioned specifically by President Nazarbayev.” [Source: Keith Gessen, The New Yorker, April 18, 2011]
According to to the Kazakhstan government: “The Pyramid of peace and concord is a sort of apotheosis of tolerance idea, the monument of Kazakhstani people unity and their aspiration to harmony and humanitarian values. “Everything in the world is afraid of time and only time is afraid of pyramids” ‒ these are the words of ancient Egyptians. They constructed enigmatic pyramids perpetuating the name of Pharaoh in time and space. Pyramid, solid and faceted, came to us as inviolable symbol of eternity. There are not such architectural cultic objects like the Palace of Peace and Concord of Astana city in the world. Of course there are some constructions, gathering different religious traditions under their roofs, but Kazakhstani temple represent one big platform for constructive dialogue in contradistinction with them. It is quite logical, that there the Museum of Culture, the University of Civilizations and the Opera Theater for 1500 seats have been situated in the place where the representatives of different world traditional religions meet. Steel, aluminium, great number of special glass constructions, unique technical ideas and architectural innovations really make this construction to look like a wonder.
“The panoramic lift allows everyone to admire the beauty of green terraces and play of light, flowing from the dome of the pyramid. It will be more interesting to walk to the peak along the billowy stairs through “Hanging Gardens of Astana” as people already called them. However the view from outside will be worthy of observing as well. The majestic pyramid of Foster is seen from the both banks of Yesil River. At night its peak shines from within. The price of excursion is 500tg. Te pyramid is located on the Right bank of the Yesil River and can be reached by Buses: 18, 21, 35/
Giant Models and Maps in Nur-Sultan
GKKP (state municipal public enterprise) “Ethno-memorial complex “Map of Kazakhstan Atameken” was opened on 8 September, 2001, on the initiative of the President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Here, on the territory of 1.7 hectare, one can see the country in a full view and familiarize oneself with its architectural-landscape history. 14 oblasts and 2 cities of the republic significance – Almaty and Astana — are there on the map. The whole variety of naturalclimatic zones and landscapes, architecture and town-planning ensembles are shown here. But nevertheless, the main thing is the memorials of history and culture.
The Mausoleum of Hodja Akhmet Yassaui and Bukhtarminskaya hydroelectric power station, the Residence of the President and Karagiye cavity. Work on the map cannot be completed inherently: while Kazakhstan lives and develops, a spot for something new will be found on it. This contains particular historical optimism – in the entire period of existence of the park none of units disappeared from it, but replenishment is continuously in progress. The project was designed in “Kazdizayn”. The authors are T.Suleymenov, A.Ordabayev, S.Bairov, A.Kaynarbayev, N.Anarkulov and A.Kenzhetayev.
At the Palace of Independence, there is huge model of Astana in 2030. Keith Gessen wrote in The New Yorker: “ Nigel Dancey, of Foster and Partners, says it’s the largest such model he’s ever seen. Standing with me at the 3-D model in Bayterek was an older Kazakh man in a fur hat. It turned out that he was from Atyrau — Kazakh oil country. “That’s where they get the money to build all this!” he exclaimed. When asked if he was in town as a tourist, he said that, in fact, he wasn’t; the air in oil country is very bad, and he was here to have a doctor examine his heart. “The city will develop in three directions,” the tour guide said. “South, toward the airport, and west, and east.” [Source: Keith Gessen, The New Yorker, April 18, 2011]
Monument in Nur-Sultan
Monument to Kenessary-khan is a bronze figure of horseman on granite pedestal next to the embankment. Kenessary Kasymuly was the grandson of Abylay-khan and the last Kazakh Khan. During his life he tried to defend the independence of the country, fought for freedom of Kazakh people. The authors of this work of monumental art are: sculptor Nurlan Dalbay and architect Shota Valikhanov. Height of the horseman is seven meter; height of pedestal is six meters. The total weight is 10 tons. This monument was opened in 2001.
Monument to S.Seyfullin (in quiet old center of Astana) is an image of a handsome intelligent man in classic suit sitting on a chair with his coat slung over the back of the chair.Saken Seifullin (1894-1938) is one of the prominent figures in the cultural and social chronicle of Kazakhstan. He is a poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, literary critic, composer, teacher, public figure and statesman. What a rich heritage this wonderful man could have left behind. But these things were not to be realized. The poet and writer was a victim of repression in 1937 His life was cut short in the prime of his life. Material of the monument is bronze, the pedestal is from granite. author of the project is a well-known sculptor — Bayarlin AH. The monument was opened in 1994 on the 100th anniversary of the poet’s birth.
Monument “Otan Korgaushylar” is one of the most beautiful monuments in the country. On the square, elevated from the ground by a granite foundation, a bronze stele is situated. The central figure of the monument is a woman. She holds a golden cup, which is the symbol of peace and prosperity. The stele consists of 101 spikes and symbolizes the unity of all nations living in Kazakhstan. On the bas-relief at the right, the Soviet soldiers are depicted, on the left side, Kazakh batyrs are portrayed smashing Jungars. There is an eternal fire at the foot of the monument. The memorial is 24 meters high and is made of 63 tones of pure bronze. Copper was also used in construction. There is a park around the monument. The main compositional axis of the whole complex is the front alley leading to the monument. It is represented by dancing fountains in colourful light appearance. General contractor is SME “Gorkommunkhoz”, the architects are: A.Beksultanov, N.Konopoltsev. The Project was made by SME “Astanagorproject”. It was unveiled in 9, 2001
Museums in Nur-Sultan
The Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan is a museum of modern history of Kazakhstan. Museum of the Presidential Center of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan features “expositions that reveal the continuity of history and recreate an objective picture of the historical path of development of Kazakhstan.”
Museum of Modern Art (previously the Akmola Regional Museum of Fine Arts) contains a collection with more than 4,000 works of fine art masters of Kazakhstan, Russia and the countries of the commonwealth. Subjects of art works include portraits of famous and ordinary people, beautiful scenes of nature, genre scenes, still lifes, and philosophical thoughts about life.
Has sanat is an art gallery with a unique collection of paintings by famous artists in Kazakhstan, which reflect various trends in the fine arts of Kazakhstan. The paintings tell us about us Kazakhstanis, about the magnetism of our steppe, about the beauty of our women. The Kulanshi Center for Contemporary Art is a modern gallery of fine art in the Palace of Peace and Concord in Astana. The permanent exhibition "Kulanshi" exhibited paintings by famous artists from Portugal, Turkey, Germany and Kazakhstan. The Center for Contemporary Art holds exhibitions of Kazakhstani and foreign artists, as well as popularizes Kazakhstani contemporary art abroad.
Presidential Cultural Center
At the beginning of Republic Avenue we can admire the beautiful snow-white building with blue dome – this is the Presidential Cultural Center. This complex includes the museum, library, concert and exhibition halls. Everything is symbolic in this building, and even its design reflected in plan view. It is represented by the sphere with divergent beams on four cardinal points. This blue dome is a veritably Turkic architectural tradition. It rises to the height of 38.5 meters above the ground and crowns the axial center of the entire composition.
The museum funds count 143 223 items. These are mainly items of archeology, ethnography, history, culture and arts. They are divided into three parts: basic fund, scientific-intermediate fund, fund of temporary storage. Here we also can find out collection of gifts of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which occupied place of honor just in the heart of the building, directly under its dome. It consists of gifts presented to N.A.Nazarbayev by the heads of states and governments of various countries and official delegations. The library of Presidential Cultural Center has rich fund, which counts over 700 000 books: on pages of which there is the history of Kazakhstan from nomad period to nowdays.
This center was established on initiative of N.A.Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, “for the purpose to increase cultural and spiritual image of the new capital Astana, for familiarization of general public with historical property of nation, achievements of world culture and arts” (Decree of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan as of October 27, 2000
Erejmentau Mountains region (50 kilometers to the east of Astana) is another blind-spot on the tourist map of Kazakhstan. But numerous cemeteries of the Stone and Bronze Ages, Scythian monuments, Turkic stony statues, all point to the fact that civilizations have passed through these lands since ancient times. A visit here is sure to impress anyone seeking knowledge of ancient history. The wildlife of Erejmentau also differs with its rare variety: argali, golden eagles and krasavka cranes. A bit more common, but no less interesting, are the marmot and alpine hare. Mention should also be made of the black alder, a plant quite common in Europe, but rather rare for Kazakhstan.
Kabanbay-Batyr Mausoleum (30 kilometers from Astana) is the burial place of a Kazakh leader, Kabanbay-Batyr. The structure is 25 meters tall and topped by a metal crescent. Its high-quality brick construction is similar to that of the Cabus Tower, an Iranian – tower mausoleum built at the beginning of the 11th century. Total area of the mausoleum is 41.3 square meters.
Lake Burabay (200 kilometers north of Astana) is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Kazakhstan. Pictured on the ten tenge banknote, it has a 16 kilometer circumference and is found in an area of forest, lakes, rock formations and step hills The gateway for the region is the village of Burabay, which sits in the lake. Many people hike to the Okzhetpes, a group of rock formation created, according to legend, when an Oryat princess flung herself into a lake after her true love was killed. The lake lies in Burabay State National Nature, set up in 2002, and embracing 14 lakes.
Kokshetau National Park (300 kilometers from Astana, near the small city of Kokshetau) is situated in unique mountain and lake systems with historical and archeological sites. Covering 1,820 square kilometer, it embraces mountain ranges, forest tracts and Zerenda, Imantau, Ayirtau and Shalkar lakes. There are 185 places of historical, archaeological and cultural value. Typical species of animals of Siberian taiga (elk, lynx, marten, white hare and ermine) co-exist with the inhabitants of the southern steps (korsak, gopher, grey hair, polecat, steppe marmot). There are chamomile and bluebell meadows and shady birch woods and lakes with plenty of pikes, crucian carps, perches and roaches. Zerenda, the main town at the park, is located among forests, lakes, picturesque ravines, rocks, canyons and springs. It is an excellent place for cross country skiing.
Soviet-Era Labor Camp for Women Near Astana
The main attractions outside of Astana are Soviet-era Gulags and labor camps. Keith Gessen wrote in The New Yorker: Beyond Astana, “lies the former Akmolinsk Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland, or Alzhir. The women interned there were the wives of men who had been imprisoned or shot during Stalin’s great purge; when N.K.V.D. officers showed up at their apartments, they asked if the women would like to see their husbands. The women said yes. A few weeks later, they found themselves in the middle of the Kazakh steppe. [Source: Keith Gessen, The New Yorker, April 18, 2011]
“Alzhir is just twenty miles from Astana, near the village of Malinovka. There are very few museums devoted to Stalinist terror in the former Soviet Union, but this is one. It consists of a red Odessa-made train car originally meant for cattle and used to transport political prisoners, an Astana-style statue of grief (it looked a bit like the velodrome), and a small but informative exhibition space, which includes displays about ethnic Kazakhs who were killed or imprisoned during the terror of 1937-38, as well as one devoted to the Alzhir camp, which ran from 1937 to 1953.
“After it closed, some of the women returned to their native cities; a small number remained in Kazakhstan. In 1989, during glasnost, the son of a former prisoner who had remained in the area tried to organize a reunion. Many of the women were no longer living, of course, but some came; others, according to the tour guide at the museum, believed it was another trick, like the one that lured them from their homes to begin with, and refused to return to Kazakhstan.”
Akmolinsk Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland (ACWP) was one of the biggest — if not the biggest — Stalinist labor camp for woman. It was built to house 3,000 prisoners but more than 20,000 were sent there. As well as wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of men designated enemies of the state were sent to the camp. Many had their children taken from them, No formal charges were made. They “were taken through the Single consultation” and given terms of five to eight years. Some of them survived; others perished. Some of them went back to their homes; others could not come back to native places and stayed on in present-day Kazakhstan.
The first group of women arrived in February, 1938. Some of them arrived in slippers, light shoes and modern pumps not well suited for Akmolinsk snowdrift and freezing cold. Watch-towers stood guard over adobe barracks, where 200-300 persons lived. The women took care of cattle, cut grass, worked in the vegetable garden, and , in the 1940s, sewed uniforms for soldiers. The women were not only subjected to severe cold and starvation, they also raped and sexually abused presumably at the hands of guards and other men working at the camp: A total of 1507 children were born at ACWP camp. Women that died in the winter were not immediately buried; they were put in depot and buried in a common grave in the in spring.
For those that survived long-expected freedom was an illusion. Even after having served their terms, former prisoners could not leave the camp bounds and had to stay as “civilians” and were give special No. 39 wolf passports that prohibited them from going anywhere except a few selct places. Virtually nothing from camp remains today. There is no sign in Malinovka of the deep aryks the prisoners dug from the lake. Not a single barrack built by the hands of the prisoners remains. All there is a small hall-museum in the House of Culture, where almost everything was assembled by of one woman – the director of the museum, Zhaksybayeva Raisa Ramazanovna.
Geeson wrote: “I was driven to Alzhir by a man named Chin, who was originally from Xinjiang Province, in western China, which borders Kazakhstan. He walked through the exhibit with me, exclaiming at one point that they had the same thing in China, though Mao, in a twisted form of sibling rivalry, always outdid Stalin. When we got out, Chin needed a cigarette. “Look at that,” he said, nodding toward the village of Malinovka, which consisted of a few five-story khrushchevki. At the museum, we had learned that Malinovka had grown over the ruins of the camp. “No one even knows what used to be here,” Chin said. “It was here, and now it’s gone.”“
Bozok Medieval Settlement
Bozok Settlement (east outskirt of Astana on shore of Bozok Lake) dates to the 8h to 14th century that was inhabited by Kipchaks and Dzhuchid. Situated in an area that is advantageous both geographically and strategically, it is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.
Settlement excavations started in 1999 the revealed that site was Bozok (also spelled Buzok) was first a city-fortress and the military centre on the steppe Silk Road in the 8th-10th centuries. Later it became the residence of a Kipchak governor, a religious-cult centre and a rest stop for travelers and caravans. Houses were built of burn bricks manufactured in local workshops. In the settlement, a water supply and sewerage system existed. From the 13th to 15th centuries there were places interpreted as sacred areas and burial places. Archeologists found burial of a woman warrior dated to the 13th century.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The roll remains, ditches surrounding them can be seen on a modern surface. They fence three quarters. The lay-out of the quarters located in the form of the three-petal socket and grouped round the central platform is interesting. The monument relates to the medieval epoch, to the period when the territory of the Central Asia was in the structure of Kipchak state. Important researches have been spent on a monument in 1997-2009 by expedition of the Euroasian state university of L.Gumilev, headed by Professor K.A. Akishev and M..K. Khabdulina. [Source: UNESCO]
Ruins of two mausoleums were dug out here, a minaret and funeral fences, made of mudbricks. Archeologists have opened some dwellings of semi-dugout type. They are multi-room. The biggest consists of 4 rooms and has one entry from lake side. Walls of premises were increased upwards with mudbricks. The house had flat ceiling.
Some tombs have been investigated in a cemetery. Well remained burial was revealed in a southern part of the ancient settlement. The woman living in Golden Horde time in 13th-14th centuries was buried here. She has been buried in full fighting equipment: with an iron dagger and a long spear with an iron tip. An iron annulate bit lay at her foot. Silver bracelets on hands and a necklace from semiprecious stones, silver ear rings in her ears. The headdress has been embroidered with pearl beads. She covered a silver bowl with one of her hands.
The monument is located on east islet of lake Bozok. According to the results of excavation the explorers have come to a conclusion that the site of ancient settlement of Bozok was the military Stavka, residence of Kipchak possessor in 10th-14th centuries. Occupying the important geographical position and being on the central branch of a caravan track passing in Saryarka steppes, the city controlled an important caravan trading artery through which the caravans went to cities of the Volga region, to Caucasus, in Russian princedoms the Volga Bulgaria and the Western Europe. The medieval site of ancient settlement of Bozok is under state protection. The site of ancient settlement of Bozok can be recorded into the list by criterion 3 as is, at least, the exclusive certificate of cultural tradition or a civilization disappeared or existing.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Kazakhstan Tourism website (visitkazakhstan.kz), Kazakhstan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020