Astana (formerly Aqmola and Tselinograd), in the north of Kazakhstan, is the second largest city in the country. It took over the role of capital city from Almaty (the largest city) in December 1998.
Now it's undergoing a transformation costing billions of dollars, where top international architects assist in trying to make Astana a worthy capital - not only of Kazakhstan but of all Central Asia.
The master plan of Astana was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. As the seat of the Government of Kazakhstan, Astana is the site of the Parliament House, the Supreme Court, the Ak Orda Presidential Palace and numerous government departments and agencies. It is home to many futuristic buildings, hotels and skyscrapers.
Astana presents an interesting and intriguing blend of old Soviet architecture with the modern designs of Norman Foster and the like. Astana is growing, but still does not offer the comforts and thrills of its Western counterparts, or Almaty, but has its own charms and pleasures.
|POPULATION :||City: 835,153|
|FOUNDED :||1830 as Akmoly|
|TIME ZONE :||ALMT (UTC+6)|
|LANGUAGE :||Kazakh (Qazaq, state language), Russian (widely used)|
|RELIGION :||Muslims 67 %, Russian Orthodox 27% , Chatolic 4%, Others 2%|
|AREA :||710.2 km2 (274.2 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||347 m (1,138 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||51°10′N 71°26′E|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 48.1% |
• Female: 51.9%
|ETHNIC :||Kazakhs 65.2%, Russians 23.8%, Ukrainians 2.9%, Tatars 1.7%, Germans 1.5%, Others 4.9%|
|AREA CODE :||7172|
|POSTAL CODE :||010000–010015|
|DIALING CODE :||+7 7172|
|WEBSITE :||Official Website|
THINGS TO SEE
Bayterek Tower (Бәйтерек, Bäyterek). An example of the futuristic architecture in the newborn city. Nicknamed Chupa Chups by the locals due to its similarity to a giant lollipop, this 97m high building offers a great view of the city as well as an art gallery, an aquarium and a restaurant. In the centre of the top sphere, the ever so humble President Nazarbayev has made a golden palm print where visitors may put their own hands. Be warned at busier times the queue for the palm can be very long.
Khan Shatyr. Is a giant transparent tent big enough to hold 10,000 people. The 150m-high tent has a 200m elliptical base covering an area larger than 10 football stadiums, and contains a park, a shopping and entertainment area with squares and cobbled streets, a boating river, minigolf and an indoor beach resort. It even contains its own monorail with several stops. While Astana is one of the world's coldest capitals with temperatures down to -40°C in the cold season, the transparent material lets sunshine in and helps to keep temperatures comfortable all year.
The President's Museum of Kazakhstan, Barayev 3. Built like a yurt with a dome resembling a mosque. It contains exhibitions about the history of the country. The main attraction is a replica of the Golden Man costume, a warrior's suit that was found in a tomb east of Almaty. It contains more than 4000 gold pieces, and the original was considered too fragile to be put on display (it is now kept safe in the national bank).
Atameken Map of Kazakhstan. An outdoor museum giving you an overview of the entire country in a miniature version. This 1.7-hectare exhibit features more than 200 mock-up pieces, creating Kazakh cities and historical memorials. During the summer months at least, there are normally English speaking guides available (optional obviously), should you wish to learn a little about the models, and there is a covered section which focuses on the newer constructions within the city of Astana itself. Taking photos sometimes requires an extra payment to be made - you may want to keep cameras in your bag until you pass out of sight of the front ticket office. There is a covered map of Astana on a platform overlooking the rest of the map, be sure to visit the exhibition underneath this, which offers dioramas of Kazakhstani industry, sport and culture.
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. The pyramid portion of the building is 62m high and sits on a 15m high earth-covered block. All of this construction is above ground level. The building holds a summit of all religions of the world every 2–3 years. Though the landscaping of the park rises up to cover the lower levels, these are not in fact basements. This building offers a great view of the city as well as two art galleries, an archaeological and ethnographic museum, opera hall, and a cafe.
Duman. An entertainment complex consisting of an oceanarium, 3D theatre, dome area, souvenir shops and cafes. The aquarium is unique for being located over 3,000 km away from the ocean! It has more than 2000 sea inhabitants, the representatives of 100 species of sea fauna from different parts of the world. You can also see "Mermaid" and sharks-feeding shows at the aquarium. In the Motion Theatre you can make an underwater trip under the command of captain Mac-Cloud during the World War II, to overcome the traps while rescuing the gorgeous princess, confined in the dungeon, go on a tour to the past to dinosaur age, escorted by a troll etc.
Nur-Astana Mosque. The second largest mosque in Central Asia, completed in 2008.
The dome area contains symbols from all over the world like the Statue of Liberty, the fragment of the great Chinese wall, the "Doriphor" statue, Parthenon and others.
Kazakh Eli monument. Situated next to Pyramid (Palace of Peace) and has a small statue of the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It is about 100 metres tall and has a mythical golden bird Samryk on the top. Monument is made from white marble and surrounded by very beautiful fountains.
Shabyt Palace. Shabyt is a palace of arts situated to the right of Kazakh Eli monument. It is a dish like building made from glass.
TSUM The central shopping mall on Kenesary Street, across from Congress Hall has some shops for clothes, perfumes, a camera shop, cafe and a small supermarket.
New Western-style shopping malls have sprung up with all the variety of shopping you would expect from a mall in the West including:
Keruen on the Left Bank near Bayterek. Supermarket, Cinema, Babylon (video-arcade/indoor rides for children). Food court.
Mega on Turan Street. Cinema. Ramstor supermarket. Climbing wall. Food court.
Sara Arkai on Turan Street. Cinema. Supermarket.
Ramstor is another chain of supermarkets that is popular among Westerners in Astana. They sell lots of things you can't find elsewhere such as macaroni and cheese, microwave popcorn, Worcestershire Sauce, barbeque sauces, tortilla chips, salsa and so on.
Asia Park. Next to Central Mosque of Astana. Has a nice skybar with a pretty good view. Includes an Alma supermarket with good bakery, dairy, tinned food and frozen food. Fruit and vegetables don't look so good (in late 2011). Some basic homeware is also on sale. There is a Finn Mark shop for winter clothes. There is also a Fitness First gym.
Talisman on Republic Avenue is a great little souvenir shop with T-shirts, felt products, leather paintings, traditional musical instruments, desk sets and jewellery and stuffed leopards. A bit expensive and the staff watch you very carefully to make sure you don't shoplift, but there is a good variety of goods.
The settlement of Akmoly, also known as Akmolinsky prikaz, was established on the Ishim River in 1830 as the seat of an okrug by a unit of the Siberian Cossacks headed by Fyodor Shubin. The name was possibly given after a local landmark—Akmola literally means "a white grave" in Kazakh—although this theory is not universally accepted.In 1832, the settlement was granted town status and named Akmolinsk.
During World War II, Akmolinsk served as a route for the transport of engineering tools and equipment from evacuated plants in the Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR, and Russian SFSR located in the oblasts of the Kazakh SSR. Local industries were appointed to respond to war needs, assisting the country to provide the battle and home fronts with all materials needed. In the post-war years, Akmolinsk became a beacon of economic revival in the west of the Soviet Union ruined by the war. Additionally, many Russian-Germans were resettled here after being deported under Joseph Stalin rule.
In the 1950s, Northern Kazakh SSR oblasts became a territory of the Virgin Lands Campaign led by Nikita Khrushchev, in order to turn the region into a second grain producer for the Soviet Union. In December 1960, Central Committee made a resolution to create the Tselinniy Krai, which comprised five regions of the Northern Kazakh SSR oblasts. Akmolinsk Oblast was ceased to exist as a separate administrative entity. Its districts were directly subordinated to the new krai administration, and Akmolinsk became the krai capital, as well as the administrative seat of the new Virgin Lands economic region. On 14 March 1961, Khrushchev proposed to rename the city to name corresponding to its role in the Virgin Lands Campaign. On 20 March 1961, the Supreme Soviet of the Kazakh SSR renamed Akmolinsk to Tselinograd.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the consequent independence of Kazakhstan, the city's original form was restored in the modified form Akmola. On 6 July 1994, the Supreme Council of Kazakhstan accepted the decree "On the transfer of the capital of Kazakhstan". After the capital of Kazakhstan was moved to Akmola on 10 December 1997, the city was consequently renamed Astana in 1998. On 10 June 1998, Astana presented as the capital internationally. On 16 July 1999, Astana was awarded the medal and title of the City of Peace by UNESCO.
Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, a position formerly held by Canada's capital, Ottawa, until Astana attained capital city status in 1997.
Astana has an extreme continental climate with warm summers (featuring occasional brief rain showers) and long, very cold, dry winters.
Summer temperatures occasionally reach +35 °C (95 °F) while −30 to −35 °C (−22 to −31 °F) is not unusual between mid-December and early March.
Typically, the city's river is frozen over between the second week of November and the beginning of April. Astana has a well-deserved reputation among Kazakhs for its frequent high winds, the effects of which are felt particularly strongly on the fast-developing but relatively exposed Left Bank area of the city.
The average annual temperature in Astana is +3.5 °C (38.3 °F). January is the coldest month with an average temperature of −14.2 °C (6.4 °F). July is the hottest month with an average temperature of +20.7 °C (69.3 °F).
Climate data for Astana
|Record high °C (°F)||3.4|
|Average high °C (°F)||−9.9|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||−14.2|
|Average low °C (°F)||−18.3|
|Record low °C (°F)||−51.6|
|Source #1: Pogoda.ru.net|
|Source #2: NOAA|
Astana is located in central Kazakhstan on the Ishim River in a very flat, semi-arid steppe region which covers most of the country's territory. It is at 51° 10′ north latitude and 71° 26′ east longitude, and the 50th parallel north passes through the southern parts of the city. The city encompasses 722.0 square kilometres (278.8 sq mi).
The elevation of Astana is 347 m (1,138 ft) above sea level. Astana is in a spacious steppe landscape, in the transitional area between the north of Kazakhstan and the extremely thinly settled national centre, because of the Ishim River. The older boroughs lie north of the river, whilst the new boroughs are located south of the Ishim.
Astana's economy is based on trade, industrial production, transport, communication and construction. The city’s industrial production is mainly focused on producing building materials, foodstuff and mechanical engineering.
Astana is the headquarters of state-owned corporations such as Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, KazMunayGas, KazTransOil, Kazatomprom, KEGOC and Kazakhtelecom.
The shift of the capital has given a powerful boost to Astana’s economic development. The city’s high economic growth rate has attracted numerous investors. In the 16 years since Astana became the capital, the volume of investments has increased by almost 30 times, the gross regional product has increased by 90 times, and industrial output has increased by 11 times.
The Astana – New City special economic zone was established in 2001 to develop industry and increase the attractiveness of the city to investors. The SEZ plans to commission five projects worth 20 billion KZT (around $108 million) in the Industrial Park #1 in 2015. The projects include construction of a plant for production of diesel engines, a fast food complex, temporary storage warehouses and a business centre, a furniture factory, and production of military and civil engineering machinery.
There are three mobile phone providers: KCell, Tele2 and Beeline. All three offer mobile web (Edge, 3G). SIM cards are cheap and can be bought without filling in documentation.
Free Wi-Fi is widely available.