Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, boasts a truly unique skyline, with ostentatiously flashy buildings rising up from what was, up until recently, nothing but flat plains. Its image negotiates between nomadic traditions, a Soviet past and futuristic present.
Astana Opera House
The Main Hall of the theatre is designed for 1250 people, and the Chamber Hall can accommodate 250 people, with an orchestra pit of 115 places. The crowning glory is the gorgeous, 1.6-tonne (1.8-ton) crystal chandelier that dominates the entrance hall, complemented by looming columns made of Sicilian marble.
The Akorda Presidential Palace
The Akorda Presidential Palace is the official workplace of the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Its ostentatious structures – notably heralding a blue-and-gold dome topped with a spire that rises to 80 metres (263 feet) – were built within just three years and the palace officially opened in 2004. If you squint hard enough, you’ll see a golden statue atop the dome: a sun with 32 rays and a steppe eagle flying beneath it.
Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall
The shape of the Central Concert Hall immediately conjures up resemblance to the iconic Sydney Opera House – but there’s a different story behind this design. Not only do the curved walls serve to protect the interior from the impossibly harsh weather conditions (Astana is the second-coldest capital in the world), but also to symbolise a flower’s petals, as a metaphor for the dynamism of music.
The building contains three different music halls. The main hall seats 3500 people, makes it one of the largest of its kind. Given its acoustic flexibility, you can expect anything from classical concertos and pop shows to ballets and conferences.
This 33-floor building looms over the skyline at 97 metres (318 feet). It’s a strange height to aim for – until you realise that Astana was an empty, barren expanse of steppes until 1997. This is when the capital was transferred from Almaty to Astana, and so the 97 metres serve as a nod to this historic date. While it is not the highest building in the city, it is certainly the most iconic.
The design is deliberately shaped after the holy tree of life, symbolising how it was one of the first buildings to claim the left bank and begin a new chapter in the history of the Kazakh people. An interesting feature is the huge ball – that noticeably sways during strong winds – inside which visitors can place their hand on the president’s hand print, triggering the national anthem to play from speakers and causing many people to make a wish.
Sprawling across an epic 35 acres (14 hectares) is a translucent tent towering at 150 metres (almost 500 feet) – the largest tent in the world. Unveiled in 2006 (everything in this city is gleaming new), this building is made from an ingenious heat-absorbing material able to conjure up summer temperatures inside, in spite of the -30°C (-22°F) winter conditions outside.
While it mainly functions as an entertainment complex, with a huge shopping mall, it also boasts a sandy beach with palm trees, a flume ride and big swimming pool among its slightly unbelievable facilities.
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation
Diversifying the unique Astana skyline even further is The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a 77-metre-high (252-foot) Egyptian-esque pyramid, built by a Turkish architectural firm in late-2006.
While on the surface this building claims to serve as an events venue, The Pyramid of Peace embodies the spirit of Kazakhstan, where vibrantly different cultures, traditions and nationalities are able to coexist in peace and harmony.