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Culture ...  
 

Astana is a city with a potted history, which if you reach back far enough includes steppe nomads, Russian settlers, Stalinist gulags, and the founding of a brand new Republic. The museum within the Presidential Cultural Centre will walk you through much of this and is worth the visit as a result.

To see the making of a new republic in action, just walking around Astana will suffice, but one of the most interesting excursions is to Norman Foster’s Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a 62-metre glass pyramid completed in autumn 2006 where it is possible to take a guided tour of the structure which houses a Museum of Gold and Precious Metals from Kazakhstan and a 1,500-seat opera house in the basement.

 
 
 
 
Click links to view the details.
Astana Baiterek Monument, Central Boulevard, Left Bank
Nur Astana Mosque, 2nd Street, AREA
Atameken Ethno-Memorial Complex, Kabanbai Batyr, Molodezhni Microdistrict
Beit Rachel Synagogue, Intersection of Imanov and Gumilyev Streets, AREA
The Cathedral of Saints Konstantin and Elena, 16/3 Respublik Prospect, AREA
Central Park and the Ishim River
Museum of Modern Art, 3/1 Respublik Avenue, AREA
Museum of the Presidential Cultural Centre, 1 Barayev Street, AREA
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, 7, 1st Street AREA
   
Theatres and Concert Halls:
Baisetov National Opera and Ballet Theatre, 10 Akzhaik Street, AREA
Russian Drama Theatre, 72 Bigeldinov Street, AREA
 
 
Astana Baiterek Monument, Central Boulevard, Left Bank
Open : Daily, 10am–7pm
 
One of the first construction projects in Astana, Baiterek (‘Tree of Life’), the imposing 97 metre-tall tower (97 reflecting the year the capital was moved to Astana) in the middle of the Central Boulevard and has become the unequivocal symbol of the young capital. The tower holds a spherical glass and metal observation tower in its centre that symbolizes a Kazakh legend in which the mythical bird Samruk (symbolizing happiness) lays a golden egg in a poplar tree. From this observation tower, you gets a bird’s eye view of this newly constructed city, which, when looked at from above, appears to have been dropped in the middle of the steppe. Built at the behest of the President, the golden imprint of the President’s hand which stands at the centre of this observation tower may be the closest you’ll ever come to shaking hands with him.
 
 
Nur Astana Mosque, 2nd Street, AREA
 
Designed by a Lebanese architect, built by a Turkish company and a gift from the Emir of Qatar, Astana’s Central Mosque is a thoroughly Muslim affair. The mosque’s central golden dome and four gold-capped minarets complement the white marble exterior, which was finished and officially opened by the President in 2005. Inside, Kazakh artists have done a great job of painting the pastel-toned interior and prayers are held five times a day. If you can, visit at lunchtime on a Friday, when the mosque bursts at the seams as suited businessmen and government ministers mingle with bearded Muslims in tracksuits. One of 1700 mosques built in Kazakhstan since independence, the renaissance of Islam is interesting to behold.
 
 
Atameken Ethno-Memorial Complex, Kabanbai Batyr, Molodezhni Microdistrict
Tel : 221 636
Open : Daily, 10am (4pm Mon)–10pm (March–October)
 
The Atameken Ethno-Memorial Complex comprises a monument to those who died in Soviet times as a result of political repression, standing on a small hill at the river end of Kabanbai Batyr. Behind this is a giant ‘model’ map of Kazakhstan where the Caspian Sea has been reduced to the size of a small pond. The map highlights Kazakhstan’s architectural monuments in miniature as well as dedicating a somewhat disproportionately large area to a plan of Astana. It’s a good way of getting round a country five times the size of France in half an hour.
 
 
Beit Rachel Synagogue, Intersection of Imanov and Gumilyev Streets, AREA
 
Opened in 2004, the Beit Rachel synagogue in Astana serves a Jewish community of roughly one hundred and fifty families, most of which originally settled in the area in the 1950s from Belorussia, Lithuania and the Ukraine during Khruschev’s Virgin Lands Campaign. The synagogue was funded by businessman Alexander Mashkevich, head of the Eurasian Group and a pal of the President, and is named in honour of Maskevich’s late mother.
 
 
The Cathedral of Saints Konstantin and Elena, 16/3 Respublik Prospect, AREA
Open : Daily, 8am–8pm,
Services : 8.15am and 4.30pm
 
Built in 1854, this small cathedral tucked just behind Respublik Street has been functioning as a church again since 1999. It is currently acting as Astana’s main cathedral until the Orthodox community finds the funds to complete the Saint Uspenski Cathedral, which is under construction.
 
 
Central Park and the Ishim River
 
Astana’s Central Park lies on the Left Bank of the Ishim River and, like the embankment path that lies on the right hand side of the river running from Respublik Street to Sary Arka, is a very pleasant place to take a walk. Although a little jaded, Central Park has an aqua park, a zoo, roller coasters, a ferris wheel and even donkey rides and a beach. You could almost be forgiven for thinking you were in Blackpool. Perhaps more appealing are the slightly antiquated paddleboats which can be hired between June and September between midday and 9pm.
 
 
Museum of Modern Art, 3/1 Respublik Avenue, AREA
Tel : 215 433
Open : 10am–5pm (4pm Sun). Closed Mondays.
 
Tucked away on Respublik Street about three blocks north of the bridge which crosses the river, the unassuming entrance to the Museum of Modern Art belies the interesting (if small) collection inside.
 
 
Museum of the Presidential Cultural Centre, 1 Barayev Street, AREA
Tel : 223 308
Open : 10am–6pm. Closed Mondays.
 
The better of Astana’s two museums named after the President (the other one being more of a paean to the President than a museum), this is worth visiting if you haven’t been to the Central State Museum in Almaty. Unfortunately, the life size statue of the golden man is only a replica of the golden costume found in a kurgan (tomb) at Issik, near Almaty, as is the reconstruction on the ground floor of equine armour found at Berel. However, since it’s not possible to see the real golden man, it’s well worth at least having a look at this dramatic costume, even if a copy. The shop on the ground floor has some of the best arts, crafts and carpets available in Astana. Because there is no information available in English, take advantage of the free English tour guide if you have the time.
 
 
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, 7, 1st Street AREA
Tel : 744 744
Open : Daily, 10am–7.30pm
 
Built to host the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, the 62 metre high Palace of Peace and Reconciliation is one of two buildings in Astana designed by the UK’s Norman Foster. Completed in an incredible 21 months, it is well worth taking a guided tour. The Pyramid is organized around a central atrium with elevators that take people up along the inward leaning walls to a transparent apex. Just below the Pyramid’s peak, designed with blue and yellow stained glass (representing the colors of the Kazakh flag) and embellished with images of doves – the international symbol of peace, sits a circular chamber modelled on the United Nations Security Council. Leading up a winding staircase to this chamber, which serves as the meeting space for the Conference delegates, are walls covered in lush vegetation. In addition to representing the world’s religious faiths, the Pyramid also houses a research centre dedicated to the study of the world’s religions, a library, a museum for Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups, offices and a 1,500-seat opera house – a last minute request by the president. The opera house, in the Pyramid’s lower level, has a circular glass ceiling that partially illuminates its chamber with light flooding through from the apex above, creating a sense of connection between the lowest level and the top of the
building.
 
 
Theatres and Concert Halls
Baisetov National Opera and Ballet Theatre, 10 Akzhaik Street, AREA
Box Office : 392 761 or 392 766 everyday from 10am-7pm
 
The season at the Opera and Ballet Theatre opens on 12 October and runs through the winter until 7 July. The theatre has a repertoire of over thirty different operas and ballets, including Aida,Tosca, Swan Lake, Evgenii Onegin, Giselle and provides the perfect antidote to a cold Astana winter.
 
Russian Drama Theatre, 72 Bigeldinov Street, AREA
Tel : 328 823 or 320 570
Box Office Opening Hours : 10am–1pm and 2–6pm
 
The season at the Russian Drama Theatre runs from October to June and tickets costs between 400 and 1,200 tenge. Although all the plays are in Russian, it’s an interesting place to see plays by masters such as Chekov, Lermontov, Gogol, Dostovesky and even Shakespeare.
 
 
   
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