Along the Ishim River in the center of a vast steppe lies Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana (Астана). Though a functional city since 1830, Astana only became the nation’s capital in 1997. The past 16 years have brought significant architectural developments, many of which display innovative designs to functionally cope with the city’s drastic temperature fluctuations and symbolically reflect traditional Kazakh culture. And where there’s been architectural innovation, there have been numerous Kazakh Instagrammers to share these wonders with the world.
The city’s main landmark, a 105-meter (344-foot) tall observation tower called Bayterek (Бәйтерек), evokes a Kazakh folktale about a bird that laid a golden egg in the tree of life. Astana also boasts a large pyramid structure, The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (Бейбітшілік пен келісім сарайы), built to house space for diverse world religions, a full opera house and a natural history museum beneath the stained-glass doves that adorn its glass apex.
One of the city’s newest additions is the Khan Shatyr entertainment center, a series of parks, shops and sites of diversion spanning 140,000 square meters (35 acres) that is covered by the world’s largest tent. The transparent material allows sunlight in while simultaneously maintaining a stable temperature throughout the year.
1. The Nur-Astana Mosque, one of the biggest in Central Asia. The sixty-three-metre-tall minarets represent Mohammed’s age at the time of his death.
2. The Baiterek, towering over Astana’s central promenade, flares green against the evening sky. The 318-foot monument evokes a giant tree with a golden egg in its branches. In the Kazakh myth of Samruk, a sacred bird lays a golden egg in the branches of a poplar tree each year.
3. The alabaster white pillar known as the Kazakh peoples’ monument is topped by the mythological golden Samruk. The monolith is a beacon for visitors, like these ethnic Kazakhs visiting Astana from the southern city of Taraz.
4. After dark, government buildings change hues as the night progresses, creating a theme park atmosphere. The presidential palace suggests a gaudy version of the White House. Prize-winning British architect Norman Foster is one of many foreigners who helped shape the city. His purple Khan Shatyr shopping mall has an indoor sand beach and wave pool on the top floor.
5. Traditional yurt dwellings on display before a monument.
7. A flock of giant doves flutters on a stained-glass conference room ceiling at Astana’s Palace of Peace and Harmony. The 203-foot-high pyramid designed by Norman Foster provides spaces for worshippers of all religions.
8. Construction cranes at night, with the new Astana in the background.The photograph was taken from the older, Soviet section of the city.
9. Inside the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, the world’s tallest tensile structure. The building, designed by Foster and Partners, took four years and four hundred million dollars to build. The interior features a beach, made of sand imported from the Maldives, and tropical plants from Spain.