Astana, the City of the Future You’ve Probably Never Heard Of (In Kazakhstan!)

UPDATED with more pictures, see below

imagine if Singapore, Dubai, and Las Vegas had a love child, designed by starchitects with what must be unlimited budgets to realize their wildest dreams.

you can find that in, of all places, Kazakhstan — its new capital, Astana. the capital used to be Almaty (which still is the largest city, as well as cultural and historic center), but it got moved to Astana in late 1997 at the request of the first president (he’s still the president, btw). the master plan for the new capital was selected the year after and the vast majority of the buildings were built since then. driving in from the airport you get the feeling you’re driving into Tomorrowland — so much construction, so much modern architecture.

the main axis of the new town is shown in the satellite image below. from left to right, the major landmarks are (1) the teepee-shaped Khan Shatyr mall (a mall with a beach and small amusement park…), (2) the semicircular KazMunayGas buiding and opposite semicircular set of restaurants, (3) the Bayterek tower, (4) the presidential palace, and (5) the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation.

at the risk of sounding not-family-friendly, it’s a modern architecture lover’s wet dream!

i took a series of panoramas and instagram shots — but it really doesn’t do the city justice. the sheer size of these buildings, the way they gleam in the sun, the cleanliness of the city and the tidiness (and flower arrangements) of the lawns in the public spaces…it’s really quite remarkable.

before we get to the pictures, though, a quick note about visiting Astana. it’ll be the host of Expo 2017 but otherwise i’m not sure there’s much of a reason to visit unless you’re interested in modern architecture (well worth it if that’s the case, imho, especially as part of a larger Central Asia tripo) or need to be here for work. it was, however, the same price to fly round trip to Astana from Almaty than it was to do a day trip from Almaty to the countryside, and this to me is much more fascinating. due to price and schedule, i flew SCAT Airlines, which not only has a questionable name, but a questionable safety record. still, here’s my quickie emoji-laden review.

the pictures

i’ve organized these from west to east (not necessarily in the order i took them), which means the instagram shots are mixed in with others. oh, they were setting up some sort of Art Fair, hence the extra public art on display, visible in some of the pictures.

this last picture is the concert hall. i still have yet to go to the other side of the river — maybe i’ll do that tomorrow if i’m not catching up on the sleep i didn’t get this week. there are plenty more crazy modern buildings around here, but i saw the main ones i needed to.

seriously. Kazakhstan! who knew! (certainly not me before i started researching Central Asia!)

and at the risk of insulting probably everyone in the country, i feel like i have to insert the following, despite hating the movie:

update: across the river

i walked down past the concert hall to the south towards the presidential library (the round thing in the distance) in the first picture below before crossing over the river to the other side. some cool buildings over there too! i took a bus back (the 21 or 32 from the mosque will take you back to the center). note that Astana buses are different from Almaty buses — there’s an attendant on board who will come by and collect your fare like a train conductor. it’s 90 tenge for a ride.

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