Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, has evolved into a symbol of the country’s success since gaining independence. Although young by historical standards, the city’s rapid development, rich history, and recognizable landmarks make it a fascinating destination. In this article, we’ll explore the intriguing past of Astana and how it became the thriving capital it is today.
A New Capital for a New Era
Astana officially became the capital of Kazakhstan on December 10, 1997, when the country’s Supreme Council decided to transfer the capital from Almaty to Akmola. The city’s name was later changed to Astana, which means ‘capital,’ on May 6, 1998. This strategic decision was influenced by the limited expansion opportunities in Almaty and the potential for growth in Akmola, which was closer to the nation’s industrial centers.
Delving into Astana’s Past
Astana’s history can be traced back to the Bronze and Iron Ages when the area was inhabited. Positioned at the crossroads of caravan and migration routes in the Middle Ages, the city was once home to the Bozok (‘bright arrow’) settlement, which existed from the 7th to the 14th centuries. Archaeological research reveals that the settlement was a political and spiritual center of Sary-Arka (Great Steppe), offering insight into the region’s past beyond its nomadic and pastoral reputation.
In the 19th century, the Russian emperor Alexander I dissolved Khan’s power in the Kazakh zhuzes, creating the Akmolinsky Cossack outpost in the 1830s to protect against raids. The outpost later became a district city, and by 1868, the Akmola region was formed.
Astana in the 20th Century and Beyond
Astana’s development accelerated in the 1950s when the region became the center of the Soviet Union’s virgin lands campaign. The city, then known as Tselinograd, witnessed the construction of multi-story housing and public buildings and the establishment of large factories for agricultural machinery production.
Upon Kazakhstan’s independence in 1992, the city’s name was reverted to Akmola, meaning ‘white shrine’ or ‘white abundance.’ Today, Astana is a thriving metropolis with over 1.35 million residents, where Kazakhs make up 81% of the demographic. The city’s diverse and harmonious community earned it the “City of Peace” title from UNESCO in 1999.
Astana’s Iconic Landmarks
Astana’s rapid development has given rise to numerous architectural marvels, symbolizing the city’s ambition and progress. Some of the city’s most iconic landmarks include:
- Baiterek Tower: A symbol of Kazakhstan’s connection to its past and aspirations for the future.
- National Museum of Kazakhstan: The largest museum in Central Asia.
- Palace of Peace and Accord: A unique venue for international forums and congresses.
- Central Concert Hall “Astana”: A distinctive “flower of the desert” design.
- Entertainment Center “Khan-Shatyr”: An iconic shopping and leisure destination.
- Astana-Arena: A state-of-the-art stadium with seating for over 30,000 spectators.
- Ice Palace “Alau”: An impressive venue for winter sports with a capacity of 7,500 spectators.
Astana has also become a green oasis in the heart of the steppe region, with large green spaces like Nurzhol Boulevard, the Presidential Park, and the Botanical Garden. A “green belt” with an area of more than 75 hectares has been created around the city, contributing to its environmental sustainability and aesthetic appeal.
Astana’s Economy and Education
Trade and the production of building materials dominate Astana’s economic landscape, with the city leading the nation in construction rates. Additionally, the capital is home to 15 universities and numerous colleges, making it a hub for higher education. Some of the most prestigious institutions in Astana include:
- L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University
- Nazarbayev University
- Kazakh National University of Arts
A Capital by Any Other Name
In 2019, Astana’s name was changed to Nur-Sultan in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first president. However, in 2022, the city reverted to its former name, Astana. The evolution of its name reflects the city’s journey from a crossroads of trade routes in the Middle Ages to its present status as the vibrant capital of Kazakhstan.
What did we learn today?
We’ve learned that Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, is a testament to the nation’s dynamic growth, rich cultural history, and ambitious future. We’ve delved into Astana’s journey from its ancient roots as a crossroads of trade routes to its current status as a thriving capital city. We’ve also explored the city’s diverse community, iconic landmarks, and commitment to sustainable development through its green spaces. Astana’s economy and educational institutions further demonstrate the city’s importance in shaping the future of Kazakhstan and the broader Eurasian region. By understanding the story of Astana, we gain valuable insights into the success and aspirations of this remarkable city and the nation it represents.