Kazakhstan is a new player in international tourism. This former Soviet state earned its sovereignty in 1991, and now it is creating a noticeable impact in the world of tourism. Kazakhstan is the largest Central Asian country and by far the most economically stable former Soviet state. In 1997, the city of Astana was declared as the country’s capital, and true enough the city is living up to its name, steadily becoming a major tourist destination in Central Asia. One of its landmark tourist attractions is the Bayterek Tower, which is the leading and most recognizable symbol of the city.
“Bayterek” means “tall poplar tree”, and that is what the tower looks like. The design embodies a common folktale that talks about Samruk, a magical bird of happiness that had laid its magical egg between two branches of a poplar tree, the mythical tree of life. Many locals, however, endearingly refer to the tower as a giant lollipop. Whatever it may resemble according to how a viewer beholds it, every Astana resident agrees that it is truly a modern eye-candy, symbolizing the mythical charm of the capital. The “egg” is a 22-m-diameter sphere with an observation deck. The “tree” is 105-meters high; the observation deck is 97-meters high, an intentional height to celebrate the year, 1997, when Astana became the capital city. (The former capital was Almaty.) The deck offers a panoramic view of this fast developing city. At the viewing platform, visitors are invited to place their hand on an imprint of the hand of Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Visitors are to make a wish as they do place their hand, and the Kazakh national anthem will play on the background. Along with the observation platform, inside the “egg” is a large aquarium and an art gallery.
Astana is the second largest city with an estimated population of 708,794 (August 2010). Located within the province of Akmola, the city used to be called Akmola. In addition to Bayterek Tower, a number of new structures have been built as testament to the continuous rise and development of this bustling city. The structures include the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (“Pyramid of Peace), Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall, The Islamic Center, Ak Orda Presidential Palace, Khan Shatyry and Transport Tower.
Meanwhile, the leading sightseeing destinations are the Ishim River waterfront, Oceanarium, the National Mosque, Roman Catholic Cathedral and market hall. Also, the city boasts of its museums (the Presidential Center of Culture, Kabanbay Batyr Mausoleum, Atameken Ethnic Memorial Center and the Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan) and theaters (Gorky Russian Drama Center, K. Bajseitova National Opera and Ballet Theater, and Kalibek Kuanyshbaev Kazakh Theatre).
Together with the Bayterek Tower monument, the city landscape is punctuated by other monuments and towers such as the Otan Korgaushylar Monument, Memorial Monument of Kazakhstan People who Perished in the Afghan War, Memorial of the victim of political repressions, Monument of Kenesary Khan, Central Square, a number of 19th-century structures and the Transport Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the country at 150 meters and which houses several government agencies.