Sunday, December 15, 2013

The tree of life

Astana's icon is the "Baiterek," or the "tree of life."  Since the Baiterek looms over our apartment and my office, and Sunday was a sunny clear day, we made it our first sightseeing stop.

Conceived by Kazakhstan's president himself, this monument is the icon of the new capital.  Standing 97 meters high to represent the year in which Astana was named the capital (1997), the Baiterek represents a poplar tree holding a golden egg.  Can you see it now?

This depicts a Kazakh folk tale of a sacred bird, the Samruk, that lays a golden egg in the tree every night. But, the golden egg is really the sun, and this is what creates day and night, and thus life.

The star-chitect of the monument was Sir Norman Foster who's had a hand in a number of Astana's iconic buildings.  Opened in 2002, the Baiterek has three levels:

1. the underworld - you enter the monument through an underground entrance
2. the terrestrial - the pillar that you rise through to reach...
3.  the celestial - the golden glass ball at the top, that functions as an observatory.

Baiterek sits in the middle of a landscaped block smack dab in the middle of Astana's central axis.  We joined Kazakh tourists - mostly families and wedding parties - for a visit to the top.  For 500 tenge per person (about $3 each), we walked right up to the glassfront elevator, no waiting, and rode to the top - 86 meters, which is what, about 25 stories tall?

In the observatory there are again 3 levels.  On the highest level we watched all the locals pose for photos with:

1) the wooden globe...this was signed by 17 representatives of major world religions who participated in an international conference of religions Kazakhstan hosted in 2010 in its Palace of Peace and Reconciliation.

2) "Golden Handshake" - put your hand in the gold-covered handprint of Kazakhstan's president Nursultan Nazarbayev.  If you are a visiting dignitary they will play the national anthem for your handholding moment.  They did not play it for us :-).

For the first time we got a sense of the city's size and its master plan.  The new space-age city is on the Left Bank of the Ishim River (Russian: Иши́м; Kazakh: Esil), the older mostly Soviet-built city is on the Right Bank, with power plants smoking in the distance. 

The Baiterek sits in the middle of a 3 mile long narrow rectangular park in the new city, reminiscent of the National Mall in Washington, DC, with its icons being the Pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace & Reconciliation at one end, the White House called "Ak Orda", the Baiterek, the headquarters of the National Oil & Gas Company, and the Khan Shatyr, the world's largest tent.  Each of these is worthy of its own visit (and post) - stay tuned.  Despite the reflections, these pics hopefully give a sense of the scale of the city's park. 


  1. Thanks for the blog!
    Happy holidays!

  2. I love symbolic architecture; even more so when I know what the symbolism is. Good stuff! Keep it coming :)