An undistinguished agricultural center for most of its history, Nur-Sultan, 680 mi/1,100 km north of Almaty, became the capital of Kazakhstan in December 1997. The city was known as Astana until 2019, when its name was changed to Nur-Sultan, in honor of former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Founded as a Russian frontier fortress in 1824, Nur-Sultan has a severe climate with brutally cold winters and hot summers plagued by mosquitoes. (The city's original name, Akmola, means "white grave.") Nonetheless, Nur-Sultan's new status meant progress. Hotels were built, and plans were made to create a series of urban parks and gardens by widening the Yesil River, or Green River, which cuts through town.
Nur-Sultan has grown up in style, with a slew of futuristic skyscrapers and high-rise office buildings now gracing its cityscape. The 318-ft/97-m tall Baiterek observation tower, a tree-shaped structure holding a giant golden ball, stands in the center of the city. From the top, visitors can see the city's cutting-edge architectural landmarks and continuous fast-paced urban development in progress.
Other places of touristic interest include the Palace of Peace and Concord, an innovative glass pyramid designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster; the marbled Presidential Palace with a blue yurt-shaped dome and the white-and-gold Nur Astana Mosque, the country's largest house of worship.
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