Along the Nurzhol Boulevard
Standing in front of Khan Shatyr, look east. The large arch within the KazMunaiGas building frames a view towards the Baiterek Tower and the blue dome of the presidential palace beyond. This axis, the green Nurzhol Boulevard, forms the fulcrum of the administrative centre of the city, a promenade some 2km long past ministries and prestige apartment blocks. This 2km line of gardens and plazas leads east to the presidential palace and is flanked by large and imaginative buildings in various stages of construction.
Standing between Saryarka Avenue and the KazMunaiGas building is the Park of Lovers, laid out in 2005. You are welcomed in by a young, smiling Kazakh couple, the girl wearing a decidedly diaphanous dress, which perhaps explains the boys smiles. Behind this is a fountain containing a sculpture which appears to consist of a ring of large silver horseshoes. To the south of the park is a complex of cylindrical apartment blocks locally known variously as the 'seven barrels', 'seven batteries' or 'seven beer cans'. The park is currently a fairly desolate place, but will perhaps improve as its young trees grow and the area develops.
Walk eastwards, passing under the large arch at the centre of the KazMunaiGas building, which helps to give that structure the local nickname of the 'elevator', as it is said to resemble a grain elevator. As well as the offices of the state oil company KazMunaiGas, the building also houses the Ministry of Energy and the state holdings company Samruk. Beyond KazMunaiGas, a ring of buildings continues the architectural composition, forming an urban amphitheatre which is named, with geometrical illogicality, Round Square. The main north-south artery, Kabanbai Batyr Avenue, impudently darts across the centre of this, by means of a flyover. Various pieces of statuary have been added to soften the monumentalism of the architecture. Walking down into the square from the KazMunaiGas building you pass a pelican swallowing a fish. On the flyover above you is a statue of a girl striding purposefully against the evidently strong wind. A group of metal horses graze on the side of the square to your left.
Immediately to the east of Round Square, the skyscraper to your left with a slanting roof and curved sides faced with reddish-brown reflective panels houses the Ministry of Transport and Communications, as well as other government bodies. It has been nicknamed both the 'swordfish', a reference to the spike at the top of the roof, and the 'cigarette lighter', a reference to its overall shape. With unfortunate irony, the cigarette lighter caught fire in 2006, causing considerable damage.
A detour to the right at the next intersection brings you after one block to the Nur Astana Mosque, an attractive modern construction, with a central golden dome rising to 43m, some 25 smaller domes around it, and flanked by four minarets, each 62m tall and topped with their own small golden domes. The mosque, which can provide space for up to 5,000 worshippers, was funded by the Emir of Qatar. The mosque's interior is an exquisite multidomed space with inscriptions and geometrical patterning in blue, green, gold and red.
Back on Nurzhol Boulevard, continue eastwards. The trio of 'wavy' sided, green- glass-faced apartment blocks on your right is named the Northern Lights, the idea being that its shimmering forms will evoke the aurora borealis among those who behold it. There is a planned development of slender tilting green skyscrapers opposite, to be named Emerald Towers. There are more sculptures along your route, from a dancing Kazakh girl to a camel bearing a shanyrak. Some take their inspiration from the images found on petroglyphs, such as a statue of an archer standing astride a curly-horned ibex.
Opposite will be the Emerald Towers, a group of office blocks whose tops will splay outward like the pages of opening books. The boulevard leads past the egg-domed National Archive to the 97m-high Bayterek monument (10am-11pm), a white latticed tower crowned by a large glass orb. This embodies a Kazakh legend in which the mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness in a tall poplar tree, beyond human reach. A lift glides visitors up inside the egg, where you can ponder the symbolism, enjoy expansive views and place your hand in a print of President Nazarbaev's palm while gazing eastward towards his palace.
East along Nurzhol bulvar is ploshchad Poyushchykh Fontanov (Singing Fountains Square), where music-and-water performances happen about 9pm on summer evenings. Twin golden-green, conical business centres stand east of here: the southern one contains the headquarters of Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund. Curving away left and right from these towers is the House of Ministries, and straight ahead, behind pretty flower gardens, stands the blue-domed, white-pillared presidential palace, the Ak Orda. The two houses of parliament, the Senate and the Mazhilis, rise behind the left-hand ministerial building. The space before the Ak Orda is flanked to the north by the Supreme Court and to the south by the spectacular and large new State Auditorium (architects: Manfredi and Luca Nicoletti, Italy), whose design evokes the petals of a flower.