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President's Cultural Centre

At the northern end of the bridge carrying Kabanbai Batyr Avenue across the River Ishim the road passes under a large, 'three-legged' monument. This is named Ush Naiza ('Three Spears'), symbolising the unity of the three zhuzes within the independent state of Kazakhstan.

Presidential Culture CenterThe next intersection beyond this is dominated by the blue-domed building of the President's Cultural Centre of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the dome standing atop a central drum enlivened with vertical blue panels. Side wings radiate out from this central part of the building. The building houses a museum boasting 143,000 artefacts and a library with 700,000 items. This is laid out on balconies running around the large central space under the dome. On the ground floor, in the very centre of the building and surrounded by a protective railing, are the symbols of independent Kazakhstan: the flag, State Emblem, a bound copy of the Constitution and the text of the national anthem. Around this centrepiece are other innovations of the independent state: its banknotes, awards and military uniforms. Gifts to President Nazarbaev from world leaders are also on display, as is Nazarbaev's Honorary Citizenship of Astana.

A side room on the ground floor holds a large Kazakh ethnographic display, centred on a yurt. This includes chunky silver jewellery dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, wooden household utensils, hunting equipment, costumes and musical instruments. One floor up is archaeology, which has exhibits on the main sites in Kazakhstan from the Stone Age onwards, including a model of a jewellery- bedecked Andronov woman', Turkic balbals, ceramics of the 10th to 15th centuries from Otrar, Altyntobe and Taraz, terracotta tiles from the Mausoleum of Aisha Bibi and models of several mausolea, including those of Khodja Ahmed Yassaui and Beket Ata. A side room, just before the balbals, is centred on a model of the Golden Man in his suit of treasures. This fine reproduction is the work of Krym Altynbekov, who restored the original Golden Man. The surrounding cases contain silver jewellery, mostly from the private collection of former prime-minister Imangali Tasmagambetov. Note the large circular matchmaker's ring: worn over two fingers to symbolise its owners role in joining two people together.

History is on the next floor up, starting with displays on the Kazakh Khanate, including Ablai Khan's seal and copies of the correspondence between Abulkhair Khan and the Russian empress Anna. The arrival of Tsarist power is depicted by the emblems of the Russian administrative regions, and by the belongings of Russian immigrants. Photo-led displays describe the 1916 uprising, Civil War, collectivisation, Stalinist repression and World War II. A German barometer, stuck at 'Regen oder Wind', is displayed as a spoil of war'. A display on the Virgin Lands Campaign includes the Order of Lenin given to the Kazakh SSR in 1956 in honour of its fine wheat production figures. An exuberant red-hued display of Soviet awards is followed by sombre items on the Afghan war and the Almaty rioting of December 1986. A mean-looking truncheon illustrates the latter.

The next floor focuses on post-independence Kazakhstan. There are displays about Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church, and then the development of Astana. Fragments of brick found at the Buzuk site are on display. A large mural of a Proton rocket appears to belong to an entirely different exhibition, as the photographs and utensils around it describe the growth of Akmola. Perhaps they couldn't get it off the wall? There is a display of children's clothes produced by the Manshuk Mametova Garment Factory of Tselinograd, their quality hinting at trouble ahead when capitalism struck. A display on the transformation of Akmola into the capital city of Astana includes models of some of the striking new buildings of the capital, among them the National Academy of Music, its facade resembling the curves of a piano. The top floor of the museum houses temporary art exhibitions.