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Respublika Avenue

Respublika Avenue in AstanaRespublika Avenue, which runs north from the President's Cultural Centre, provides the central north-south axis of the right bank. Its buildings were refaced in 2007 to provide a smarter and more unitary appearance for one of the most important thoroughfares of the city. Heading northwards along it, you reach on your left after a few hundred metres Astana's Museum of Modern Art. Its origins lying in a 1979 exhibition in honour of the 25th anniversary of the Virgin Lands Campaign, this hosts a range of temporary exhibitions.

A block further north, take the narrow lane off to the right and this brings you to the Cathedral Church of Constantine and Helena. This Russian Orthodox church was built in the 1850s with financial support from the Cossack community of Akmola. It was originally to be named in honour of Saints Peter and Paul, but the Tsarist authorities decided that it should be given the names of Saints Constantine and Helena. It first stood in the Akmola Fortress, but with the growth of the Cossack stanitsa and the establishment of another church, to Alexander Nevsky (the latter destroyed during the Soviet period), the Cossacks of the town petitioned for the Constantine and Helena Church to be moved to the stanitsa. It was so moved in 1900. Today surrounded by apartment blocks, Soviet and modern, the yellow-walled church has an octagonal tower surmounted by an onion dome, with a smaller octagonal tower, also crowned with an onion dome, above the entrance on the western side of the building.

Around Central Square

Three blocks further north, at the corner of Respublika Avenue and Kenesary Street, sits a little corner of town dedicated to the game of chess. There is a large outdoor chessRespublika Avenue in Astana set in the square here, behind which are young trees, identified by accompanying plaques as having been planted by noted chess players, including former world champions Spassky and Karpov. A couple of boxy, canvas-sided sculptures, their designs based on chessboard themes, complete the ensemble.

Turn left along Kenesary Street. One block along, beyond the intersection with Auezov Street, the beige-tiled building on your left is the one-time municipal administration, which now houses the Ministry of Agriculture. One of the characteristic recent features of Astana is the shifting of government buildings into more prestigious locations, as new premises are built on the left bank, vacating properties on the right one, which are in turn occupied by government departments 'trading up'. The most striking feature of this building is its embellishment with two curious structures which have the appearance of huge golf balls with spears running through them. The Tsarist-era building opposite, with porthole-like windows in the roof, was the house of the merchant Kubrin. It is now occupied by the Ukrainian Embassy. It is said that a tunnel used to connect it with Kubrin's trade house, to the west. This building, still standing at the corner of Beibitshilik and Kenesary streets, has a four-sided green dome at its corner and now accommodates the Astana supermarket.

Kenesary Street passes across the southern end of Central Square, at the heart of the right bank. The south side of the square is occupied by the Congress Hall concert venue. At the northern end of the square, the tall building faced with a combination of beige tiles and dark glass was the first Astana home of Kazakhstan's parliament, prior to its move to smarter premises on the left bank. Sessions were held in the circular chamber behind the main tower. It is currently occupied by various government bodies, including the Ministry of Tourism and Sport. Nearby, on the west side of the square, the lower beige tile and glass-faced building now houses the city administration.

The statuary in the square involve a three-tiered fountain, on the north side of which is a naked boy in a Kazakh hat standing on the back of a wolf. On the opposite side a girl collects water under the watchful gaze of a leopard. A toy train chugs children around the square, which is also the venue for evening pop concerts on major holidays.