Trans Eurasia travel

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Academy of Sciences

A block-and-a-half further east from Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan along Kurmangazy Street, you reach the vast orange-hued bulk of the Academy of Sciences building, constructed in the 1950s and apparently accommodating some 89,000m2 of floorspace. The main facade looks northwards, onto Shevchenko Street. The powerful central part of the building displays the State Emblem of Kazakhstan in the arched space above the main entrance. There are two side wings, whose reliefs still depict a hammer and sickle within a Soviet star. The wing to the west houses the Central Scientific Library. That to the east is reportedly home to a Museum of Nature, which usually, however, seems to be closed.

Immediately opposite the main entrance, across Shevchenko Street, stands a statue of the 19th-century Kazakh traveller, soldier and scientist Chokan Valikhanov, his right hand on his chin in a gesture of academic contemplation. The pedestrianised lane heading northwards behind the statue is named in Valikhanov's honour.

There are some pleasing fountains and statues in the gardens around the Academy of Sciences building. Nicest of all is a fountain close to the northeast corner of the building: jets of water sprout up from beneath 12 rather whimsical animal statues. Just to the south of this fountain is a statue of Pushkin, although the great Russian poet never came close to this part of Kazakhstan.

Republic Book Museum

Two blocks north of the Academy of Sciences along Kunaev Street, at the intersection with Kabanbai Batyr Street, stands a pale blue building decorated with tall Corinthian columns and golden panels around the facade depicting grape harvest and wine production, presumably hints of an alcohol-oriented past life. The building now has a more refined and austere role, as home to the Republic Book Museum. The museum offers a good overview of Kazakh literature, though many of the displays are in the Kazakh language only. If the main entrance to the museum is locked, try the offices at the back of the building to find someone to let you in.

The rooms take you from the earliest writings on animal skins through roughly chronological displays devoted to the most famous Kazakhstani authors. Abai is featured heavily, with copies of his works, including musical scores, busts and paintings. A quotation from Abai, displayed prominently in four languages, tells us that he wrote for the young generation, not for fun. Zhambyl also gets star billing, as does the Russian poet Pushkin, in a display commemorating the celebration of 2006 as the year of Pushkin in Kazakhstan and the year of Abai in Russia. A quotation from Abai is used, praising Russian science and culture. There is a display on the authors of the World War II period, featuring books with titles like Kazakhstan in the Battle for Leningrad, and on into the post-independence period, with the books written by President Nazarbaev.