Several years ago Astana was a quiet provincial city with many old houses and the Ishim river, looking like a swamp covered with cane jungles. Nowadays after the capital was transferred from Almaty to Astana the city has completely changed. Formerly it was named Akmola and until the 1950s was a tiny mining town. Then Nikita Khrushchev announced the Virgin Lands scheme to turn 250,000 square kilometres of Kazakhstan steppe into wheat fields. Despite wind erosion, which turned a lot of the new wheat fields back into steppe, this project turned the Virgin lands into the grain-growing region. Russians and others from different parts of the USSR came to work here. Akmola became the project's capital and was renamed Tselinograd (Virgin Lands City). After Kazakhstan's independence, it got back its old name Akmola, which means White Tomb. In 1997 the city was renamed Astana.
At the entrance to Astana visitors see a large bridge shining with bright lights. The gate to the capital city is guarded by two snow leopards - one leopard has wings on its back and symbolises Kazakhstan's power and huge area, the other leopard is a female protecting her kittens - this sculpture shows that Kazakhstan's future is with the younger generation.
Astana has many old merchants' houses built under the Russian Empire. One of these old buildings with carved windows and gates now accommodates the Museum of writer Saken Seifulin. Not far from here is the Russian Orthodox Church of Sergy Radonezhsky. During Soviet times this Church served as Club of Railroad Workers, and nowadays the altar stands right on the former stage. A mosque appeared in Astana not long ago. Its red brick building has two high minarets on both sides.
The architecture of Astana reflects three epochs - the old city of Akmola, the city of the 1950s - Tselinograd, and the modern city of Astana where new tall buildings and the towers of hotels and business centres grow among old wooden houses inherited from the past.