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I guess anthropologists will argue, but if I state mankind to have been here for a million and a half years Iím unlikely to end up in court over it. And similarly, I canít prove that the oldest person in the world is about 115, but it wonít be far off. So even allowing for a trimming of either statistic, we can safely assume that nobody alive today has seen more than a smidgen of human history. Although we accept it happened, nobody you can talk to witnessed the fall of the Roman Empire, that of the Greek, or the end of the Pharaonic dynasties. We can only take the historianís word for it on the French Revolution, the discovery of America and the Magna Carta.

Beitirek, New Astana

This is the view of it, now check out the view from it. The town is not finished of course, but it's well underway.
From one perspective, we live a long time; from another, we barely exist. Yet over time, as convention is passed down from generation to generation, we become attached to what we see as permanent, and overlook the fact that nothing really lasts forever.
If the Roman Empire can fall, if communism can fall, why should any other regime be so assured of itself? Itís not a question of hares and tortoises, certain similarities notwithstanding, because in the brave new world the transformation has gone even so far as to change the roles. How else could we explain the holes in your average British street, and the emergence of this modern and sophisticated city in what until quite recently used to be just a muddy road.

Astana was a small town in the Central Asian steppes simply minding its own business. In 1997 it assumed the mantle of capital city from Almaty and has not looked back in anger or nostalgia since. It is not New York, it is not Dubai, and nor is it developing as fast as Shanghai, for example. But the presence of such an impressive new infrastructure in a country still emerging from the chrysalis of communism is the sort of wake up call the west needs. How many English cities other than London would be able to comfortably fund a single one of these buildings? I doubt any. And yet little Astana is developing a reputation as the Dubai of Central Asia. Deservedly.

I think the population is still under a million but is likely to grow as the city does. In some ways it needs to remember to grow culturally as it grows architecturally. There werenít a lot of people round this week, noticeably not (and we canít blame the cold. Astana can drop to -40į in winter, it was only -5į this week) and I donít think the town planners can ignore this.
The most impressive thing to have been built so far is the emblematic Beitirek, a steel tower with a glass ball at the top. Er, I donít know what to say about it, look at the pictures. The view from the top is great, even if it reminds you that a step outside the city there is nothing but steppe, if youíll pardon the pun. But thatís in the distance, in the foreground are some impressive shiny buildings. I donít know what happens inside them, but if theyíre government buildings they are clearly doing some good.
I didnít spend enough time in Astana to see more than architectural facades and one museum, but I wouldn't be averse to living there. Iím not the type to stay in one place, but Almaty is a special place and when I returned in September I felt very honoured to do so.


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