Although the Kazakh people have a long and storied history, the country was part of the USSR until its breakup in the early 1990s. Although the Kazakh people have occupied this part of Eurasia for hundreds of years, the area that now forms Kazakhstan was formally created as part of the Russian empire in the late 19th century.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s the country of Kazakhstan emerged. Since then, it has, on the back of a stable government and strong economic growth, emerged as a leader in central Asia.
Kazakhstan is positioned strategically in the heart of central Asia, bordering Russia and China as well as Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The country — which occupies an area larger than the whole of Western Europe — is the largest landlocked country in the world, although it has coastlines along the Aral Sea and the Caspian Sea.
This position is one of historical significance as the Silk Route from Europe to China traversed the country.
As part of a larger regional effort to recreate this historic trade route China, Kazakhstan and other countries are building a transcontinental highway system that will allow the transport of goods, by land, from Asia to the markets in Europe.
In addition to its strategic geographic location Kazakhstan boasts a dazzling array of natural resources including coal, oil, gas, uranium, copper, chromium, manganese, zinc, gold and diamond among others.
These natural resources have enabled the country to establish itself as a strong player in natural resources market and recent oil discoveries have further cemented the countries place in the global oil market.
Under the leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country has recorded strong economic growth over the past 19 years and has emerged largely unscathed from the global economic crisis of the past few years.
Kazakhstan has also emerged as the regional political power in Central Asia as its stable government, strategic geographic position and strong economic climate have all contributed toward this.
The leadership of President Nazarbayev has been one of the key factors that have ensured Kazakhstan’s transition from Soviet Republic to independent state with a minimum of conflict.
The country established itself as a beacon of tolerance in an often volatile region with more than 120 ethnic groups living in the country where Kazakhs and Russians comprise the two largest portions of the population.
There are also more than 46 religions in a country where Sunni Islam and Christian Orthodox are the two largest religious groups.
The efforts of the government to create a climate where different cultures and religions can co-exist is one of the main reasons for Kazakhstan’s success in achieving economic growth and cultural harmony over the past two decades.
The city of Astana is a relatively new entrant on the international scene, but in the few short years that the city, situated on the steppes of northern Kazakhstan, has been the capital of Kazakhstan it has established itself as a city with a reputation for inventive architecture.
The city, first established in 1824 as a military outpost and which became a town in 1864, originally established itself as the centre of commerce in the north of the country.
In 1995 the country was known as renamed to Akmola and in 1998 again renamed, this time as Astana.
For some the name Astana may be more synonymous with the sport of cycling, with the Astana team participating in the Tour de France, but as a city Astana provides a modern and shining face to a country establishing itself in the global arena.
Apart from its place as a capital city, Astana has set itself on the global stage by erecting some of the most exciting and cutting -edge structures built over the past two decades.
This is part of a strategy of the government to provide Astana with a place on the global stage and through its carefully managed development of Astana, this seems to have been achieved.
The most striking symbol of the capital remains the Bayterek, the tower is represents the legend of the poplar tree where the magic bird Samuruk laid its egg and with its gold dome and prominent position in the city it remains the defining image of the capital. In addition to the observation deck, the tower, which tops out at 105m, also contains an aquarium and an art galley.
The city also has two structures designed by, world renowned architect, Norman Foster, The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation and the Khan Shatyry Entertainment Centre.
The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was inaugurated in 2006 and in addition to catering for a variety of different religions including Islam Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.
The pyramid shaped structure also houses a 1,500- seat opera house, a museum of culture as well as other research facilities. At night the pyramid is lit up in different colours.
The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, at 150m high, is the highest tensile structure in the world and provides a sheltered environment for a variety of shopping and entertainment venues.
The tent-like structure was built to provide a sheltered environment from the harsh climate in Astana where temperatures can range from 35 degrees Celsius in winter to 35 degrees Celsius at the height of summer and was completed in 2010.
Other outstanding structures in Astana include the Presidential palace, the Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall and Astana International Airport all completed within the past 10 years, making Astana a landmark in terms of modern architecture.
Although situated in an area of Kazakhstan dominated by the Russian minority, the population of Astana is broadly reflective of the demographics of the country itself. The population of over 700 000 is made up of 65% Kazakhs, 24% Russians with smaller population groups making up the balance.
One of the criticisms of picking Astana as the capital is the harsh climate with temperatures dropping well below 30 in the heart of winter. This makes it the second coldest capital in the world.