Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pyramid Envy

On the Asian Steppes. In the new capitol of Kazakhstan.

Coming next summer, the Pyramid of Peace:

Two wonders of the ancient world, the Pyramids and Babylon's Hanging Gardens, will be revived in a structure that will dominate Astana, the world's coldest, newest and most remote capital.

The "Pyramid of Peace", as the monolith is known, has lofty aims. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who after 14 years in power is showing increasing signs of megalomania, hopes it will bring the world's religions together and envelop the planet in peace.

This modern Xanadu, which at 205ft will be taller than St Paul's Cathedral, will have a sunken opera house larger than Covent Garden at its bottom. A museum of culture and a "university of civilisation", the president's nod to ancient Athens, lie on the lower floors.

At mid-level zig zag ramps lead through cascades of tropical plants, known by Lord Foster's colleagues as "the hanging gardens of Astana".

....The West, competing for the vast energy resources of Kazakhstan, is inclined to turn a blind eye to this eccentricity. ....

Lord Foster's pyramid is in, in effect, the garden of the president's new and equally vast palace. When tired of his pyramid, he can cross to the other side of his home and survey his city.

Each building has been given a nickname by locals: an oddly shaped ministry is known as the "cigarette lighter"; a brightly coloured block of flats "the banana" and a spaceship housing a circus and lions "the UFO".

The crowning glory is the Baiterek. It is supposed to be a soaring sheaf of wheat, on top of which lies the golden egg of the mythical roc bird. Many call it "the lollipop". One opposition official was less charitable. "It's the world's biggest penis extension," he said.

Which is the picture at the top of this post.

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