Astana Grand Mosque

I lived for 8 years in Astana, Kazakhstan. It is the rapidly growing capital of the largest country in Central Asia. The country is situated south of Russia, and west of China, although significantly smaller than either of those neighbors, remains as one of the top 10 largest countries in the world.

Astana, meaning “capital” in the Kazakh language, became the capital of the newly independent country in the wake of the colapse of the Soviet Union. The previous capital is the city of Almaty, which is in the south of the country very near the border with Kyrgyzstan.

Astana Grand Mosque from a distance
The Grand Mosque seen from a distance.

Construction on the Grand Mosque began in 2019, and continued with fits and starts until it officially opened in 2022. During that time I could see the minarets and domes going up just on horizon beyond the parking lots and shopping malls that sit on the edge of the city. The mosque is so large in scale that it produces an optical illusion against the seemingly endless and flat Kazakh steppe that it seems to stay the same size for several kilometers when approaching it.

The mosque and a clear reflection in the pools outside.

When the opportunity to tour the mosque with a group of mostly foreigners in October 2022, I jumped at it. My curiosity was piqued about this building that had been taking up so much space on the horizon over several years.

When we entered, we were brought to a massive room with cubbies for shoes. I took my shoes off and immediately felt warmth of the underfloor heating. We had a tour guide who spoke some English and who told us many facts about the mosque. Something about the main dome being the largest in the world, a tidbit that Wikipedia clarifies as “the largest of its kind in the world.

I spent about an hour inside the mosque on the tour wandering the hallways and main prayer hall. The building was nothing short of awe inspiring. The scale. The light. The materials. The decorations. The color.

When I was leaving I wondered if anyone ever had trouble finding their shoes again. Thankfully I found mine. While I was at the mosque, there were several hundred people there, some seated in contemplation in the main prayer hall, others wandering the halls or on tours. It is interesting to consider what this space would look like filled with perhaps 200,000 people — near it’s capacity.