Walking from one of the wide streets in Almaty, we took a turn and walked down a tree-lined street, with the feel of a small park. We sat down to chat with a sweet old lady who wanted to practice her English, took one more turn, and arrived at the corner of Pushkin and Shevchenko Street. Here we found what we were looking for: the zodiac fountain. Designed by a Russian immigrant architect in the late 1970s, the fountain is a circle with twelve statues representing the signs of the Kazakh zodiac close to the outer circle of the fountain. Behind each statue, six nozzles send up water towards a bronze ball in the very centre of the fountain, representing the sun. On the bottom of the fountain, a mosaic representing the signs.
When we came closer, we were able to see the details in the statues. These were not solemn, static representations of animals; no, in some statues, they almost looked like cartoon figures. Exaggerated features, like unusually big horns and eyes, or pointy noses, make these statues curious-looking protagonists and guards of the fountain they surround. We walked around the fountain, realizing that the Kazakh zodiac is based on the Chinese one, but with some different animals: where the Chinese have a dragon, the Kazakh use a snail, the pig becomes a boar, the tiger a leopard, and the rat, a mouse. Inevitably, I wondered if this would mean that the characteristics for a person born in those years would differ as well.
The architect of the fountain, Vladimir Tverdokhlebov from St. Petersburg, had initially wanted more finishing touches to the fountain. The water was supposed to go much higher into the air, on the pedestals of the statues, a year was supposed to have been added to facilitate the visitor to determine which sign she or he is, as there should have been proverbs on the pedestals for each animal. Even so, I found the zodiac fountain pleasant as it is. Surrounded by trees, on the corner of two streets, it gives the area the feel of a park, if only because of the benches and despite the building next to it. On this Sunday afternoon, it was remarkably quiet around the zodiac fountain, which gave the place a serene, peaceful feel.
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