Almaty‘s rather rural-sounding name means ‘apple rich’ — after the renowned quality and variety of the region’s apples. The reality, however, is rather different. Almaty Kazakhstan is the commercial and cultural hotspot of Central Asia, ready to make its mark on the tourist map.
In 1911, a catastrophic earthquake flattened the city. Only the Svyato Voznesenskiy (Zenkov) Cathedral stayed standing. This 54 m (180ft) high edifice is one of the most extraordinary wooden buildings in the world — it was made entirely without nails! It stands, gaudily painted like a giant dolls’ house and surrounded by roses, in the 28 Panfilov Heroes Memorial Park in the city centre.
The main Zelyoni Bazaar is more than just a market; it is a cultural hotchpotch of produce and people from all over Central Asia. Artists display their work in Zhybek Zholy (Silk Road), known locally as Arbat. For a superb view of the city and mountains, take the cable car up to Kok-tube (Blue Hill), or walk up past the marijuana fields. Look out for Hotel Kazakhstan, a 102 m (335 ft) high modernist tower, the tallest building in the city, and the Central Mosque, built in 1999, a wonderfully elegant marble building with a huge blue dome.
The traffic is terrible — ageing cars rattle past in a cloud of exhaust fumes. But change is happening fast and things are improving all the time. Almaty Kazakhstan is a city of pride, ingenuity and ambition, with a vibrant Asian arts and fusion music scene and a cosmopolitan population, poised to play its part on the international stage.
Extreme climate. April to June or September and October.
Ito Voice of Asia’ is an annual international music festival held every August in the Medal stadium. Almaty will host the 2011 Asian Winter Games and only narrowly lost its bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.