Almaty, also known by its former names Verny and Alma-Ata, is the former capital of Kazakhstan and the nation’s largest city, with a population of 1,404,000 (2010). This represents approximately 9% of the population of the country.
Almaty was the capital of the Kazakh SSR and its successor Kazakhstan from 1929 to 1997. Despite losing its status as the capital to Astana in 1997, Almaty remains the major commercial center of Kazakhstan. The city is located in a mountaineous area of southern Kazakhstan, near the border with Kyrgyzstan.
The word “Almaty” in Kazakh people language means “grown with apple trees”. The first Kazakh scholar Chokan Valikhanov observed: “Almaty city was known for its trade and was a trading post on a high road.” Apples were no doubt one of the important commodities. Anyway, Alma-Ata city has been famous for them to this day.
Almaty is located in an area of extensive geologic risk, being subject to both earthquakes and mudslides. Almaty city suffered from severe earthquakes in 1887 and 1911, and a mudflow down the Malaya Almaatinka in 1921 caused considerable destruction and loss of life.
To reduce the risks of future mudslides, an artificial landslide was precipitated by explosives in 1966 to dam nearby Medeo gorge. The 330-foot dam that resulted proved its worth in 1973 by holding back a potentially catastrophic mudslide. Later improvements have raised the dam to 460 feet and further improved the security of Almaty.
Almaty houses Kazakhstan Academy of Sciences and its many subordinate research institutes, numerous museums, an opera house, theaters producing in Russian, Kazakh and Uighur, and Pushkin State Public Library.
Almaty also has a botanical garden, a zoo, several stadiums, and the permanent Kazakhstan Exhibition of Economic Achievements.
Today Almaty city extends about 12.5 miles (20 km) in all directions from its center and is considered one of the most beautiful cities of Kazakhstan, with regular planning, wide, tree-lined streets, numerous parks and orchards, and a backdrop of mountains.
Mount Kok-Tyubeh offers a picturesque panorama of Almaty. Far below the residential districts can be seen buried in verdure. At the foot of the mountain to the north stretches a plain, and to the south, just a stone’s throw away, so it seems, are snowcapped mountains rising as high as five kilometers.
The former Ascension Cathedral of Almaty city, built in 1907 and the second highest wooden building in the world, now houses a museum. Of the population of Almaty city, Russians make up about 60 percent, with the remainder made up chiefly of Kazakh (less than one-quarter), Ukrainian, Uighur, Tatar, and German minorities.
Almaty city is a major cultural center. Besides Abai Kazakh Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, which is the pride of national musical culture, Almaty has a drama theater named after Kazakh writer Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961). Almaty city also has a Russian, an Uigur and several Korean theaters and a number of other troupes.
Today in Almaty city there are 16 higher education establishments, including a university, and dozens of general education and technical secondary schools and vocational schools.
During 1000–900 BC in the Bronze Age the first farmers and cattle-breeders established settlements on the territory of Almaty.
During the Saka’s period (from 700 BC to the beginning of the Common Era), these lands were chosen for residence by Saka tribes and later Uisun tribes inhabiting the territory north of the Tian Shan mountain range. The evidences of these times are numerous burial tumuli and ancient settlements, especially giant burial mounds of Saka tsars. The most famous archaeological finds are the Golden man from the Issyk Kurgan, Zhalauly treasure, Kargaly diadem, Zhetysu arts bronze (boilers, lamps and altars). During the period of Saka and uisun governance, Almaty became the early education center.
The next stage of Almaty evolution is attributed to the Middle Ages (8–10th centuries) and is characterized by city culture development, transfer to a settled way of living, farming and handicraft development, and the emergence of a number of towns and cities in the territory of Zhetysu.
In the 10–14th centuries, settlements in the territory of the so called “Big Almaty” became part of the trade routes of the Silk Road. At that time, Almaty became one of the trade, craft and agricultural centers on the Silk Road and possessed an official mint. The city was first mentioned as Almatu in books from the 13th century.
In the 15th–18th centuries, the city was on the way to degradation as trade activities were decreasing on this part of the Silk Road. Notwithstanding, this period was saturated with very important political events that had significant impact on the history of Almaty and Kazakhstan as a whole. It was a period of crucial ethnic and political transformations. The Kazakh state and nation were founded here, close to Almaty.
These lands also witnessed the tragic developments related to the Dzungar intervention and rigorous efforts of the Kazakh to protect their land and preserve independence. In 1730 the Kazakh defeated the Dzungar in the Anyrakay mountains, 70 km to north-west from Almaty. It was a critical moment of the Patriotic War between Kazakhs and Dzungars.
Foundation of Verniy
On 4 February 1854 the modern history of the city began with the strengthening of the Russian piedmont Fort Verniy nearby the Zailiysky Alatau mountain range between Bolshaya and Malaya Almatinka rivers. The construction of the Verniy Fort was almost finished by autumn 1854. It was a fenced pentagon and one of its sides was built along the Malaya Almatinka. Later, wood fence was replaced with the wall of brick with embrasures. Main facilities were erected around the big square for training and parading.
In 1855 the first displaced Kazakh appeared in Verniy. Since 1856, Verniy started accepting Russian peasants. They founded the Bolshaya Almatinskaya Stanitsa (Cossack village) nearby the fortification. The inflow of migrants was increasing and led to construction of the Malaya Almatinskaya Stanitsa and Tatarskaya (Tashkentskaya) sloboda. It was the place of settlement for Tatar mechants and craftsmen.
In 1867 the Verniy Fort was transformed into the town and called Almatinsk. However, the population did not like the new name of the town and soon the town was re-named as Verniy.
According to the First City Plan, the city perimeters were 2 km on the south along Almatinka river, and 3 km on the west. The new city area was divided into residential parts, and the latter — into districts. Three categories of the city buildings were distinguished. Buildings of the first and second categories were two-storied or, at least, one-storied constructions with the high semi-basement. Buildings of categories I and II were erected around and in the center of the city, others — on the outskirts.
On 28 May 1887, at 4 a.m., an earthquake almost totally destroyed Verniy in 11–12 minutes. Brick buildings were mostly damaged. As a result, people were inclined to build up one-storied construction made of wood or adobe.
20th century Almaty
Almaty from the Revolution of 1917 to World War II
In 1921, the joint solemn sitting was summoned for the participation of the representative of government regional and sub-regional institutions, professional trades, the Muslim people to make a decision to assign a new name to Verniy — Alma-Ata.
In 1926, the Council of Labour and Defence approved the construction of the Turkestan-Siberia Railway railway that was a crucial element of the republic reconstruction, specifically on the east and southeast of the republic. The Turkestan-Siberia Railway construction was also a decisive economic aspect that foreordained the destiny of Alma-Ata as a capital of Kazakh ASSR. In 1930 the construction of the highway and railway to the Alma-Ata station was completed.
On 2 March 1927, It was the initiative of the Central Executive Committee of the Kazakh Republic to transfer the capital from Kyzyl-Orda to Alma-Ata. The VI Kazakhstani Congress approved this initiative.
On 29 April 1927, it was officially decided on the sitting of the Russian SFSR Committee to transfer the capital of the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic from Kyzyl-Orda to Alma-Ata.
Besides, the Alma-Ata airport was opened in 1930 and people from the capital of Kazakhstan could fly now from Alma-Ata to Moscow. Alma-Ata became the air gate to Kazakhstan. Transformation of the small town into the capital of the Republic was supplied by the large-scaled construction of new administrative and government facilities and housing.
The Central Mosque of Almaty
Given the transfer of the capital of Kazakhstan to Alma-Ata, in 1936 the Architecture and Planning Bureau elaborated the General Plan aimed at re-creating Alma-Ata as the new cultural and comfortable capital of Kazakhstan. The Plan was based on the existing rectangular system of districts that would further be strengthened and reconstructed.
Almaty in World War II
During World War II the city territory was changed to a large extent. To organize the home front and concentrate industrial and material resources, the residential stock was compressed to arrange accommodation for 26,000 persons evacuated. Alma-Ata hosted over 30 industrial facilities from the front areas, 8 evacuated hospitals, 15 institutes, universities and technical schools, around 20 cultural institutions, etc. Motion picture production companies from Leningrad, Kiev and Moscow were also evacuated to Alma-Ata.
Over 52,000 Alma-Ata residents received the title: Owing to self-denying labour. 48 residents were granted the title of Hero of The Soviet Union. Three rifle divisions were raised in Alma-Ata, including the well-known 8th Guards Rifle Division ‘Panfilov’, along with 2 rifle battalions and 3 aviation regiments that were raised on the bases of the air club of Alma-Ata.
Almaty from 1945 to 2000
From 1966 to 1971, 1,400,000 square meters of public and cooperative housing were built. Annually, around 300,000 square meters of dwellings were under construction, and most of the buildings made during this time were earthquake-proof multi-storied buildings. Furthermore, construction unification and type-design practice diversified architectural forms, leading to a more varied cityscape. During this period, lots of schools, hospitals, cultural and entertainment facilities were constructed, including Lenin’s Palace, Kazakhstan Hotel, and the “Medeo” sports complex.
The Medeu Dam, designed to protect the city of Almaty and the Medeo skating rink from catastrophic mudflows, was built in 1966 and reinforced a number of times in the 1960s and 1970s.
The supersonic transport Tupolev Tu-144 went into service on 26 December 1975, flying mail and freight between Moscow and Alma-Ata in preparation for passenger services, which commenced in November 1977. The Aeroflot flight on 1 June 1978 was the Tu-144’s 55th and last scheduled passenger service.
Since 1981, the underground Almaty Metro construction project has been in development.
On 16 December 1986 Jeltoksan riot took place in response to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s dismissal of Dinmukhamed Kunayev.
In 1993 the government made a decision to rename Alma-Ata. The new name of the city is Almaty.
In 1997 the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev approved the Decree to transfer the capital from Almaty to Astana.
On 1 July 1998 a Law was passed concerning the special status of Almaty as a scientific, cultural, historical, financial and industrial center.
21st century Almaty
The new 2030 General Plan of Almaty was developed in 1998 and aims at forming ecologically safe, secure and socially comfortable living conditions. The main objective is to promote Almaty’s image as a garden-city. One of the components of the General Plan is to continue multi-storied and individual construction, reorganize industrial territories, improve transport infrastructure and launch Almaty Metro.
Almaty can easily be considered the most pleasant and vibrant city in Central Asia. With exciting nightlife, live performances, a cosmopolitan population, beautiful mountains and history everywhere you turn, Almaty is a great place to live, study, have a fun and gain new knowledge.