Almaty (uhl-muh-TEE, former Alma-Ata) is the former capital of Kazakhstan. It is the most populated city in Kazakhstan at present. Its population is over a million people. Even though Astana (then Akmola) became the capital in 1995; Almaty is often called the Southern Capital. It can be rightfully called the most beautiful city in the country.
The history of Almaty is not very long. In comparison with other cities in Central Asia it is quite young. It was founded in 1854 by Russians in the valley of Almaty and was just a fort at first. Its name was Zailisky, then it was named Verny. In 1921 it became Alma-Ata and in 1929 it became the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1993 it became Almaty.
The city is located at the foot of Tien Shan Mountains at the altitude of 700-900 metres above sea level. Unfortunately, because the city is located in a valley, smog easily accumulates here. However, a little higher in the mountains the air is crystal clear and many people have "dachas" (a small garden or an orchard with a small hut or a house) there. A dacha is not only a source of various fruits and vegetables, it is also a place to relax and enjoy the fresh air.
The city has a lot of unique architectural sites. They are comparatively modern because of the destructive earthquakes that happened in Almaty in 1887 and 1910. A lot of buildings were destroyed at that time. The climate of Almaty is quite mild. It is never as cold here as in the northern parts of the country and you can easily survive without a fur hat and a fur coat. However, because of higher humidity it may seem a little colder in winter than it is in fact.
It is best of all to have transportation by your company or by people whom you know. Especially when you are coming to Almaty airport, it is important to have someone arrange a taxi for you. The ride from the airport will cost about US$7. You should be careful to ask the person arranging the car beforehand for the name of your driver and have it written down.
When you are in the city, if there is no possibility to have a car from your company , you might consider mass transit or a cab. There are buses, trolleybuses, and trams (streetcars) in Almaty. It is very difficult to know where this or that bus or trolleybus is going, so it is better to ask beforehand. There are no schedules available. If you know Russian, it will be much easier: you can ask people at a bus stop. Transportation in Almaty is sometimes a challenge even for Almaty dwellers. Public transport is no longer under state control and is being actively privatized. New bus routes appear every day and old ones are being cancelled. Anyway, it is not a problem to move around the city by bus, tram or trolleybus until 10 pm after which time only taxis are available. Taxis can be ordered at the telephones 058 or 007. Expatriates say it is OK to use private taxi drivers (car owners who earn their living by taxing without a license) as long as you take some precautions. Sit in cars with a driver and no passengers only. Agree on the fee in advance and preferably in Russian and pay it in tenge. Speak as little English as possible. If you are with a local friend ask him or her to catch a taxi for you and agree on the fee. You can ask your friends putting you in a taxi to remember the number of the car.
For trams, trolleybuses and state owned buses the fee is 20 tenge. There are plenty of private buses (their numbers have 3 digits and begin with 4 or 5), which charge 25-30 tenge. Sometimes it is practical to buy month transport tickets (900 tenge), which are available until the eighth day of each month for trolleybuses and trams from ticket collectors. Beware of thieves in public transport and public places . There is another type of transportation, which is literally called 'a route taxi'. Those are little vans that work like buses having their own routes. As of February 2001 it cost 20 tenge (14 cents) to ride a bus, trolleybus or a tram. The vans are 30 tenge (21 cents).
The best, but more expensive way of commuting is a taxi. If you need it, stand on the edge of a road and raise your hand. Very soon somebody will stop. The car wouldn't necessarily have a 'taxi' sign. You should tell the driver how much you are going to pay, because if you ask drivers how much it costs, they reply with the question how much you would like to pay. It will cost you 200 tenge (US$1.36) or less to ride from any point to another point within the city. You can also order a cab by phone. This is probably the safest and most expensive way to commute. They charge you by their metre
Where can one make a call? First of all, many small shops offer local call services for a 20 tenge charge. To ask to make a call in Russian you should say : Mozhno pozvonit'? Secondly, you can make local and long distance calls from any payphone in the streets. Cards for a different number of units can be bought from newsagents and kiosks. One unit goes for one minute of a local call. You do not need a card to call the following emergency services: fire brigade (01), police (02), ambulance (03) and gas service (04).
Almatytelecom (public voice operator in Almaty) has a lot of service offices around the city where you can make telephone calls and send/receive a fax. One of them is on 129 Panfilov St. and Karasai Batyr St. (tel. 639451). Central office is on 100 Zhibek Zholy St., on the hill opposite TSUM (tel. 332211). They accept only cash. The same services plus Internet are available on the first floor of Ramstore (Furmanov St., across the road from the President Palace). Cheaper Internet cafes: Deutscher Computer Club 43 Mynbaev St. corner Aitiev St. (near Dastarkhan supermarket), tel: 431981 ; and Picasso Internet Cafe on 235 Mukanov Str. and Zhambyl, tel. 686056, 681050.
Almaty telephone code of is 3272. To make a call within Kazakhstan or to some CIS countries dial: 8 - (city code) - (telephone number). For Moscow, for example, dial 8-495-(number). After dialling 8, wait for a long beep, then dial remaining digits. To make an international call dial 10 after 8, then country code, city code, and the number. A-Business directory has a full list of city and country codes.
There is a 50% discount for long distance calls made from 12 p.m. through 6 a.m. and a 25% discount for the same time interval at weekends. For country, city codes and discount information in Russian call 070 . To order a long distance call call 071 or 079.
Of course, it is best not to get sick at all but it is hardly possible, especially in a foreign country. When packing for a trip to Kazakhstan try to take all prescription medicines with you because they may not be available from local drugstores. Make sure you have a valid medical insurance covering the CIS region.
Emergency medical help is free in Almaty. Call 03 and give your address in Russian so that an ambulance could pick you up from home. This kind of medical help funded by the local authorities is often of low quality. Expatriates in Almaty prefer to use SOS International Clinic. It has expatriate medical staff and round the clock emergency service for its members. Address: 11 Luganskogo St. Tel: 91-30-30 or 64-26-56. Another reliable institution is Charity Clinic Grace with foreign and local doctors. 159a Abay avenue, corner Rozybakiev St. Tel.: 46-94-48. In case of poisoning call 92-70-55 for free medical consultation.
To learn if the medicine you are looking for is available and where, call free drugstore information service 50-50-60 and 50-97-87. For more information about medical services in Almaty, please refer to the A-Business directory on-line database. Unfortunately, it is currently available only in Russian. Printed English language directories can be ordered at 63-37-83, 63-59-44 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fire alarm 01
Telegram service (from home phones only) 066
Oblast and City Address Bureau 622713, 621042
Accidents Bureau 638790
«Bouroondai» Airport 357878
Central Bus Station 262644
«Sayakhat» Bus Station 302529, 300832
Buildings are silent keepers of cities' history. For its short life, Almaty has survived ravaging invasions, earthquakes, mudslides, the revolution, Civil War and the forfeit of its status of a capital. The building containing witnesses of all events that have influenced the local history is the Central Museum of Kazakhstan (open daily except Tuesdays, 10.00 a.m. - 06.00 p.m.) Most visitors to Almaty start their acquaintance with Almaty there.
National State Museum building
The three-story square building with nine domes on Furmanov Street, right opposite the President's Palace, is visible from afar. The blue domes, biggest in the middle and the rest along the perimeter, coupled with white stone walls look impressive and magnificent. The Museum is even more beautiful at nights when illuminated with blue floodlights. People like to spend time in a small park with ponds, stone bridges, rock compositions and weeping willows in front of the Museum.
The Museum's biggest collection in Kazakhstan consists of 120, 000 exhibits displayed in its four huge halls and 200, 000 in reserves. Especially popular stands hold Kazakh traditional clothes, household articles, jewelry and other pieces of art. There are also real pictures taken during 2 severe earthquakes that almost completely wiped out the city in 1887 and 1910. Even if you are not a lover of history, we advise you to visit the Museum to buy good souvenirs, national jewelry, paintings and sculpture.
Leaving the Museum, you might be fortunate to see guards changing a shift at the President's Palace gates across the road. The President's Palace was originally designed as a museum of Vladimir Lenin, the most profound Soviet leader, who, actually, had never visited Almaty. Many locals confess there is something thrilling in this building.
Republic Square. Akimat (City Hall) building. Going down Furmanov Street from the Museum you will finally come to the Republic Square, commonly known as the New Square (Novaya Ploshad). Founded in 1980 as Almaty's biggest square, it is a regular place to hold parades and festivals. Locals favour it because it resembles vast Kazakh steppe enclosed with buildings like mountains. Even in hot stuffy summer evenings it is cooled by fresh breeze from the mountains and there is no better place in the whole city to have a date.
The Independence Monument in the middle of the square symbolically features crucial periods of the Kazakhstani history. Its central part, the Golden Man, is a 6 meter copy of a real gold finding from a burial mound near Almaty. In 1986, the New Square witnessed an allegedly staged rebellion against Moscow's rule. A metal commemoration plate and the fountains stripped of marble tiles in some places remind people of that event today. A little higher the Monument, up the cascades of steps on Baiseitov Street, there is the Tribune art gallery of modern Kazakhstani artists.
Every visitor to Almaty cannot but notice a big TV tower in the foothills. The tallest construction (372 meters) in earthquake prone Almaty, it rests on a three story concrete and cement foundation dug deeply into the Kocktobe (Kazakh for Green Hill) hill. It has 18 meters in diameter on the ground and narrows to 13 and 9 meters at 146 and 252 meter levels respectively where technical service rooms are located. The Tower was constructed to resist 10 point Richter scale earthquakes. But you are unlikely to check it because inside excursions are not allowed.
Baiseitov Street, going down from the Independence Monument, leads to the Russian Theater of Drama named after Michael Lermontov. Every day but Mondays, the theater runs Russian language plays on its major and minor stages. The Tengri-Umai gallery occupies the foyer of the theater. Every Monday the gallery holds presentations of modern local artists' works. The gallery's collection of a little more than 300 items is a small but representative sample of today's local art including paintings, graphics and sculpture. A theater museum and a souvenir shop also make the theater worth visiting. Stroll further down the Baiseitov Street to feel the charm of the old Almaty preserved in its old three and four story houses.
One block down from the theater is Kurmangazy Street, in the name of a famous Kazakh composer. Turn to the right and walk back to Furmanov Street. At the corner, you will see a small mansion with a spire. It dates back to the beginning of the XX-th century when Almaty was called Verny (Russian for Loyal).
Further along Kurmangazy Street is Tulebayev Street named after another Kazakh composer. Quiet and trafficless Tulebayev Street used to be primarily inhabited by the local Soviet elite and still remains one of the most expensive residential areas in Almaty. Walking up, you will bump into the Dzetysu (Kazakh for Seven Rivers) fountain system. Seven springs flowing from a pink and black granite pillar symbolize seven main rivers of the south-east Kazakhstan: the Ili, Karatal, Bien, Aksu, Lepsy, Baskan and Sarkand.
Beside the fountain, there is a house and an operating museum of Mukhtar Auezov, the author of "Abai's Path". The museum is open daily except Sundays and Mondays from 09.00 a.m. to 05.00 p.m. Proceeding along Kurmangazy Street towards the TV Tower, you will see the Dostyk Hotel (è ñþäà ññûëêó íà íàøè îòåëè â Àëìà-Àòå) on your right and, a little further, on the left side of the road, the Academy of Sciences. The complex constructed in 1957 is an excellent example of the combination of the classic style and local ornaments. You might be interested to visit the Museum of Nature, which can be entered through the Academy's main entrance on Shevchenko Street. Real corps and casts of mammoths, dinosaurs and huge rhinoceros that inhabited Kazakhstan thousands of years ago will make you feel a hero of the Jurassic Park movie. The museum also maintains a rich collection of existing local birds and animals. Working hours are from 10 a.m. to 04.00 p.m. on weekdays.
Academy of Science. North entrance. An 8-meter brass monument in front of the Academy of Sciences on Shevchenko Street is devoted to an outstanding Kazakh scientist, Chokan Valikhanov.
One more art gallery, Ular, is located in the same complex with the entrance from Kurmangazy Street.
Zodiac fountain. The main decoration of the park adjacent to the Academy of Sciences from the west is a fountain featuring twelve animals in charge of every year according to the eastern calendar.
Pushkin's bust at the Academy of Science. A little higher is a bust of Alexander Pushkin, one of the best Russian writers and poets. Almaty received the bust as a gift from neighboring Russia in connection with the 200-year birth anniversary of the writer.
For a small charge, you can visit the Geological Museum famous for its collection of semiprecious stones and minerals in the Isker Business Center, down Dostyk Avenue (10.00 a.m.- 05.00 p.m.). Gems and jewelry are available in a shop inside.
Behind the monument, there are three 12-story buildings commonly referred to as Tri Bogatyrya (Three Epic Heroes). On their common ground floor there is Iskra, a cinema recently renovated in the western style. The first floor is occupied by the Archeological Museum (open 10.00 a.m. - 05.00 p.m. except weekends). Among various archaeological findings, you will see a copy the Golden Man. Its costume is made up of 4000 gold parts.
A jewel of the 28 Panfilov Heroes' Park is the Svyato-Voznesensky Cathedral. Another wooden creation of Zenkov, it is said to be built in 1904-1907 without a single nail . The building has survived the notorious 1911 earthquake graded 10 points under the Richter scale and all subsequent earthquakes.
Svyato-Voznesensky Cathedral. Despite the long period that the Cathedral was not functional (1927-1995), it has kept its splendor and spirit. The Cathedral resumed daily services in 1996 after it had been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. To the west from the Park is the Arasan Bath-House (Kazakh for Warm Spring). This huge building with 6 domes and the interior in the Kazakh national style brings oriental palaces to mind. The Bath-House offers Russian, Turkish baths, saunas, water treatment and showers. There is a children's department, first rate individual rooms with showers, saunas and swimming pools, cafes and a restaurant.
Another way to continue your walk after the Park is to visit the Green Bazaar (Zeleny Bazaar). If you were brave enough to come to Almaty, you should not lose the chance to see Almaty's main bazaar, experience its eastern atmosphere, colors, smells and crowds. Of course, beware of thieves and watch your wallet. You will hardly be able to resist the temptation to buy dried apricots or raisins, Korean salads or honey from the Altay Mountains. Bazaars are one of the few places that expose ethnic diversities in the contemporary world going for uniformity.
At a short distance from the Green Bazaar, the biggest mosque in Kazakhstan is located. It was built with public donations and consecrated on 5 July 1999. The mosque replaced an old one that had been functioning since 1890 and finally was not able to hold all the believers. The new building's size and beauty (white marble walls decorated with glazed tiles contrasting with a blue 20m x 36 m dome) make it unrivalled among other Almaty mosques.