Soviet Russia and Mother Nature's influences abound in the former capital of Kazakhstan.

Ascension Cathedral (Zenkov Cathedral)

Claimed to be the second-tallest wooden structure in the world at 56m and, for some miraculous and mysterious reason, built entirely without nails, Almaty's first radio transmitters were used in the church's bell tower. Though taken over by the Bolsheviks less than two decades after its completion to house the Central State Museum of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), it reopened as a church in 1995. On a cold February afternoon, many of Almaty's large ethnic Russian community were celebrating the last day before Lent in "the church in the park," as it is known to most residents.


Previously known as the “Grandfather of Apples,” or Alma-Ata, the former Kazakh capital's balmy loca

tion at the foot of the Zailiyskay Alatau mountain range makes its combination of lush green orchards and bounteous mountain-water rills an exquisite setting for the vast experiment in Soviet Modernism the city underwent over much of the 20th century. Becoming capital of the Kazakh SSR in 1927, it was not long before a wide range of leading Soviet architects began pouring in. The renowned Russian architects Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatiy Milinis came in 1929 to design the government house, while Alexey Schusev came the following decade to help design the city's Academy of Sciences, completed in 1946. With vast wide boulevards, monumental planning, and a huge array of Stalinist neoclassicism, despite the post-Soviet construction onslaught, Almaty is still a feast for the eye for anyone interested in one of the 20th century's most riveting schools.


But 25km south of Almaty, the majestic white slopes of Shymbulak are home to some of the finest skiing anywhere in the former Soviet Union. Rising to some 3,000m, people from all over the Commonwealth of Independent States rightfully flock to Almaty's immediate backyard to reach some of the finest mountaineering the Zailiyskay Alatau range has to offer. Part of the broader Tian Shan mountain range which spans 350km across Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, its highest peak, Talgar, soars 4,973m above sea level, 552m taller than Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental US.