Almaty (Kazakh: Алматы / Almatı / الماتى ), also known by its former names Verny (Russian: Верный, "Faithful," prior to 1921) and Alma-Ata (Russian: Алма́-Ата́, from 1921), is the former capital of Kazakhstan and the nation's largest city, with a population of 1,348,500 (as of September 1, 2008). 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 mountainous area of southern Kazakhstan, near the border with Kyrgyzstan.
Kazakhstan's economic prosperity is most palpable here in its biggest city, where at times you could almost believe you are in Europe, such are the numbers of glitzy international shops lining the streets and of Mercedes, Audis, Volkswagens and BMWs negotiating the peak-hour jams. This leafy city with a backdrop of the snow-capped Zailiysky Alatau (a spur of the Tian Shan) has always been one of the most charming Russian creations in Central Asia. Today Almatys fast-growing middle class also have expensive suburban housing, well-stocked 24-hour supermarkets, Western-style coffee lounges, fine restaurants, chic bars, dance-till-dawn nightclubs and even new ski resorts to help them enjoy life to the full.
The ethnic Kazakh presence is gradually getting stronger in what was always a heavily Russian-influenced city, but everyone seems to rub along fine. No-one even seems too bothered that Astana has replaced Almaty as Kazakhstan's capital - except those who have had to move to Astana.
Almaty is Kazakhstan's main transport hub and a place many travellers pass through rather than linger, but if you do stay a few days youH find - as several thousand Western expats have - that Almaty is a place for enjoying many green parks and colourfully illuminated fountains, for visiting excellent museums, theatres, shops and markets, and for eating, drinking and dancing in Central Asia's best selection of restaurants, bars and clubs. It's also a starting point for great hikes, drives, treks and skiing in the Zailiysky Alatau between here and Kyrgyzstan (the border is just 25km south) and it's the obvious jump-off point for the magnificent central Tian Shan in Kazakhstan's far southeastern corner.
The best times to visit Almaty are mid-April to late May, and mid-August to mid-October, when it's neither too cold nor too hot.
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.
Almaty was founded in 1854, when the Kazakhs were still nomads, as a Russian frontier fort named Verny on the site of the Silk Road oasis Almatu which had been laid waste by the Mongols. Cossacks and Siberian peasants settled around it, but the town was twice almost flattened by earthquakes, in 1887 and 1911. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was a place of exile, its best-known outcast being Leon Trotsky.
Renamed Alma-Ata (Father of Apples), it became the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan in 1927, and was connected to Siberia by the Turksib (Turkestan-Siberia) railway in 1930. The railway brought big growth and so did WWII, as factories were relocated here from Nazi-threatened western USSR, and many Slavs came to work in them. Large numbers of ethnic Koreans, forcibly resettled from the Russian Far East, arrived at the same time.
In the 1970s and early '80s Kazakhstan's leader Dinmukhamed Kunaev, the only Central Asian member of the Soviet Politburo, managed to steer lots of money southeast from