Although it lost its status as Kazakhstan’s capital in 1997, the city of Almaty is still the largest and the most commercially significant city in Kazakhstan. It is home to many sought-after tourist attractions such as the Almaty Green Bazaar, Panfilov Park and the Central Mosque. A different kind of attraction is the Zenkov Cathedral of Holy Ascension, a Russian Orthodox Church, which is unique not only for the faith it stands for but also for the fact that it was made without nails; one of only eight major structures in the world that were constructed without a single nail. It was built completely from Tian Shen fir tree wood, following Russian Orthodox Church architecture. It was constructed around 1904 and completed in 1907, and it is one of the few buildings in the city that survived the 1911 earthquake.
The light blue and golden candy-colored cathedral is found within Panfilov Park. (Gold and light blue are the colors of the flag of Kazakhstan.) This beautiful cathedral is located in the middle of lovely rose gardens. During the era of the Soviets, the cathedral was actually used as a museum of history and economics. In 1995, it was returned to the Russian Orthodox and resumed its function as a place of worship and religious services beginning in 1997.
Also referred to Svyato-Voznesensky Cathedral, this iconic multi-domed cathedral was designed by the popular architect, Z.A. Zenkov (which explains its name). The 164-feet cathedral’s exterior has colorful panels and impressive elaborate details. The interior is even more stunning as colorful murals and glit-edged icons cover every inch of the walls in the main chapel. There are several icons and relics of the Orthodox faith that are ornately designed, including the altar area of the church. This is truly a culturally and religiously important structure within Panfilov Park.
Named after Major-General Ivan Panfilov, a famous Russian war hero, Panfilov Park is found in the center of Almaty City. The park was established primarily to honor the brave soldiers who gave their lives in World War I and World War II. This public park is also known as “The 28 Heroes Park”, pertaining to the 28 men who died fighting against Moscow in 1941. Within the park are several war monuments, the largest of which is called the “Eternal Flame”. Its main feature is a huge bronze statue of fierce fighting soldiers. At their center is a figure of huge outstretched arms that seem to be trying to protect the soldiers. This monument is a popular venue for weddings.
Not far away is the Kazakh Folk Music Museum that was designed also by Zenkov. The museum owns the best collection of traditional native instruments of Kazakhstan, including the dombra, which is a kind of lute. The museum is open every day except Mondays or for any other reasons decided upon by church leaders.
There are other attractions within the park but visitors are quick to point to the Zenkov Cathedral of Holy Ascension as the most important and picturesque. It is a fully functioning church today, more than a tourist attraction, which is why taking of pictures and talking inside the cathedral is prohibited. Admission is free.