Almaty City is the largest and former capital city of Kazakhstan. It is a Soviet-style city that is known to house the magnificent Central Mosque, established in July 1999. Constructed to accommodate about 7,000 visitors, this relatively very young mosque is one of the biggest in the country. It is truly a majestic structure with marble and glazed tile decorations throughout, following the national colors and motifs of Kazakhstan. The mosque’s most prominent feature is its brilliant blue dome that is 20 meters in diameter and 36 meters in height. Beside the dome is an even taller minaret, measuring at 47 meters high. The Almaty landscape is littered with synagogues, Buddhist temples and other cultural structures.
Almaty is still the leading commercial center in Kazakhstan, despite losing its status as capital city in 1997 to Astana, although Almaty is still commonly referred to as the southern capital. Also known as Alma-Ata, Almaty has a huge population of more than 1,300,000 people (2008), which is about 9% of the total population of this huge country. (Kazakhstan is the biggest former Soviet Union state.) Almaty is found in mountainous southern Kazakhstan, near the border of another former communist state, Kyrgyzstan. Almaty’s Central Mosque speaks of the Kazakh people as a faithful follower of Islam, which is the country’s largest religion.
Islam arrived in Central Asia as early as the 18th century. During the years under communist influence, Islam was completely suppressed throughout the former Soviet Union except in a few regions in Kazakhstan where there were more Muslim Kazakhs than non-Muslims. Since the downfall of communism, Kazakhstan has taken leaps and bounds in revitalizing Islam throughout the country, and their efforts included the construction of the Central Mosque. The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, however, does not declare Islam as the nation’s official religion. Instead, the constitution stipulates that the country is a secular state. For this reason, Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are also prominent in the country. Only 70% of the total population is Muslim.
Another important mosque in Kazakhstan is found in the capital city of Astana, the Nur-Astana Mosque. It is younger and bigger than Almaty’s mosque; in fact, Nur-Astana Mosque is the biggest mosque in Kazakhstan and throughout Central Asia. It is 40 meters tall, which corresponds to the Prophet Muhammad’s age when he received the revelations, and the minarets are 63 meters high, corresponding to Muhammad’s age when he died. It is located along the capital city’s riverbank and capable of accommodating more than 7,000 people. This grandiose symbol of Islam is made of glass, concrete and granite.
Meanwhile, in addition to the Central Mosque in Almaty, other leading landmarks and attractions in Almaty are the Presidential Palace (although it is not open to the public, but the sight is quite spectacular), National Museum, The 28 Panfilov Heroes Memorial Park (honoring 28 heroes who fought and died for national independence in 1975), Medeu ice stadium, Kazakhstan English Language Theater (the only English language theater in Central Asia, Republic Square (or New Square) and Koektoebe (Green Hill).