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Skyline of Alma-Ata in the early 2000s.

Modern Alma-Ata in the early 2000s.

Alma-Ata (Russian: Алма-Ата), more commonly known in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic as Almaty (Kazakh: Алматы / Almatı), is the largest city in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union. It is the southern capital of the two capital cities in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, the other being Akmolinsk. Alma-Ata is the major political, commercial and cultural centre of southern Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Alma-Ata is home to circa 3,330,000 people according to the 2020 Census, and is the second most populous city in the Turkestan Soviet Federative Socialist Republic of Soviet Central Asia, after Tashkent. It is located in the mountainous area of southern Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, near the border with the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic, and is home to about a tenth of the total population in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Population: 3,330,000 (2020 Census); 2,550,000 (2010 Census); 1,886,225 (1999 Census); 1,072,000 (1989 Census).


From 1929 to 1936, Alma-Ata was the capital of Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Since 1936, it has been the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, and since 1997 it is also the southern capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Alma-Ata remains the largest, most developed, and most ethnically and culturally diverse city in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The city is located in the foothills of Trans-Ili Alatau (or Zailiysky Alatau) in the extreme south-east and has a relatively mild climate with warm summers and quite cold winters. Since the city is located in a tectonically active area, there is a constant possibility of earthquakes. Although most of them do not represent any significant danger or cause damage, historically Alma-Ata does have a record of some large destructive earthquakes.

In 1997, the city became the secondary capital city in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, when Akmolinsk became the official capital city. Since then, Alma-Ata has been referred to as the southern capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, while Akmolinsk has in turn been referred to as the northern capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.


The Kazakh name Almaty has its roots in medieval settlement Almatu, that existed near the present-day city.

There is a theory, which is disputed, that the city derives its name from the Kazakh word for 'apple' (алма), and thus is often translated as "full of apples;" alma is also 'apple' in other Turkic languages, as well as in Hungarian and Mongolian. The Russian version of its name - "Alma-Ata", is often perceived by as a combination of two Kazakh words, meaning "Father of Apples".

There is great genetic diversity among the wild apples in the region surrounding Almaty; the region is thought to be the ancestral home of the apple, and the wild Malus sieversii is considered a likely candidate for the ancestor of the modern domestic apple, which could explain the "Alma Ata" name.


Prehistoric Alma-Ata[]

During 1000–900 BC in the Bronze Age the first farmers and cattle-breeders established settlements on the territory of Alma-Ata.

During the Saka period (from 700 BC to the beginning of the Common Era), these lands were chosen for residence by Saka tribes and later Wusun tribes who inhabited the territory north of the Tian Shan mountain range. Evidence of these times can be found in the numerous burial mounds (tumuli) and ancient settlements, especially the giant burial mounds of the Saka tsars. The most famous archaeological finds have been the "Golden man" from the Issyk Kurgan, the Zhalauly treasure, the Kargaly diadem, and the Zhetysu arts bronzes (boilers, lamps and altars).

During the period of Saka and Wusun governance, Alma-Ata became an early educational centre.

Middle Ages[]

The next stage of Alma-Ata evolution was the period of the Middle Ages (8–10th centuries) and was characterized by the development of a city culture, a transfer to a settled way of living, the development of farming and handicrafts, 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 "Greater Alma-Ata" became part of the trade routes of the Silk Road. At that time, Alma-Ata became one of the trade, craft and agricultural centres on the Silk Road and possessed an official mint. The city was first mentioned as Almatu (Almaty) in books from the 13th century.

15th-18th centuries[]

In the 15th–18th centuries, the city was in decline as trade activities were decreasing on this part of the Silk Road. Notwithstanding, this period was saturated with very important political events that had a 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, the Kazakhs, were founded here, close to Alma-Ata.

These lands also witnessed tragic developments related to the Dzungar intervention and the rigorous efforts of the Kazakh people to protect their land and preserve independence. In 1730 the Kazakhs defeated the Dzungar in the Anyrakay mountains, 70 kilometres (43 miles) north-west of Alma-Ata. It was a critical moment in the Patriotic War between the Kazakhs and the Dzungars. It was later part of the Khanate of Kokand before the Russian conquest in 1854.

Foundation of Verniy[]

On 4 February 1854 the modern history of the city began with the strengthening of the Russian piedmont Fort Verniy near the Zailiysky Alatau mountain range between the Bolshaya and Malenkaya Almatinka rivers. The construction of the Verniy Fort was almost finished by the autumn of 1854. It was a fenced pentagon and one of its sides was built along the Malaya Almatinka. Later, the wood fence was replaced with a brick wall with embrasures. Main facilities were erected around the large square for training and parading.

In 1855 the first displaced Kazakhs appeared in Verniy. Since 1856, Verniy started accepting Russian peasants. They founded the Bolshaya Almatinskaya Stanitsa (Cossack village) near the fortification. The inflow of migrants was increasing and led to construction of the Malaya Almatinskaya Stanitsa and Tatarskaya (Tashkentskaya) sloboda. It was the place of settlement for Tatar merchants and craftsmen.

In 1867 Verniy Fort was transformed into a town and called Almatinsk. However, the population did not like the new name of the town and soon the town was renamed back to Verniy.

According to the First City Plan, the city perimeters were 2 kilometres (1 mile) on the south along Almatinka river, and 3 kilometres (2 miles) on the west. The new city area was divided into residential parts, and the latter into districts. Three categories of city buildings were defined. Buildings of the first and second categories were of one or two-storied construction with a high semi-basement. Buildings of categories I and II were erected around and in the centre of the city, others on the outskirts.

On 28 May 1887, at 4 a.m., an earthquake almost totally destroyed Verniy in 11–12 minutes. Brick buildings were mostly damaged. As a result, people were afterwards inclined to build one-storied buildings made of wood or adobe.

Soviet Era[]

In 1918, Soviet power was established in Verniy. The city and the region became part of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (RSFSR).

On 5 February 1921 it was decided to rename Verniy to Alma-Ata, which was one of the ancient names of the area: Alma – "apple."

On 3 April 1927 the capital of the Kazak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic moved from Kyzylorda to Alma-Ata, within the RSFSR. This was an additional impetus for intensive development in the city. From 1936 (since the formation of the Kazakh SSR), Alma-Ata has been the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic even since.

On 31 January 1928, Leon Trotsky, leader of the 1917 October Revolution, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov, was exiled to Alma Ata by the then head of the Bolshevik party, Joseph Stalin. Trotsky was expelled from Alma-Ata to Turkey in February 1929, and eventually murdered by his foe in 21 August 1940.

Revolution of 1917 to World War II[]

During World War II the city's territory was reshuffled quite dramatically. To better organize the home front and concentrate industrial and material resources, the residential areas were compressed to arrange accommodation for 26,000 people evacuated from the European theatre of war. Alma-Ata hosted over 30 industrial facilities removed from the European section of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union, 8 evacuated hospitals, 15 institutes, universities and technical schools, and around 20 cultural institutions. Motion picture production companies from Leningrad, Kiev, and Moscow were also moved to Alma-Ata at this time.

Over 52,000 Alma-Ata residents received the title: Gratitude for Your Self-Denying Labour. 48 residents were granted the title of Hero of The Soviet Union. Three rifle divisions were raised in Alma-Ata, including the well-known 8th Guards Rifle Division 'Ivan Panfilov' (originally the 316th rifle division), along with 2 rifle battalions and 3 aviation regiments that were raised on the bases of the air club of Alma-Ata.

Industrialization in the Soviet period[]

After 1941, due to the mass evacuation of factories and workers from the European part of the Soviet Union during World War II, Alma-Ata became an administrative and trading centre and although it had an underdeveloped industrial base it become one of the largest industrial centres of the Soviet Union. A special role in this process was played by the location of the city, which was in the rear in relation to the conflict.

During the years 1941–1945 the industrial potential of the city increased significantly. The economically active population of the city grew from 104,000 in 1919 to 365,000 in 1968. In 1967 the city had 145 enterprises, with the bulk of these being light industrial and food industries, which was slightly different from a typical Soviet city where the bias was usually towards heavy industry and capital goods production.

The main industries in Alma-Ata were: food processing (36% of gross industrial output), based largely on locally abundant fruit and vegetable raw materials, light industry (31%), and heavy industry (33%). The main products of the region were:

  • Food: Meat, flour and cereals (pasta factory), milk, wines, canned fruit, tobacco, confectionery, alcoholic spirits, beer, yeast, and tea (packaging)
  • Light industry: textiles, fur, knitting, carpets, footwear, apparel, printing, and the Almaty Cotton combine.
  • Heavy industry: electrical engineering, foundry engineering, car repair, bearing repair, building materials, woodworking, concrete structures and structural elements, and house-building.

1945 to 2000[]

From 1966 to 1971, 1,400,000 square metres of public and cooperative housing were built. Annually, around 300,000 square metres of dwellings were under construction, and most of the buildings made during this time were earthquake-proof multi-storey buildings. Furthermore, construction unification and type-design practice diversified architectural forms, leading to a more varied city-scape. During this period, many schools, hospitals, cultural, and entertainment facilities were constructed, including Lenin’s Palace, the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic Hotel, and the "Medeo" sports complex.

The Medeu Dam, designed to protect the city of Alma-Ata and the Medeo skating rink from catastrophic mudflows, was built in 1966 and reinforced a number of times in the 1960s and 1970s.

The supersonic transport Tupolev Tu-144 went into service on 26 December 1975, carrying mail and freight between Moscow and Alma-Ata in preparation for passenger services, which began in November 1977. The Aeroflot flight on 1 June 1978 was the 55th and last scheduled passenger flight of the Tu-144.

Since 1981, the subway Alma-Ata Metro project has been under construction and the subway was opened on 1 December 2011 after 23 years.

On 16 December 1986 the Jeltoqsan riot took place in response to General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev's dismissal of Dinmukhamed Kunayev.

In 1997 the President of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic Nursultan Nazarbayev approved the Decree to make Akmolinsk the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic's official capital city. Alma-Ata remained as the secondary capital city of the two Kazakh capital cities, and is by far the largest city.

On 1 July 1998 a law was passed concerning the special status of Alma-Ata as a scientific, cultural, historical, financial, and industrial centre of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.

21st century[]

The new General Plan of Alma-Ata for 2030 was developed in 1998 and aims at creating ecologically safe, secure, and socially comfortable living conditions in the city. The main objective is to promote Alma-Ata’s image as a garden-city.

One of the components of the General Plan is to continue multi-storied and individual construction, reorganize industrial territories, improve transport infrastructure and expand Alma-Ata Metro. The first line of Alma-Ata metro was launched on 1 December 2011, two weeks ahead of schedule. The extension of the line to Kalkaman is currently under construction and is planned to open in 2015.

The area of the city has been expanded during recent years with the suburban settlements of Kalkaman, Kok Tube, Gorniy Gigant (Mountain Giant) being added to the city. Numerous apartment blocks, and office skyscrapers have transformed the face of the town, which climbs higher and higher up the mountains.


The climate in Alma-Ata is a humid continental climate with very warm summers and cold winters. It is characterized by the influence of mountain-valley circulation, which is especially evident in the northern part of the city, located directly in the transition zone of the mountain slopes to the plains.

Annual average air temperature is equal to 10 °C (50 °F), the coldest month is January, −4.7 °C (24 °F) (on average), the warmest month (July) 23.8 °C (75 °F) (on average). In average years frost starts on about 14 October and ends on about 18 April, with sustained extreme cold from about 19 December to about 23 February, a period of about 67 days. Weather with temperature above 30 °C (86 °F) is average for about 36 days a year. In the center of Alma-Ata, like any large city, there is a "heat island" – average daily temperature contrast between the northern and southern suburbs of the city is 3.8% and 0.8 °C (33.4 °F) in the coldest and 2.2% and 2.6 °C (36.7 °F) in the hottest five days. Therefore, frost in the city center starts about 7 days later and finishes 3 days earlier than in the northern suburbs. Annual precipitation is about 650 to 700 mm (25.6 to 27.6 in). April and May are the wettest months, during which about a third of the city’s annual precipitation is received. Average date of the formation of stable snow is 30 October, though its appearance varies from 5 October until 21 November. The average date of snowmelt is 2 April (ranging from 26 February to 12 May). The city and its suburbs have fog for about 50–70 days annually.

It is not uncommon for snow and a cold snap to hit Alma-Ata as late as the end of May. For example in the last quarter century, such snowfalls were recorded on 13 May 1985, 1 May 1989, 5 May 1993 and 18 May 1998. The record latest snowfall in Alma-Ata was on 17 June 1987.

Alma-Ata sometimes experiences winter rain, despite heavy preceding snowfall and low temperatures. The most memorable winter rain took place at 16 December 1996 during a military parade to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Independence of the Republic.

Alma-Ata Weather Station’s GM mostly records south-easterly wind (30%), its resistance increases during the summer (37%) and falls in winter (19%). Wind speeds exceed 15 m/s on about 15 days a year, on average.

Climate data for Alma-Ata
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 18.2
Average high °C (°F) 0.7
Daily mean °C (°F) −4.7
Average low °C (°F) −8.4
Record low °C (°F) −30.1
Precipitation mm (inches) 34
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 5.8 6.1 9.5 9.6 9.9 7.3 5.3 3.5 3.6 6.5 6.5 5.7 79.3
 % humidity 77 76 71 59 56 49 46 45 49 64 74 79 62
Mean monthly sunshine hours 117.8 118.7 145.7 195.0 241.8 279.0 306.9 294.5 246.0 182.9 126.0 102.3 2,356.6
Source #1:
Source #2: Hong Kong Observatory (sun and precipitation days)

Seismic Activity in the territory of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic[]