Although Almaty is no longer the capital of Kazakhstan, it remains the cultural center of the country, filled with superb historical monuments and around thirty museums. Almaty is nicknamed the city of a thousand colors. One of its top attractions is the Zenkov or Ascension cathedral.
The wooden church, located in the Park of 28 Panfilov Guarsmen, watches over the city from its 46 m (157 ft) height.
The cathedral, which was built upon request of Turkestan and Tashkent between 1904 and 1907, is to many regards unique. It’s one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world, and the tallest wooden orthodox church. It was the first building in Sermirechie, the ancient name given to this region of Kazakhstan, to have concrete foundations, to be so tall in a seismic region and to be equipped with ventilation and evacuation systems.
A rumor says that the cathedral was built without any nails. This is not completely true. Architects used metal to reinforce all of the structures. The bell trunk and the dome pillars were sewn with metallic joints; the central frame was fixes with steel plates; and the rafters were strengthened with metal joints and staples. Although the wooden walls were in fact not nailed, they were put together with several bolts.
This innovative construction was designed by the architect Lieutenant Colonel Andrey Pavlovytch Zenkov, after whom the cathedral took its name. This tribute is well deserved, since the cathedral was able to survive the terrible earthquake of January 1911, which destroyed most of the city of Almaty.
During the soviet period, the cathedral was transformed into a central museum of the Kazakh autonomous socialist republic. Its bell was used to issue the first radio broadcasts in Alma-Ata (Almaty).
In April 1995, it was given back to the Orthodox Church following an order from the president of the Kazakh Republic, Nursultan Nazerbayev. Since then, it has benefited from several reconstruction works.
The beautiful cathedral, inside the Panfilov Park, towers over the trees and offers a great show with its bell tower high on a background of snowy mountains. It’s a charming building with its bright colors and shiny tiles under the sun rays.
Take a look inside to discover all of its beauty. It has three main alleys, dedicated to the Ascension of Jesus Christ, the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and Faith, Hope, Love and their mother Sophia, the four patron saints of Semirechie. The church has beautiful golden icons with precious stones, painted murals and stained glass windows. Its central cupola is surprising with its flat roof.
There are daily services that you can assist. Orthodox believers cross themselves and lower their heads in front of the icons, especially before the Virgin Mary and Saint Nicholas. The Orthodox liturgical singing is very moving.
To visit the cathedral, you’ll have to follow the dress code. Take off your hat and wear respectful clothes. Women should cover their knees and shoulder and put on a veil before entering.