Astana - The new capital

Other names for Astana include Akmola, Aqmola, Tselinograd and Akmolinsk. This city was originally founded as a fortress in 1824 and named Akmolinsk. It was renamed Tselinograd (Russian for Virgin City) during the rule of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The main reason for this name change was to promote more permanent agriculture in Northern Kazakstan during the Virgin Lands Program. The cities name was again changed in 1991 to Aqmola, when Kazakstan gained it's freedom. Because the name Aqmola sounded too much like "White Grave", Nazerbayev changed the name to Astana (literally "Capital") in 1998. Astana has been an important rail junction in Northern Kazakstan. It is located along the Ishim River and they produce agricultural machinery, chemicals and has meat-packing plants. Due to it's location in Northern Kazakstan, there is speculation, that has been officially denied, that the reason for the move of the capital to the north is to exert a more Kazak influence on the more russified Northern Kazakstan.



2. Almaty - The ”City of apples”

The “City of Apples,” Kazakhstan’s capital of Almaty -- a.k.a. Alma-Ata, from 1922-1991 -- is a thoroughly Russian city, from its foundation back in 1854, as an imperial frontier outpost, to its decidedly orderly Soviet-style architecture and street plan.

Situated near the Kyrgyzstan border at the foot of the Tian Shan ("the mountains of heaven"), a magnificent range connected with the Himalayas, Almaty is a popular destination for skiers, climbers and other mountain sports enthusiasts.

Almaty is also renowned for its orchards, and it is indeed a city of trees, with wide boulevards lined with leafy guardians. It’s a big city, sprawling out over some 12.5 miles. Populated by about 1.5 million residents (Kazakhstan’s total population is around 16 million), most of whom speak Russian, Almaty’s growth has been exponential in this century, especially after the Turk-Sib Railway was completed in 1930. That event catapulted the population from 46,000 in 1926 to more than 220,000 in 1939.

Unlike many cities in Central Asia, Almaty itself does not have a long history. It has the look of a new city, at least in part thanks to a pair of earthquakes which twice leveled it -- first in 1887 and again in 1911, leaving little standing. The city was originally known as Verny, though its name was changed to Alma-Ata in 1921, then shortened to Almaty after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

But the city’s site has a smoother history -- an early Silk Road oasis, Almatu, destroyed by the Mongols, once stood in the area where Almaty was founded. Today’s Almaty reflects some of its trading roots. As a modern city seen as a crossroads between East and West, it bustles with trading consortiums and businesses seeking to bridge the continental gap. The city also boasts several important museums, including the State Museum of the Arts, which showcases Kazak artworks, and the Museum of Kazak Musical Instruments, featuring harmoniously exhibited displays of traditional music-makers such as bagpipes, the three-stringed "kobiz," and wooden harps.


Semy - Nuclear zone

Another name for Semy has been Semipalatinsk. Semey was originally established as a fortress in 1718 in a location close by it's current location. In 1778 it was moved to it's current location along the Irtysh River. Semey is perhaps best known for the nuclear testing that was done nearby. This was the major nuclear testing sight for the Soviet Union. Much of the testing was done above ground, causing the spread of radiation throughout the area. Reservoirs were even made using a nuclear explosion to provide water for the residents. Over 470 nuclear bombs were exploded here between 1949 and 1989. Semey is only 93 miles (150 km) from where most of the testing occurred. Because of the lack of environmental concerns, many of the citizens of Semey suffer some form of radiation poisoning.


Baykonur - Space center

Other ways Baykonur is known is Baikonur, Leninsk, or Tyuratam. Baykonur has long been known as a place upon where the Soviets' heroes left this earth and became the first in space. It is from this launching point in central Kazakstan that Sputnik was launched in October 4, 1957. It is also from here that the first person to orbit the earth, Yuri Gagarin, started the "Space Race" with the United States.Baykonur has been the foundation of the Soviet space program. While there were two other launching pads, Plesetsk (Northern Russia) and Kasputin (Central Russia) , this was the primary launching point for manned missions. Currently, Russia has agreed to lease Baykonur from the independent country of Kazakstan for 20 years at $115 million in annual rent.


Atyrai - Caviar capital

Other names for Atyrai include Atyraü and Guryev. This city was founded as a Russian military base on the east bank of the Ural River in 1645. It has grown to expand on both sides of the river, leaving half of the city in Europe and the other half in Russia. Today, it is known for its oil refineries (from the rich oil deposits in the Caspian Sea) and for providing much of the caviar for the former Soviet Union.



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