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Kazakhstan

Main attractions

Horse riders near Markakol Lake, Kazakhstan
Horse riders near Markakol Lake / Dmitry A. Mottl, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Kazakhstan belongs to world's largest countries and its vast steppes, deserts and mountains hide numerous landmarks. Its natural and cultural heritage is comparatively little known, but here are found quite a few important landmarks.

Most interesting is the rich archaeological heritage. In Kazakhstan are found outstanding landmarks left by the Bronze Age and early Iron Age cultures - giant mounds (kurgans), megalithic monuments, petroglyphs.

Natural landmarks

Impact craters

  • Shunak crater - Karagandy. 2.8 km wide and 400 m deep impact crater, some 45 million years old.
  • Zhamanshin crater - Aktobe. Large impact crater, with a diameter of 14 km, 270 m deep. Impact took place some 900 thousand years ago and was the latest impact of such magnitude, which could cause an effect of nuclear winter.
Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan
Charyn Canyon / Leon Hart, / CC BY 2.0

Cliff formations

  • Aksu Canyon - South Kazakhstan. 15 km long and up to 500 m deep canyon in Tian Shan mountains. Canyon contains some forest fragments with Malus sieversii apple trees - ancestors of domesticated appletrees and pears. Here are found also petroglyphs.
  • Aulietas - Karagandy. Very impressive granite formations, a sacred place to native people.
  • Kiin Kerish - East Kazakhstan. Unusual, beautiful cliff formations, formed by clay wich has bright colors.
  • Sherkala - Mangystau. Unusual mountain which looks like giant sculpture. Mountain is 332 m high. On the top are remnants of fortification built by Dzhuchi, son of Genghis Khan. Summit can be accessed through an old tunnel.
  • Stone Balls Valley - Mangystau. Floor of this valley is covered with giant stone balls - concretions of minerals.
  • Valley of Castles in Charyn Canyon - Almaty Province. Spectacular part of Charyn Canyon. Here the canyon is some 20 - 80 m wide, with beautiful cliff formations. Charyn Canyon contains relict stands of Fraxinus sogdiana - relict species from Paleogene period. Area of this stand is 800 ha. Here are found numerous burial mounds - kurgans.

Waterfalls

Singing Sand Dune, Kazakhstan
Singing Sand Dune / Jonas Satkauskas, / copyleft
  • Burkhan-Bulak Falls - Almaty Province. Tall waterfall with three cascades, total height - 112 m.
  • Kokkol Falls - East Kazakhstan. Possibly the most beautiful waterfall in this part of Kazakhstan, some 60 - 80 m tall.

Other natural landmarks

  • Kok-Kol Lake and Aidahar - Jambyl. Unusual montane lake which, reportedly, emits sounds - long whistles or sighs. This could be explained with emissions of gas from the bottom of lake. According to stories of many locals sometimes here is seen a monster - Aidakhar - which comes out from the lake and hunts sheep. This monster was been observed also by some scientists but there is no evidence whether it exists in reality.
  • Singing Sand Dune - Almaty Province. Enormous sand dune which often emits a strong, booming sound which is created by the friction of sand grains. Sandy ridge is up to 300 m high and 1.5 km long.

Man made landmarks

Tamgaly petroglyphs, Kazakhstan
Petroglyphs in Tamgaly - most likely drawing shows Sun (two Suns?), animals and dancing humans / Ken & Nyetta, / CC BY 2.0

Petroglyphs

  • Arpa-Uzen petroglyphs - South Kazakhstan. Gorge with some 3,500 petroglyphs which were made in the Late Bronze age and early Iron Age.
  • Eshkiolmes petroglyphs - Almaty Province. In this site are found some 4,000 petroglyphs which are made in different techniques. Petroglyphs depict a huge variety of everyday life scenes, often in great detail. Nearby are numerous other landmarks - Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements and burials.
  • Tamgaly petroglyphs - Almaty Province. Large group of petroglyphs with some 5,000 etchings on stones and cliffs. Petroglyphs were created in the time period between the second millenium BC and the early 20th century. Many petroglyphs show Buddhist symbolics. Nearby are remnants of settlements and burial grounds with stone cists.

Prehistoric and ancient burials

  • Aksu Ayuly 2 necropolis - Karagandy. Bronze Age necropolis of Andronovo culture, the 20th - 13th century BC. Largest kurgans here are up to 2 m tall and 30 m in diameter.
  • Begazi megalithic burial - Karagandy. Bronze Age burial ground with interesting megalithic structures - slab fences. Created in the 12th - 8th century BC. These massive stone fences consist of vertically placed stone slabs which are up to 3.8 m tall and 3 tons heavy.
  • Berelsk kurgan (Berel Burial Mounds) - East Kazakhstan. One of the largest kurgans in this part of Asia.
  • Besshatyr kurgans - Almaty Province. 31 enormous burial mounds, made in the 5th century BC by Scythians. Largest kurgan is 17 m high and has a diameter of 104 m. Walls and ceilings of the large burial chambers are made of the trunks of Tien Shan firs which are very well preserved.
  • Boralday kurgans - Almaty Province. Group of 52 large burial mounds which are up to 20 m high. Mounds were created by Sak culture in the time period between the 8th - 3rd centuries BC.
  • Dandybai megalithic burial - Karagandy. Bronze Age megalithic burial which was in use in the 12th - 8th century BC.
  • Issyk kurgans - Almaty Province. Group of 45 enormous burial mounds which are up to 15 m tall, the 4th - 3rd centuries BC. Famous due to a find of very interesting burial which contained more than 4,000 golden items. Grave contains inscription, possibly in Scythian language.

Prehistoric sculptures

  • Kumai complex of balbals - Akmola, near Torgai village. Group of prehistoric stone sculptures - balbals.
  • Merke sanctuary - Jambyl. Ritual landscape of ancient Turkic culture, which is located on a mountain plateau some 3,000 m above the sea level. On this plateau are located more than 170 ancient monuments - some 70 antropomorphic steles (balbals), barrows, enclosures and other monuments. Outstanding monuments are Araltobe, Belsaz, Sandyk, Sulusai, Sulysai, Sholsai, Karasai complexes.
  • Shu-Zhaissan sanctuary - Zhambyl. Group of stone steles, carved and erected by ancient Turkic people in the 7th century AD.

Prehistoric and ancient settlements

  • Kara Mergen Citadel - Almaty Province. Ruins of fortified settlement from the 7th - 8th century AD. Fortification has a rectangular form, it is 115 by 120 m large, up to 3 m tall walls have been preserved. On the corners still are standing 4.5 m tall towers.
  • Kent - Karagandy. Proto-city from the Bronze Age, the 12th to 9th century BC. Central part of this city was more than 30 hectares large and its inhabitants were occupied mainly with the production of bronze. It is possible that here in the 10th century BC started production of iron as well.
  • Krasnyi Yar - North Kazakhstan. Settlement of ancient Botai culture who, possibly, were the first to domesticate horses. Settlement was inhabited sometimes around 3000 BC, some 200 people lived here, here were some 50 houses.

Abandoned medieval towns and cities

Medieval city walls of Turkistan, Kazakhstan
Medieval city walls of Turkistan / Mark Pitcher, / CC BY 2.0
  • Azret-Sultan - historical centre of Yasy - South Kazakhstan. Historical centre of former Turkistan (Yasy, Turkestan), capital of Kazakh khanate from the 16th to 18th century. Site includes numerous historical buildings - Khoja Akhmet Yassawi mausoleum, baths, chilakhana from the 13th century, parts of fortification walls.
  • Otrar - South Kazakhstan. Ruins of once important medieval city which was founded established sometimes around the 1st century AD. Ruins are very extensive and encompass remnants of several cities - Altyntobe, Dzhalpak-tobe etc. Abandoned since the end of the 18th century.
  • Sairan (Sauran) - South Kazakhstan. Ruins of historical trade city on the Great Silk Road, founded in the 1st millenia BC and abandoned since the 17th century. Remnants of two mosques have been found. City is surrounded by remnants of wall, which is up to 3 - 6 m tall.
  • Saray-Jük (Saraychik) - Atyrau. Ruins of medieval city which was established in the 10th - 11th century and was major trade center in the 13th century. Ruined in 1580.

Underground mosques

Shakpak-Ata, Kazakhstan
Shakpak-Ata / Valeria Bolotova, / CC BY 2.0
  • Beket-Ata underground dwelling and Oglandy mosque - Mangystau. Dwelling and mosque of Sufi mystic Beket-Ata, who, reportedly, lived in the second half of the 18th century. Burials here are considerably older - starting from the 10th century.
  • Shakpak-Ata mosque - Mangystau. Possibly the most impressive rock-carved shrine - mosque in Mangystau. Premises are large enough to have rock-cut columns holding the ceiling. Most likely built in the 10th - 11th centuries. Interesting are the petroglyphs on the walls of cave.
  • Shopan-Ata underground dwelling and mosque - Mangystau. Cave complex - old dwelling and shrine of Sufi mystic Shopan-Ata, who lived some 800 years ago. Rock-cut cave was built in the 10th - 12th centuries. The site is surrounded by thousands of burials. The symbolics in Shopan-Ata sacred caves show a fusion of earlier, animistic religion and Islam.
  • Sultan-Epe - Mangystau. Underground mosque and burial of Sufi saint, pupil of Khoja Ahmed Yassaui.

Medieval mausoleums

Aisha Bibi mausoleum, Kazakhstan
Ornaments of Aisha Bibi mausoleum / upyernoz, / CC BY 2.0
  • Aisha Bibi - Jambyl. Ornate mausoleum, built in the 11th or 12th century to commemorate the life of a noble woman. Now it serves as a symbol of love and faithfulness.
  • Alasha Khan Mausoleum - Karagandy. Mausoleum of the legendary founder of Kazakh nation, built from red brick in the 11th - 12th century AD.
  • Khoja Akhmet Yassawi mausoleum - South Kazakhstan. Mausoleum to Turkic poet and Sufi mystic Khoja Akhmet Yassawi (1093 - 1166), the first known Turkic poet. The structure was ordered by Timur and left unfinished in 1405. Nevertheless it is one of the best preserved Timurid structures and now serves as a national symbol of Kazakhstan. Its dome is the largest in Central Asia.

Military and science heritage

  • Baikonur Museum - Kyzylorda. A museum near the assembly factories of space ships. This museum houses artefacts in the history of space flight - technological equipment, "Soyuz" capsule, early computers, "Buran" test model. Museum includes cottages of Yuri Gagarin and Sergey Korolev.
  • Gagarin's Start in Baikonur Cosmodrome - Kyzylorda. The launchpad where the first human spaceflight took place in 1961. Site still is in use for launches of spacecraft.
  • Lake Chagan (Atomic Lake) - East Kazakhstan. Artificial lake which was created by an underground nuclear blast in 1965. Water is stil radioactive, although now people can swim in it. Diameter of lake is 408 m, it is 100 m deep.

Other man made landmarks

Zenkov Cathedral, Kazakhstan
Zenkov Cathedral / Irene, / CC BY 2.0
  • Almaty Tower - Almaty. Tallest free-standing tubular steel structure in the world, 371,5 m tall. Constructed in 1975 - 1983.
  • Bayterek Tower - Akmola Province, Astana. Spectacular observation tower, built in 2002. Monument is 105 m tall, it is topped with 22 m large ball. Tower symbolises the transfer of capital to Astana.
  • Ekibastuz GRES-2 chimney - Pavlodar. World's tallest chimney, 419.7 m tall, built in 1987.
  • Karagandy Miner's Palace of Culture - Karagandy. Fine example of Stalinist style in architecture, built in 1940 - 1952. The building is ornate, with high quality art landmarks characteristic for its time.
  • Khan Shatyr - Akmola Province, Astana. Giant, transparent tent, 150 m tall, built in 2010. It contains urban park, boating river, other entertainment possibilities.
  • Zenkov Cathedral (Almaty Ascension Cathedral) - Almaty. Russian Orthodox cathedral, built in 1904 - 1907. Enormous and ornate wooden building, built without any nails.

List of described attractions by provinces

Kazakhstan is divided in 14 provinces. Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:

Akmola
Aktobe
Almaty
Almaty Province
Astana
Atyrau
Baikonur
East Kazakhstan
ArrowKokkol FallsWaterfalls
Jambyl
Karagandy
Kostanay
Kyzylorda
Mangystau
North Kazakhstan
Pavlodar
South Kazakhstan
West Kazakhstan

Map of Kazakhstan

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