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Almaty’s colorful Zenkov Cathedral is one of a kind

Zenkov Cathedralenkov Cathedral in Almaty’s Panfilov Park is one of the world’s most unique churches. To start with, the Russian Orthodox sanctuary, formally known as St. Ascension Cathedral, is one of the eight largest wooden structures made without nails.

Then there’s the riot of color on its exterior. The splashes of bright yellow, green, blue and red generate a feeling of joy among the faithful rather than the somberness than many houses of worship imbue.

Renowned architect and civil engineer Andrey Zenkov designed the 164-foot-tall building. It was built between 1904 and 1907 of Tian Shan fir – a sturdy tree found in the nearby Tian Shan Mountains.

It is so structurally sound that it withstood, with only minor damage, Almaty’s devastating earthquake of 1911, which measured nine on the Richter scale, and a number of quakes after that. In fact, it’s one of the few buildings constructed in the era of the Russian tsars to survive the 1911 temblor.

Artists from Moscow and Kiev created the interior. It features ceiling frescoes of Biblical scenes and oil paintings of saints on every wall and pillar. The altar area glitters with touches of gold.

The faithful can attend regularly scheduled services, drop in during the day for quiet prayer or contemplation, or light a candle to seek the Almighty’s favor.

The Communists, who didn’t believe in religion, prohibited the cathedral from being used for religious services from 1927 to 1991. Thankfully, they recognized the building’s architectural splendor and preserved it.

Between 1930 and 1940 the cathedral housed the Central State Museum of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Prominent social organizations used it and, because of its height, the government installed Almaty’s first radio transmitters in its belfry.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the government returned the cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. It was restored from long neglect and reopened for religious services again in 1997.

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