Almaty is the largest city in the country of Kazakhstan; there are 1.3 million inhabitants, which is 9% of the country’s total population. It was the country’s capital from 1929-1997, but still takes the status as the biggest commercial center, and is considered the Southern Capital. Its ethnic make up is about 51% Kazakh, 30% Russian, 6% Uyghur, plus some assorted other demographics from Asia and Europe. Almaty is a younger city that was founded in the mid 19th century by Russians. It is situated in the Tient Shan Mountains in a valley, so it has a problem with smog. To get away from the pollution and urban settings, many people have dachas, which are Russian-style farm areas or gardens with little cottages, up in the mountains. Most of the architecture is new, because there is a problem of earthquakes destroying the buildings. Almaty has a humid, mild climate where it never gets very hot or cold. It is home to many universities, and there is an aerial tramway and many fountains throughout the city.
Astana is the capital and second largest city in Kazakhstan, with an estimated population around 600,000. Its population is only 30% Kazakh, the remainder being Russian, Ukrainian and German. It was founded in 1824, first as a Russian military fort, and then was famous for having merchant craft fairs with craftsmen from all over Russia and Central Asia. Today, it exists as a major cultural and industrial center to this country. Because it became the capital in 1997, many new developments have taken place, such as modern architecture. It is also turning into a major business center with representatives from all over the world. There are also many cultural institutions, like an opera/ballet theater, museums and many monuments. Many new business and entertainment buildings are under construction, building things like 3D movie theaters, casinos, bowling, night clubs and more. It is a place that is definitely changing and developing rapidly. It is also the second coldest capital in the world, and it is frozen about 6 months out of the year.
Chimkent (also known as Shymkent) is the third largest Kazakh city, being a populated region in the South Kazakhstan province, close to the Uzbekistan border. It is a major junction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is an older city that was founded in the 12th century, and it was a hub between nomads and settlers during the silk trade. There is still an interesting bazaar in Chimkent that is open daily. It was traditionally an Uzbek city by population, but the USSR assigned it under Kazakhstan. Today it is about 55% Kazakh, 16% Russian, 15% Uzbek, 2.7% Tatar, among other groups. There is some industrial activity in Chimkent, as well as an Asiatic quarter and a handful of parks and cultural sites.