Most unusual mosques, cathedrals and temples of Kazakhstan

Cultural heritageCity Break

Тop-5 of most amazing and unusual religious places that can wow even experienced travellers.

On the territory of our large country you can find absolutely everything that attracts travelers in different parts of the world. For example, mountains coated with eternal snow, lakes and rivers of inexpressive beauty, forests, vast deserts, steppes, canyons, caves, and many other things. Of course, all of these pleasing sights leave a lasting impression on the heart of the travelers, but still ... Sometimes we feel like seeing something really unusual, right? Something so sacred that cannot be seen on a postcard or in programs about nature on TV. Where you could cheer up, immerse yourself in the mysterious atmosphere of the past, ask for a miracle. And yes, it goes without saying, there are such places in Kazakhstan! For your special benefit we have put together a top five of the most amazing, most mysterious, and unusual religious places which can entrance even very sophisticated tourists.

Mosque of Jarkent, 19th century

Let us get started with a very interesting building located in the center of Jarkent (also spelled as Zharkent) - a mosque which is an incredibly vivid blend of Chinese and Central Asian style. What is remarkable - the famous Chinese architect Hong Pik was invited for its construction who managed to embody in the mosque traditional folk motifs of almost all nationalities living in the region. There is a legend that Hong Pik haven't built anything in his life more beautiful than the mosque, even while being in China. On hearing this, the Emperor of the Celestial Empire became furious and put the architect to death upon his arrival home. Unfortunately, most of his works have not survived the test of time, but the mosque in Jarkent is something special. Even the most powerful earthquake of 1910 which had caused severe destructions had mercy upon this sacred building. It was built from the timbers of legendary Tien Shan fir tree without using a single nail!

Yes, the mosque has been gradually falling into decay, and the effects of the time is already felt, but the ambience of the holy place holds on so that one would not want to leave, and a feeling of coziness and warmth envelops you from the first minutes inside. Starting with the entrance you will feel the charm of oriental motives: an impressive central arch, towers, cartouches, gorgeous wall paintings depicting imaginary animals and plants. Inside you can expect an even more interesting view: altar ambry, walls and surbases painted with thousands of vivid stories, traditional Chinese lanterns, many sacred paraphernalia and decorations.

Need to know:

Now, the building of the mosque serves as an art museum where you can admire the works of art of the Kazakh, Uighur, Dungan, and other nations. The mosque is located in the centre of the town of Jarkent (only 30 km away from the border with China!), Almaty Province, at 40 Yuldashev street. The entrance fee is about 250 tenge (to take photographs indoors you will have to pay 500 tenge), so that you can enjoy this amazing place to your heart's content. Be sure to address the museum employees with questions about the history of the mosque - they will tell you a lot of interesting things which you would never find on the Internet.

The mosque of Kunanbay Uskenbayuly

Works of a great poet Abai Kunanbayuly are familiar to every local in Kazakhstan, they are translated into almost all world languages and resonate with the heart of every person. But behind all this there is another person, the one whose credibility, experience, and wisdom influenced the young poet - his father Kunanbay Uskenbayev. "He looked like a true steppe prophet, a judge of incorruptible honesty and exemplary Muslim ...", - that is how the revolutionary Adolf Yanushkevich wrote about him.

Great deeds

As a senior sultan of Karkaraly region, Kunanbay was trying his best to be useful for his people. He even managed to erect a hotel in Mecca, which gave a free shelter to pilgrims from Kazakhstan. At his own expense, he built a madrassah and a mosque in Karkaraly, which is still preserved, though not in its original form. More than 150 years have passed, and the memory of Great Abai's father has been living within its walls, on this beautiful land. Kunanbay's Mosque is considered to be one of the oldest in Kazakhstan and, unfortunately, its story could not be called simple. In 1920, its minaret was demolished, the building was decaying, it was used as a school and a warehouse. Only in 1980, it was decided to be restored and given back to the believers.

Now this magnificent building, located in a picturesque mountainous terrain on a small hill, pleases travelers with its neat appearance. The mosque is functioning, marriages and daily prayers are held there by the believers and it is visited by travelers. The interior captivates with its simplicity and warmth - there is the national ornament everywhere, blue, green, and red colors prevail, painted rugs, log walls; well, the entire mosque is made of wood.

Need to know:The mosque is located in the town of Karkaralinsk and it is easy to get there, especially if you travel by car. Near it, there is a Local History Museum, to the building of which Kunanbay dropped by quite often, too. You can visit the mosque for free but, which is essential, remember to perform ablution and wear clean clothes, women must cover their heads with a scarf (if you forgot one - there are always some at the entrance).

Underground mosques of Mangystau

Severe but rich region of Mangystau is famous not only for its abundance of minerals but also for underground mosques which are well considered as an architectural masterpiece of the area. They are truly amazing buildings carved into the caves; cut rock, eye catching, and fascinating with its grandeur. There is no pretentiousness and grandiosity - only traces of the titanic work of our ancestors who left them to us, their descendants, as tacit admonition. All mosques date back hundreds of years, the age of some comes to a thousand. All this time, dozens of generations lived, prayed, and died here, making the history of Kazakh people.

The mosques have become surrounded by graves, practically each of them has a jatak (night’s accommodation) erected nearby. Modern travelers can spend a night there and experience the full flavor of this holy place. Despite the fact that you find yourself near the graves, there is no feeling of longing and fear. Just calm and appeasement, as if the saints themselves protect your sleep. These mosques can well be called as holy places or energy sources. Travelers mention that absolutely everyone felt like being reborn after the trip to the underground mosques. Some give up smoking after years of indulging the habit, some get rid of diseases and ailments, while others reassess their life and change their ways.

Which mosques to see?

These five underground mosques are the most well known, each of them has its own history, legend or sacred tradition which have only been documented mentally and passed on verbally. Here is a list which you should definitely take a note of when going to Mangystau:

  • Shopan Ata Underground Mosque. It is carved out of the rock and is the largest of them all. A sacred mulberry tree grows next to it. It is believed that elderly people passing under its branches will be cured of an ailing back. It is located 60 km away from the town of Jana-Ozen.
  • Sultan Epe Underground Mosque. One of the most ancient places of worship for the inhabitants of Mangystau, its emergence is shrouded in a number of legends and is located in the Bay of Sarytas.
  • Shakpak Ata Underground Mosque. It is believed to be named in the honor of the mosque founder's nickname whiсh was given due to the sparks flying off from his arrows, like from a flint stone (shakpak-tas). Very beautiful and mysterious construction.
  • Beket Ata Underground Mosques. There are four of them, but the largest and the best known is located in Oglandy. It is considered to be a sacred place and pilgrims still visit the place for pilgrimage.
  • Masat Ata Mosque. Its origin, as well as the mosque itself, is associated with a variety of legends, that is why visiting the mosque becomes even more interesting and mysterious.

Ascension Cathedral in Almaty

Another exceptional place which we would like to introduce travelers to is known around the world as Ascension Cathedral. Its height is immense - 56 meters, and this despite the fact that the building was constructed of blue Tien Shan spruce logs no later than a hundred years ago! The choice of materials had been determined according to the seismic activity on the territory of Almaty. When in 1910 the city was shattered by an earthquake with a record breaking 11-12 points on the Richter scale, thanks to the frequent checks done by architect K. A. Borisoglebskiy and engineer A. P. Zenkov, the Cathedral not just survived the destructive force of the earthquake but wasn't damaged at all - only a cross on one of the domes had been slightly squinted. And that's it!

It goes without saying, there is a lot to look at inside. Every detail of the interior of the last century was specifically designed in the most famous workshops of Moscow and Kiev, by the masters with centuries-old experience gained from their fathers and grandfathers. Gorgeous handmade painting of the iconostasis and Fedor Icon of the Mother of God are considered one of the main shrines of the Cathedral attracting particular attention.

Need to know:

The Cathedral is located on the territory of the beautiful Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen and is just immersed in lush greenery. Everyone can come and enjoy this pearl of architectural art of the early twentieth century for free - under the roof of the Cathedral there is no room for enmity and strife. Here people pray and enjoy the serenity, beauty, and powerful energy of this place. While walking in the park and enjoying nature, your mind is suddenly attracted by the golden glare of the domes… and as you approach a little closer you freeze and just stand still impressed by the grandeur of the ancient building. Undoubtedly, Ascension Cathedral is a place which is well worth visiting in Almaty.

A Buddhist temple in the Karkaraly Mountains

And finally, we would like to tell you about another very entertaining holy place in the Karaganda Province. Could you imagine that on the territory of Kazakhstan, where Islam took root in ancient times, there are the ruins of a real Buddhist temple built strictly in compliance with all the canons? Most likely, not. That is why we highly recommend you to visit this amazing place located in an incredibly beautiful area surrounded by the Karkaraly mountains to the north and the Taldinka River to the south. The main building of the temple is in the form of a cross, a small shrine, a kitchen, and a living room had lost their original appearance due to barbarian raids (Buddhism had not taken root in Kazakhstan), but it is still being visited by yoga pilgrims and modern followers of Buddhism. This place is considered to be a source of strength, light, and is said to provide the ascetic energy of space.

Need to know:

One can only get to a Buddhist temple in the Karkaraly by car and having received a prior special permission. Having overcome all of these obstacles, you get a reward in the form of an outstanding view: the stunning beauty of the mountainous landscapes, pristine woods, murmur of a river ... and here they are, the ruins of an ancient temple. Is it not a wonder?

Our narrative of the unusual sacred and holy places on the territory of Kazakhstan has come to an end, but this does not imply that the list ends. We have only scratched the surface in the huge mysterious world of the past, which borders with ours, and is scarcely studied but none the less very interesting! Visit at least one of the above and you will not be able to stop. Each new journey will take you to such energy-rich sites, where you can hear the echoes of our ancestors, feel a surge of strength, and a boost for new achievements.

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