Ascension Cathedral

Almaty, Kazakhstan | C.1907

Photo Credit: @stephanjulliard

Beneath the colorful exterior of this Russian Orthodox cathedral lies a sturdy foundation. The Ascension Cathedral, also known as the Zenkov Cathedral, survived a 1911 7.7 magnitude earthquake that killed 452 people and toppled 770 buildings in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Completed in 1907, from base to the tip of its highest gold onion dome, the Cathedral stands 56m (183ft) tall. While not made exclusively of wood, it is one of the tallest wooden constructions in the world. Honors for the tallest structure go to the Sapanta Peri Monastery in Romania, measuring at a towering 78m (256ft).

On September 26, 1903 the bishop of Turkestan and Tashkent, Paisii, consecrated the foundation of the church. But it was architect Constantin Arkadyevich Borisoglebsky who made sure that foundation would survive an earthquake. After an 1887 quake laid waste to Almaty, Borisoglebsky incorporated a design feature he called “seismic baskets” that allowed the Cathedral to move in rhythm with the earthquake and reduce the chance of collapse.

Over time, the Cathedral became more than a place of worship. Following the end of the Russian Revolution, the Central State Museum of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic called the Cathedral home.

Even radio broadcasts were made from Ascension Cathedral, likely because of its immense height and the ability to place a transmitter whose signal could reach far and wide. Almaty’s first radio transmitters were placed in the cathedral’s bell tower.

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