Kazakhstan’s westernmost large city has two exceptional features. Primarily due to its position, the historic area includes the Ural as the line that divides Europe from Asia in this region. Since the city located on the western bank of the Ural River is geographically in Europe while crossing the bridge takes you into Asia. Atyrau is the urban center of Kazakhstan’s leading oil industry that has a population of 160,000 people. The city lies on the wandering Ural River, 2,700 kilometers west of Almaty and 350km east of the Russian city of Astrakhan on the north side of the Caspian Sea. Atyrau is a modern city popular for its oil and fish industries.
Today, petroleum and fish are the main sources of income for the city. The city has grown a crossroads for transportation routes such as pipelines and railways between East and West, and shipping lines from Atyrau’s sea port to Baku, Iran, Turkmenistan and along the Volga, the Volga-Don Canal and down the Don to the Black Sea, and on into Europe.
Atyrau, 30km up the Ural River from its mouth on the Caspian Sea, started as a fishing settlement, however soon became a part of the forces of Tsarist Russia to extend its control over the area. Guriyev was the first Russian town built on Kazakh territory. After having conquered the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan under Tsar Ivan IV in the middle of the 16th Century, the Russians found themselves in the instant neighborhood of the Kazakh tribes.
To strengthen their position on the western bank of the Ural a fortified post was constructed of tree trunks and named Ust Yaitsk. A family of Russian traders, the Guryevs, established a wooden fence here to help to protect the fishing catch. The settlement of Nizhny (Lower) Yaitsk was born. The Russians developed the fishing industry further, and farmers, brought in from the Don Basin, settled down on the riverbank. Regiments of soldiers were also stationed there to provide security, this was much to the dislike of the indigenous Kazakh inhabitants, who tried to destroy the fortification more than once-only to attract a stronger Russian presence each time. In 1645, the Tsar gave Mikhail Guryev permission to strengthen the town, based on the model of the stone defenses of Astrakhan. Between 1647 and 1662, a well-equipped fortress was established. Relations with the neighbors out in the steppe improved. In 1734, the town was awarded city rights and was named after its founder Guriyev. The name stuck at Guryev during the Soviet period, but took the Kazakh name Atyrau in 1992, soon after independence.
How to get to Atyrau
From Astana regular daily flights and Almaty twice a day operated by Air Astana. From Moscow by Aeroflot flights three times a week. SCAT airlines have daily flights from Aktau and Oral as well as three times a week flights from and to Baku.
Atyrau airport is located 6 km west of the city center along the road that starts off Satpaev street. There are frequent buses run between the airport and the city center.
Atyrau lies on the Moscow – Volgograd- Uzbekistan railway. You can enter Atyrau from Russia (Astrakhan 14h, Moscow 40h or Saratov 21h) from Uzbekistan (Tashkent 49h) Kungrad (town in Karakalpakstan, northwest from Nukus) 20h and Tajikistan (Dushanbe 60h).
Atyrau railway lies 5 km northeast of the city center. Local bus number 14 regularly runs between the train station and the city center. You can check more precise schedules on the website.
Bus / Taxi
Perhaps not the most convenient option, however, you are nearby in Oral or Kulsary there are frequent buses operated to Atyrau.
Atyrau bus station is located next to the bus station.
The city is nearly dense and you can check all-around within a day. The best to start exploring the city from the bridge lying between Victory Park and the residence zone. The bridge was built in 2002 for the oil workers, This suspension bridge between Europe and Asia has extended for 405 meters. Over the bridge, you can walk along the riverbank through the city towards the north, passing the river’s horseshoe curve until you come to the road bridge. It will be a city center, split into two by the river and stretching no more than two to four blocks away from the riverbank.
The Ural River is curling through the center of the city, the Ural River is known in Kazakh as the Zhaik, is both the focus of the Atyrau cityscape and its most charming feature. Tracks have been laid out along the riverbanks, the walk from the main bridge southwards on the Asian side of the river to the district of Zhilgorodok is especially exciting. The river changes its appearance radically with the seasons. In winter, the river turns into a pedestrian thoroughfare. In summer, attention shifts to the sandy river beaches on the Asian bank, one adjacent to Zhilgorodok, the other just north of the main bridge. Beachfront cafes open for business, the smell of chips mingling with that of suncream.
Today there is only one road bridge in town, a fact which considers for the considerable rush-hour jam accumulating on either side. Further bridges, outside the center, are to be completed constructed anytime soon. There is also a footbridge, but this runs somewhat inconveniently from Zhilgorodok to a residential suburb of little interest on the European side and is not much used. Through the local practice, the river divides the two continents of Europe and Asia. This tradition is marked by the joined battered metal pavilions at either end of the bridge. Those on the western side, at the start of Satpaev Street, are marked ‘Europe’. Those on the eastern side, looking down Abai Street to the tapering caramel-colored columns of the Kazakh Drama Theatre named after Makhambet, are marked ‘Asia’.
The coziest area of Atyrau is considered to be a Zhilgorodok. It is a somewhat breaking district, set up after World War II utilizing prisoner of war labor. It lies in one of the bands of the Ural River, to the southwest of the main bridge.
Kurmangazy House Of Culture
Zhilgorodok is focused on the graceful, Moorish-tinged Palace of Culture, the tall domes of its facade facing a quiet square. The remaining sides of the square are fronted by arcades. The wooden balconies and window boxes decorating buildings along the side streets, and the popularity of this district for summer-evening strolling and as a meeting point for the youth of Atyrau, all serve to reinforce Zhilgorodok’s Mediterranean feel
Uspensky Cathedral rises up with the gold onion domes and a brick building dating from the 1880s. Its exterior walls are painted bright orange. The interior features a tall, pastel-hued, iconostasis, with icons and wall paintings covering most available interior surfaces. Around the cathedral lies the somewhat ramshackle old town, a district of single-story dwellings, some with log walls, most with corrugated metal roofs. The Cathedral was built in 1883 and located along Isatai Avenue, 4 at the corner with Gagarin Street. The total area is 230 square meters and the cathedral has 900 seats. It was constructed at the expense of the merchant and philanthropist Fedot Tudakov and his wife, who invested a lot of effort and money in the construction.
Imangali Mosque built-in 2000 and took its name from the Akim of Atyrau, Imangali Tasmagambetov. The mosque has a blue-tiled dome that stands atop a central drum. Two minarets, reaching a height of 26m, flank the building, whose exterior walls are enlivened by decorative tilework. Inside there is a main hall with balconies for 600 seats and a small hall for women with 100 seats. The premises are fenced off from each other by a wooden lattice.
Atyrau History Museum / Regional Museum
Local History Museum is located in the address of (1 Momysh Uly Street). The museum focused on the life and work of Makhambet Utemisuly (Utemisov), who lived in the area of Guriyev in the first half of the 19th Century and whose aphoristic and expressive poetry greatly contributed to the education of the common people.
Furthermore, there is an exhibition about Sarayshik, the capital of the Golden (Nogai) Horde that was first destroyed by Tamerlane in 1395 and later again by the Cossacks in 1580. Remains of the walls of Sarayshik have been found recently during construction work on the Ural about 50 kilometers north of Atyrau. The city’s own Golden Man can also be seen here. It is an exact replica of the golden mantle of a Samaritan warrior and dignitary. This treasure and many other revealing objects dating from the last 2nd century AD were excavated in 1999 near the hamlet of Kulsary at the burial site of Araltobe.
Saraichik settlement was the town that became famous in the 13th century as an urban hub of the Golden Horde. It extended on the caravan route eastwards from Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde on the Volga. Saraichik was sacked by Timur’s troops in 1395 but was rebuilt to serve as the capital of the Nogai Horde in the 15th and 16th centuries, before being destroyed by Cossacks in 1580. Changes in the wandering course of the Ural River have been critical to Saraichik’s archaeological legacy, and cultural layers continue to be washed away by the waters.
Saraichik memorial complex stands on the edge of the villxage. The complex was built in 1999 and is focused on the 17m-high octagonal-based monument known as the Khan Pantheon. Built to a picture of the then mayor, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the monument takes as its influence the belief that seven khans of the Golden and Nogai hordes were buried in Saraichik. A piled mound of stones in the center of the monument serves as a cenotaph to the khans. From the bare branches of a tree, considered sacred, hang strips of cloth as votive offerings. Beneath the arches of the monument are engraved funerary stones to each of the khans honored here.
The Khan Pantheon is flanked on one side by a mosque, on the other by a museum. A painting inside the entrance depicts Saraichik in the 14th century as a flourishing Silk Road trading center. The main room of the museum includes a model of Saraichik at this time. There are assorted fragments of ceramics on display, including some attractively decorated items produced locally in the 14th century, terracotta money boxes and brightly colored items of jewelry. Displays of coins minted in Saraichik in the 13th and 14th centuries are evidence of the importance of the city. On the wall, a cute painting of a girl in a golden boat feeding swans on a lake refers to a local legend. This runs roughly that Khan Zhanibek had a favorite daughter, for whom he built an artificial lake, on which she sailed in a boat of gold. The daughter died young, and the distraught Zhanibek had her buried in a golden coffin, together with her golden boat, and loads of gold jewelry for good measure. Zhanibek had all those involved in the funeral arrangements put to death, to protect the gold in the grave from looters. It is said that the golden boat still lies beneath the ground. The museum also houses seven modern kulpytas, symbolic gravestones of the seven khans. The displays are in Kazakh only, but you can purchase steeply-priced pamphlets here in English, Russian and Kazakh about Saraichik.