Trans Eurasia travel

Your virtual guide to Eurasia! Let's travel together!


Map of PavlodarAttractively sited on the right bank of the broad River Irtysh, Pavlodar (pop. 350-370,000) is an industrial city which preserves some fine Tsarist-era buildings. The town lies 320 km further down the Irtysh Valley from Semey, and is dominated by massive, rabbit-hole-style apartment blocks, but the old streets near the Irtysh south of the centre have pre-Soviet character.

Pavlodar originated as the Russian military outpost of Koryakovsk (Fort Koryakovsk), established in 1720 with a garrison of 48 people, as part of the Irtysh defence line and taking its name from the nearby Lake Koryakovsk, from which salt was extracted.  It seems that clever officials gained city rights for this rather insignificant outpost, despite the fact that the low population failed to justify it, by giving it the name Pavlodar, or "gift to Paul ), the forename of Tsar Peter I's son. The scheme succeeded, but only for a while, for in 1838 the town's status fell back to that of a Cossack settlement and was given back its original name of Koryakovskiy. As the 18th century progressed, Koryakovsk became less military in character, and increasingly focused on the salt trade, its development promoted by its location on the bank of the navigable Irtysh. Its merchants lobbied with increasing fervour for the award of town status, and their persistence was rewarded in 1861 by the granting of such a status to the settlement, which would be renamed Pavlodar in honour of the newly born Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich, the eighth child of Tsar Alexander II by his first wife. Grand Duke Pavel, who was to become a general in the Russian army, had a difficult life. Widowed young, he then married a commoner, causing his estrangement from the Russian court and years of exile in France. He was eventually reconciled with the court, his wife granted a royal title, but was imprisoned in St Petersburg by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and executed the following year.

Pavlodar became an uyezd administrative centre in 1868, and as the 19th century came to a close an increasing number of smart brick buildings joined the log walled structures of the town. The large-scale growth that led to Pavlodar becoming a major urban centre had to wait until the 1950s, when Pavlodar Region was selected to play a key role in the Virgin Lands Campaign. The Soviet authorities also earmarked Pavlodar and its region for industrial development. Construction teams and specialists were brought here from across the Soviet Union. The extensive coal deposits around Ekibastuz were to be used as the basis for a major power-generation programme. A series of new industrial enterprises were established in Pavlodar. The first alumina was produced at the Pavlodar aluminium factory in 1964. The first 'Kazakhstan' tractor rolled off the production line at the Pavlodar Tractor Factory in 1968. An oil refinery started production a decade later, processing oil from Russian Siberia. The Pavlodar Chemical Plant was established, a dual-purpose facility intended to produce both chemicals for civilian uses and, secretly, chemical weapons agents. The first nine-storey apartment block was built in Pavlodar in the late 1970s, and soon became the housing standard for the population of the town, which grew rapidly beyond 300,000. Independence brought industrial and population decline, though new investors have been brought in, and the city has an increasingly confident air.

Today, Pavlodar has more than 350,000 inhabitants; mechanical engineering, coal mining, oil and aluminium processing facilities have largely contributed to the city's growth. Pavlodar and its satellite city, Ekibastuz, are the heart of an eponymous territorial production complex, a typical economic unity as created in the Soviet Union in regions abundant with resources and infrastructure. Pavlodar is now once again a nucleus for growth, with an enormous aluminium works being built on the site of an already existing aluminium oxide processing plant.

A towering, newly constructed mosque does not hide the fact that Pavlodar is first and foremost a Russian city, with broad, long, perfectly straight avenues flanked with apartment blocks built in Soviet times, the appropriate cultural institutions and much greenerv. The small wooden cottages dating from pre-revolutionary times are now threatened by the construction of new, fenced-in villas and shopping centres belonging to the post-Soviet wealthy classes.

The sight not to be missed in Pavlodar is the Mashhur Zhusip Mosque (corner Kutuzova & Krivenko), the biggest mosque in Kazakhstan, built in 2001. It rises out of the city with rocketlike 68m-high minarets and a green dome shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet. The attendants are welcoming and will show you the expansive main prayer hall (women must view this from the upper gallery).

It’s hard to miss the 11-storey tower near the Irtysh that houses the Hotel Pavlodar (Krivenko 23). An effort has been made to give the rooms a modern look but they retain that unmistakable Soviet flavour. Still, they’re fairly well kept and reasonably sized.

The Irtysh flows along the city's western edge, providing it with a lavish green riverbank promenade. The river flows broad and calm here, and a large, clean beach attracts numerous swimmers during the summer months. Terraces from here lead up to Constitution Square {Ploshchad Konstitutsiy), where the administrative buildings are located, including the Akimat. The city of Pavlodar has no real centre, and public life strolls along Toraigyrova, Akademika Satpayev and Lermontov streets. This makes the city "compact", according to its inhabitants. Pavlodar is also called the "city of shortcuts", although this is a relative qualification in Kazakhstan. Two tramlines run along Toraigyrov, Kutuzov, Pyervomayskaya and Lomova streets, and there is a good bus network.