Almaty continues as the major commercial and cultural centre of Kazakhstan, as well as its biggest population center. The city is located in the mountainous area of southern Kazakhstan in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau at an elevation of 700–900 m (2,300–3,000 feet), where the Large and Small Almatinka rivers run into the plain.
From 1929 to 1936, Almaty was the capital of Kazakh ASSR. From 1936 to 1991 it was the capital of Kazakh SSR. After Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, Almaty continued as the capital until 1997, when Astana was designated a return to the historic capital.
Almaty remains the largest, most developed, and most ethnically and culturally diverse city in Kazakhstan. Due to development by the Soviet Union and relocation of workers and industries from European areas of the Soviet Union during World War II, the city has a high proportion of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. The city is in the foothills of Trans-Ili Alatau (or Zailiysky Alatau) in the extreme south-east.
It has a relatively mild climate with warm summers and quite cold winters. Since the city is in a tectonically active area, it has an endemic risk of earthquakes. Although most do not cause any significant damage, Almaty has suffered some large destructive earthquakes.
In 1997 the capital was moved to Astana in the north-central part of the country. Since then Almaty has been referred to as the 'southern capital' of Kazakhstan.