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Along The Volga, Heartland of Russia

 

 

Kazan Kremlin, UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site


 

 


The Volga River, the Heartland of Russia

 

 

The Volga region is the Heartland of Russia. It is definitely worth exploring for its unique multitude of ethnic cultures, diversity and historic cities.

'Mother Volga', the majestic river that dominates the region, is one of the nation's most enduring and endearing symbols.

It has brought together different peoples and cultures throughout the centuries.

Since ancient times, the Volga served as a main link in transcontinental commerce.
More than a thousand years ago, the Vikings plied its waters, establishing a trade route between Baghdad and the Baltic.
The cultural legacies of Russian merchants, Cossacks, Tatar tribes and German colonists are displayed in the ancient kremlins, spire-topped mosques and Lutheran churches along the river banks.

The Volga was the site of World War II's fiercest battle of Stalingrad (present day name: Volgograd), now marked by a jaw-dropping monument.

The Volga is Europe's longest river at 3,700 km. Its headwaters lie in the Valdai Hills northwest of Moscow. The river flows eastwards to Kazan, from where it bends southwards, where is makes its way to the delta of the Caspian Sea.

 

 

Nizhny Novgorod

Coat of Arms, Nizhny Novgorod, Volga Region Russia

 

Often called Russia's third Capital and the Money pocket of Russia, Nizhny Novgorod is markedly less cosmopolitan than Moscow and St. Petersburg.


Located some 400 km east of Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod is Russia's fifth largest city and boasts a highly developed industrial sector.

 

 Nizhny Novgorod has regularly played a leading role in introducing market reforms to Russia in recent years.

 

City's ancient Kremlin on the banks of the Volga and its pleasant pedestrian promenade make it an appealing place to spend a few days.

The city is considered Russia's architectural Mecca, and consequently of interest to tourists.
 

Nizhny Novgorod is also particularly popular with fans of traditional Russian handicrafts. 

In particular it is renowned as being the place where the tradition of Khokloma, one of the most beautiful styles of painted wooden furniture and crockery, was invented and its originally designed Russian dolls are considered to be some of the best in Russia 

 

 

Kazan

One of the largest cities on the Volga, Kazan is also one of Russia's oldest.

Controversy persists over whether the city was founded by the Tatars themselves in the mid 15th c, or by the Volga Bulgars several centuries earlier. The official version is the latter, supported by archaeological finds.

Whatever the historical context, Kazan from the beginning was an important trading center, linking the markets of Europe to the Caspian and then to Persia and beyond.

It became the capital of the Kazan Khanate in 1438, and the city remained one of the key assets of the Tatar-Mongol Empire until it fell to Ivan the Terrible's forces in 1552.


In 1767, Catherine the Great visited Kazan and gave her blessing to building of its first stone mosque, the Al Marjani, which was the only Muslim temple to survive the Soviet period.

Later in the 19th c. Kazan managed to recover as a trading center, and by 1900 it had become Russia's fifth largest city, having more than doubled its population to 130,000 people in less than fifty years.

Today the city has around 1.3 mln inhabitants.

Kazan is known for the centuries-old Kremlin, a fortified citadel containing museums and sacred sites.

 

Kremlin landmarks include the tiered Tower of Soyembika, the blue-and-gold domed Annunciation Cathedral and the vast, colorful Kul Sharif Mosque.
 

Sometimes nicknamed "Little Moscow", Kazan today sits at the center of a vibrant and broad-based local economy producing 9% of Russia's oil. The city has two major aerospace manufacturers, as well as being home to the major truck-maker Kamaz.

Like Moscow, the center of the city blends ancient and modern with varying success, and also boasts a small Metro system of five stations completed in 2005
 

 

 

Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad)

Whether cruising Mother Volga aboard a cruise boat or exploring Russia's Heartland by land,  your itinerary should definitely include a visit to the city of Volgograd.

(Also known as Stalingrad, 1925-1961): Russia's 'Southern gateway' was founded in 1589, originally called Tsaritsyn.

 

The city was always important as a strategic asset that placed it at the center of Russian history particularly during periods of conflict.

 

Tsaritsyn developed rapidly as a center of trade, commerce, oil-refining and ship building during the relatively peaceful years of the 19th century.

 

The city was the scene of heavy fighting during the Civil War, but this turned out to be a mere prelude to the carnage unleashed during the Second World War.

 

The battle of Stalingrad (as the city had been renamed in 1925) is estimated to have been the single bloodiest battle in human history.

Between August 1942 and February 1943, between 1.7 and 2 million soldiers and civilians were killed, wounded or captured.

The ultimate defeat of Germany's 6th Army at Stalingrad is seen as one of the pivotal moments of the war, not least because it denied Nazi Germany access to the oil fields south east of the city in the Caucasus and Caspian regions.

The shattered city was entirely rebuilt in the decades following the war, and was renamed Volgograd in 1961.

 

In 1967 a monument was erected to commemorate the battle of Stalingrad.

Named 'The Motherland Calls', at the time it was the tallest sculpture in the world, larger than New York's Statue of Liberty by some measure.

 

Volgograd today is a city of just over 1 million inhabitants, and remains a key industrial and transport center.

Major sectors of the local economy include shipbuilding, oil refining, metallurgy and heavy engineering, and the city stands at the eastern end of the Volga-Don canal, completed in 1951

 

 

Saratov

When cruising Mother Volga or exploring Russia's Heartland by land, your itinerary should definitely include a visit to the city of Saratov.

Saratov, though historically labeled a backwater, is a modern city of nearly 900,000 residents.

The city shows off lots of green areas, new construction and old quarters that coexist in an urban landscape rich in history and culture for those who look close. 

Saratov waxes nostalgic for its days of wealthy merchants and manufacturers, and manages to hang onto its 19th-century charm with its pompous mansions, outstanding theaters and museums and numerous churches on the banks of the expansive Volga River.

Even many locals aspire to dress up especially elegantly — and to look at least as good as Moscow residents.

The main feature of Saratov has always been the Volga, the longest river in Europe. Saratov stretches along its right bank.


While the river is impressive, it is not as flush with fish as it was when the city adopted its emblem of three sturgeons on a blue background in 1781. 

The Volga's sturgeon population has fallen sharply, and hunting of the "Czar fish" is now prohibited

 

What are Saratov residents most proud of? 
Saratov is a city with history, tradition and culture. But our main pride is giving the world great minds such as Alexander Radishchev, Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Pyotr Stolypin and great actors like Oleg Tabakov and Oleg Yankovsky. We are truly proud of them. 

 

Sightseeing and attractions:   
Start your tour from the building of Kryty Rynok, an early 20th-century bazaar located beside the Oduvanchik (Dandelion) fountain, and then head down the pedestrian street Prospekt Kirova, where you can admire the architecture of old merchant houses.

At the end of the street you will see the entrance to Lipki Park, a favorite leisure spot for locals that stretches between Radishchev Street and Volzhskaya Street.
Despite being named for the linden tree, the park is planted with many different kinds of trees and bushes. In May, the blossoming chestnuts are truly impressive
.

Many Orthodox churches are scattered around Saratov, but the small Ease-My-Sorrows Church seems to touch everyone's hearts. Its architecture and bright paint make it a mini-copy of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. 


The church is named after the icon "Utoli Moya Pechali" (Ease My Sorrows) that, according to the legend, has the power to cure mental and physical pain.

End your stroll on the banks of the magnificent Volga. At the most popular spot, the Embankment of Cosmonauts, the embankments stand about 3 kilometers apart, making the connecting Saratov Bridge one of the longest in Europe


If you have Two Days in Saratov:


The Victory Park Memorial is worth seeing because of its large exposition of military vehicles and the notable monument "Zhuravli" (Cranes) dedicated to those killed in World War II.


About 25 years ago, Saratov children felt special pride in joining the Pioneer organization because their induction ceremony was held here on Sokolovaya Gora.

Visit the Radishchev Art Gallery, the first public art gallery to open in Russia in the 19th century. It contains more then 30,000 artworks, sculptures and even old household items. The gallery also features a computer room where visitors can access various art-related programs, including one showing lost architectural gems.

 

The Saratov Museum of Local History offers 30 rooms of artifacts exploring the origins of the city, while those interested in literature should stop by the Museum of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, the Russian publicist, literary critic and author of the famous novel "What Is to Be Done?" Chernyshevsky was born in Saratov.

 

City Park is a nice place to walk around, feed squirrels and meditate. The leafy retreat resembles a museum of unique dendrology; some of the trees were planted more than 180 years ago.

 

If You Travel with the Family:

Everyone loves the circus, and the Saratov Circus holds the distinction of being the first Russian circus to have its own dedicated building.

Many prominent Russian circus performers began their artistic careers in its arena, which opened in 1876.

Saratov Academic Drama Theater is one of the oldest theaters in Russia.


Shopping: 

If you want to buy something, Kirov Avenue is the most upmarket shopping area in the city, with boutiques selling clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry.

Russian souvenirs are also sold on this street. 
Besides matryoshka dolls, you can find a unique musical instrument, the garmoshka, or Russian accordion.

The local garmoshka with bells is compact and plays with an especially clear sound. You can see a monument of a Saratov garmoshka player in the middle of Kirov Avenue.


On a summer day, sail along the Volga on a river-cruise ship. At New Year's, the area around Lenin's statue on the central Theatre Square is a fun place to visit, with sleigh rides and photo opportunities with Grandfather Frost.


Nightlife: 

Saratov has a very extensive night life.

At the entertainment center Grand Michelle you can play 10-pin bowling or billiards, as well as dance and have lunch.

In the summer, some barges along the embankment turn into floating bars and clubs

 

Did You Know?

Interesting facts: 


· The first cosmonaut, Yury Gagarin, graduated from the Saratov Industrial College with merits. His historic 1961 flight ended in the Saratov region, with Gagarin landing near Engels, a town on the left bank of the Volga. 

· "Kalinka," the world-famous Russian song, was written by composer and folklorist Ivan Larionov while he lived in Saratov in 1860