THE GREAT RIVER
- The Volga is referred to as ???Russia??s Main Street??? and is one of the country??s main symbols, as one can gather from an old folk song: ???Volga, Volga, dear Mother!??? The Volga, spanning 3,530 kilometers (2,200 miles), is the longest river in Europe. The first scientist to describe and outline the river on a map was Claudius Ptolomeus (90??160), an ancient Greek astronomer.
The Volga is a great water and tourist route, taking its source in the very heart of Russia and extending through the whole central part of the country southward where it empties into the Caspian Sea (the world??s largest lake), thus forming a delta of about 800 smaller bayous and waterways. A system of canals connects the Volga with the Baltic, White, and Azov seas, as well as with Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia??s largest cities.
The exact location of the Volga??s source was discovered as early as the 17th century. Official documents of olden times state that the Volga is an underground spring that becomes a swamp, comes out of the earth from under a birch-tree, and flows into the Volgo Lake. It was Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (the father of Peter the Great) who in 1649 gave the order to erect the Upper Volga Monastery of the Savior??s Transfiguration at the Volga??s source, which was recognized as a sacred site. The red-stone Cathedral of St. Olga stands there today. The first symbolic bridge across the Volga is as close as several dozen feet from the river??s source, though even a child can easily jump across the stream. This amazing place is a Mecca for entire families of tourists making pilgrimages. Parents bring children to show them this miracle of Nature.
The Volga??s source ?? a sacred place for Russians. A chapel is built above the spring that gives birth to the great riverVolga flows by the Zhiguli Mountains (Samara Region)LAKE SELIGHER
- Seligher Lake, one of the most famous tourist sites in Central Russia, is situated several kilometers away from the Volga??s source. This body of water is a vast chain of criss-crossing channels and currents that stretches southward for over 100 kilometers (62 miles). The Seligher has over 160 islands and 110 tributaries. The lakeshores are surrounded with larch and pine forest, and the glades that line the forest make excellent camping sites. In the summer, fishermen??s and canoe riders?? tents can be seen on the islands and all along the shore of the lake. Every June, the water warms up to a minimum temperature of 20 ?°C (70 ?°F). The Seligher is a fisherman??s paradise both in summer and winter. About 30 species of fish dwell here, from zanders and breams to vendaces and eels, which have been bred here since the 1950s. The surrounding forests are full of blueberries, foxberries, wild strawberries, and mushrooms ripe for the picking.
The town of Ostashkov is located on the shore of Lake Seligher. From afar, it seems to float right on the water. The first mention of the town in old manuscripts was in 1371 by its earlier name of Klichen. Residents of Ostashkov were traditionally fishermen, skinners, shoemakers, and blacksmiths. Excursion motor-boats travel along the lake from the river station in Ostashkov, and hundreds of tourists come here to enjoy the famous sunsets and to visit the Neil??s Pustyn (Hermitage) Monastery, one of Russia??s spiritual centres located on a tiny beautiful island.
The Neil??s Pustyn (Hermitage) Monastery
? TVER REGION
Back in the 15th century, Afanasiy Nikinin, a citizen of ancient Tver, took a long trip to India, Persia, and Africa. He can rightfully be considered one of Russia??s first tourists
- Tver is one of Russia??s oldest cities. It was settled on the cape where the Tmaka River flows into the Volga as early as the 9th??10th centuries. Around 1247, Tver became the capital of a local princedom that was competing with Moscow to be the capital of the unified Russian lands until the end of the 15th century, when Tver joined Muscovy as a large trading centre. Local craftsmen would forge bells, make weapons and coin money here, and were also famous as skilful shoemakers, tailors, goldsmiths and pottery makers. Ambassadors and merchants from many countries would visit the city, and the Princes of Tver would also send ambassadors abroad.
Afanassy Nikitin, a merchant from Tver, undertook his longest journey from 1468??1474, visiting Persia, India and East Africa. He described his experiences in his travel log entitled Wandering beyond the Three Seas, leaving especially priceless travel notes about India. After a fire in 1763 that destroyed the old town and its Kremlin, Empress Katherine the Great ordered Tver completely rebuilt. Russian cultural icons, such as poet Alexander Pushkin, writer Fyodor Dostoevsky and composer Mikhail Glinka, among others, frequently visited the city. Winding its way through numerous lakes and swamps 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the north of Moscow, the Volga absorbs waters of small and medium-sized rivers on the Valdai Plateau and flows through the old towns of the Golden Ring that preserve the old charm of the Russian provinces to this day.
Kalyazin, situated on the Volga??s right bank, has been known since the 12th century. Its major attraction is a bell-tower of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas (1800) which rises over the part of the town flooded during the construction of the Uglich Power Station. Before the flood, all of the buildings in the area were either dismantled or blown up, but the bell-tower was preserved to help in the training of parachutists, and today it is the town??s symbol. Several years ago, the bell-tower??s foundation was strengthened by the addition of topsoil to stop the erosion caused by water and ice drifts.
Flooded church of St. Nicholas near the town of Kalyazin (Tver Region)
TUTAEV, RYBINSK, PLYOS
Tutaev. Kazan Chirch of Transfiguration (1758)
- The city of Tutayev is built along both banks of the Volga, and each part used to have its own name, so the double-name of Romanov-Borisoglebsk was officially preserved up until 1918. The city is noted for its tranquillity and the spirit of antiquity that reigns there. The area-study museum, which houses over a thousand artifacts related to various kinds of crafts and household items, as well as collections of porcelain and paintings, is a tribute to the city??s history. Tutayev is also famous for being the birthplace of Valentina Tereshkova (b. 1937), the first woman in space.
The name of Rybinsk, a city on the Upper Volga, is associated with one of Russia??s largest reservoirs. Rybinsk stands at the junction of riverways and railroads. From the days of old, residents of the city have been fishermen supplying St. Petersburg (including the Tsar??s court) with fresh fish. Later, bread-making, navigation equipment, and airplane engine production became other trademarks of the city.
In the late 19th century, the town of Plyos was popular for its dachas (country homes) community, and many intellectuals spent the summer months here. The town is most famous as the residence of Isaak Levitan, a prominent Russian landscape painter, who lived and worked here in the late 1880s. Many of his most famous canvases were created in Plyos and are now on exhibit at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. In 1972, the Levitan house-museum was opened to the public in Plyos.
Ancient town of Plyos (Ivanovo Region)NIZHNY NOVGOROD
Kremlin in Nizhny NovgorodMuseum pieces of Khokhloma painting (folk crafts of the town of Semenov, Nizhniy Novgorod Region) can reach this incredible size??¦
- In the city of Nizhny Novgorod, the Volga meets the Oka, its longest right tributary. Russia??s third largest city is famous for its 16th??17th-century Kremlin that stands along the steep bank of the Volga, containing a permanent exhibit of weaponry. Numerous preserved monuments of history and culture put Nizhny Novgorod on UNESCO??s list as one of 100 cities of the world of utmost cultural importance. The city has often been called ???the pocket of Russia??? because many wealthy merchants and skilled craftsmen lived here. Its advantageous geographic location turned it into the largest centre of trade and industry in Russia. Many types of goods arrived to Nizhny Novgorod from the East and from all over Russia. The Nizhny Novgorod Fair, which has been around for several centuries, was one of the things that assured the town??s status as the trade capital of Russia.
The Nizhny Novgorod Region is well-known for its unique folk crafts: tourists flock here to see and purchase nesting dolls, decorative paintings on wood (in the towns of Gorodets, Khokhloma, and Semyonov), metal work (in the town of Pavlovo), filigree work (in the town of Kazakov) and lace-making (in the town of Balakhna), among others.
KAZAN AND TATARSTAN
Kazan. S????mbeke Tower
- Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, is an example of religious tolerance and inter-confessional harmony. The city is also one of the major economic and scientific centers of Russia. It is home to over one million people of over 100 nationalities. The rich history of the city starts with the ancient civilization of Volga Bulgars. However, Kazan saw its true glory as the capital of the powerful Kazan Tatar civilization, descendents of the Bulgars. Kazan??s beautiful downtown with its impressive kremlin, old mosques and churches, and rich museums is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In 2005 the city celebrated its 1000 year anniversary. Before the anniversary the city built a ???Park of 1000 Years.??? Every guest of honour who attended the celebrations planted a tree in the park. In the center of the park stands a bowl-shaped fountain that symbolizes a cauldron. Legend has it that 1000 years ago a Bulgarian Khan, who marched through the area with his enormous army, decided to set camp for the night. The Khan gave a young warrior a golden cauldron adorned with precious stones and sent him to the river to fetch some water. Over an hour passed and the youth did not return. The furious Khan went to the river himself and found that the young man was standing on the bank motionless, stupefied by the beauty of a girl who appeared on the other side of the river. The youth was so dazzled that he dropped the royal cauldron into the fast flowing stream. The Khan??s fury subsided at the sight of the uninhibited fascination of which only a young and pure heart is capable. To mark this poetic moment the Khan ordered a city built on the site of the camp. The city was called Kazan (cauldron in Tartar) in honour of the cauldron that symbolized the beauty of the moment ?? the cauldron that forever vanished in the stream of the fast river.
Kazan regularly plays host to a variety of cultural festivals. These include the Fyodor Shalyapin Opera Festival and the Rudolf Nuriyev Ballet Festival. The tradition of various equestrian sports is carefully preserved here. The Kazan Racetrack and the Kazan Equestrian Sports Club are famous around the world. In 2006, the city hosted the quarter-finals of the World Cup Trot races.
One of the most curious architectural monuments of Kazan is the leaning (almost two meters off the vertical axis!) tower Suumbeke, the symbol of the city. The history of the tower is shrouded in legend. The most famous legend has it that Ivan the Terrible, having found out about the heavenly beauty of the widowed Tatar queen Suumbeke, offered the queen his hand in marriage and the title of Tsaritsa of All Russia. The queen??s refusal gave the Russians an excuse to wage war against Kazan. Trying to avoid bloodshed, the queen agreed to marry the Russian Tsar, but she set the condition that his bridal gift to her must be a tower, built in just one week, that would be taller than all of Kazan??s minarets. Incredibly, the tower was built in a week. In the middle of the wedding feast, Suumbeke expressed a desire to take one last look at her city from the top of the new tower before her departure for Moscow. She went up to the top observation deck and??¦ threw herself off along with her infant son.
Over the past few years Kazan??s economy and culture has been booming. The city??s first subway line is now in operation. A number of entertainment venues have been built in and around the city: a huge ice arena/stadium, an aquapark, a go-cart track, the children??s amusement park ???Shurale,??? and a fully-equipped, modern ski resort.
A favorite of many visitors is the ???Tugan Avalym??? (Home Village in Tatar), an entertainment complex in the heart of the city, centered around a replica of a traditional Tatar village.
Ten years ago a decision was made to rebuild Khul Sharif, a magnificent mosque with eight minarets that was destroyed in 1552 when Ivan the Terrible??s army stormed and conquered the city. Located in the southern part of the Kazan kremlin, the mosque was the center of theological and scientific studies in the 16th-century Mid-Volga Region. Imam Khul Sharif, a Tatar religious leader, poet, scientist, and diplomat, was one of the people in charge of the city??s defenses. Khul Sharif and his followers managed to hold the defenses of the city for a long time before the imam died heroically in the heat of the battle and the defenses fell. In 2005 Europe??s largest mosque was finally rebuilt and held it first prayer service. The mosque complex includes a museum, a library, a publishing center, and the imam??s office.
The image of Tatarstan is inseparable from its bright and cheerful holiday celebrations. The locals are equally enthusiastic about the folk Russian holiday of Karavon and the Turkic holiday Nauruz. However, the most popular celebration by far is Sabantuy, the Holiday of the Plow, which calls for all of the most beautiful Tartar customs, including dancing, singing, and religious ceremonies. The people feel free to relax and enjoy themselves because the holiday comes at the end of the fieldwork season. Thousands of people gather on the emerald-green glades in the countryside and compete to see who is the fastest, the strongest, and the most resourceful. At the center of any celebration are the highly entertaining and acrobatic horse races.
Every year more and more foreign tourists visit not only Kazan but also other places of interest in Tatarstan. Bulgar is one of the most popular destinations. It once was a flourishing settlement and the cradle of the Islamic Tartar civilization. The settlement was abandoned in the 15th century, but even now the people of the surrounding villages say that after the rains they sometimes find old Bulgar coins and other artifacts. The Raifsky Monastery is famous for its copy of a Georgian icon of the Mother of God and a spring of pure water. Both of them are believed to have miraculous healing powers. Not only Muslims, but other believers as well, make pilgrimages to Tatarstan. More and more Christians have been coming here since one of the most important Orthodox devotional objects, the miracle-working icon of Our Lady of Kazan, was returned to the city from the Vatican by Pope John Paul II in 2005.
The island-town of Sviyazhsk was founded by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. The town was needed as a military outpost, and was built in just three weeks ?? incredibly quickly for a medieval town. The pre-cut logs for the wooden buildings were first procured in the woods of Uglich, north of Moscow, and then delivered on rafts down the Volga.
Ancient majestic Khul Sharif mosque destroyed in the 16th century and recently reconstructed in the Kazan kremlinMore than thousand years people enjoy this exciting viewTatar national waistband wrestling. The goal is to throw the opponent flat on his backSabantui is the main Tatar celebration. People of all ages have a great timeTatar girls in traditional clothesEvery year, more and more foreigners visit the ruins of Bulgar, the capital of Bulgaria-on-Volga-and-Kama, whose history ended in 15th centuryThe island-town of Sviyazhsk
The Volga embankment in SamaraSamara is one of five cities along the Volga with populations over a millionThe Samara Academic Drama Theatre (1888)A grandiose military history festival takes place on the banks of the Kondurcha River every year. Nearly 10, 000 history enthusiasts and a multitude of fascinated tourists take part in the re-enactment of the famous battle? between Tokhtamysh, the khan of the Golden Horde, and the great general Tamerlane (originally fought in July of 1391)Museum of Technology??s largest attraction: 90-meter (300-foot) long submarineGrushin festival of bard song on the Volga bankMonument to a devoted canine
- The Samara Region has an amazing way of combining the unhurried pace of the Russian country with high-spirited fun of festive celebrations, the awe-inspiring vastness of the Volga, and romantic travel.Samara is one of the five cities on the Volga with populations of more than one million and has the longest embankment along the Volga. Many tourists visit Samara for the chance to see the 37-metre (120-foot) deep Stalin??s bunker (the deepest of the World War Two declassified sites), to taste Zhigulyovskoye, Russia??s oldest beer, or visit the largest aqua-park in Europe. The building housing the Samara Academic Drama Theatre (1888) is one of the city??s most beautiful landmarks to this day.
Crossing the Volga on a small motor boat, one can reach the Zhiguli Hills National Park and Nature Reserve, sometimes called the ???Switzerland on the Volga.??? The height of the hills reaches 375 meters (1,230 feet) and they stretch for 75 kilometers (47 miles) along the right bank of the Samara Bend. Pine forests, stony steppes, and misty meadows can be found all along here. Some of the coves contain huge reservoirs of crystal clear water. When in Zhiguli, one can enjoy canoeing on the Volga or hiking and horseback riding along the bank.
Tourists can also get acquainted with the cultures of indigenous peoples of the area and visit local caves full of mysteries. Other wondrous phenomena include the numerous anomalies that can be seen on the territory of the Zhiguli mountains. Periodically, one can see strange shining green spheres in the sky, which the locals call ???cat??s paws,??? or triangular beam-like apparitions called ???cat??s ears,??? not to mention the famous ???Zhiguli mirages,??? where images of ancient cities, temples, and fortresses seem to appear out of nowhere. Some people attribute these phenomena to UFOs??¦
The village of Gavrilovsky, Samara Region, hosts the ???Galloping in the Steppe??? horse-back riding celebration. The idea for this holiday first originated with the famous writer Leo Tolstoy: he owned a nearby estate back in the 19th century. For three decades now, annual amateur folk-singing festivals have been held on the banks of the Mastryukov Lakes near Samara. Fans of folk music from around Russia and abroad flock to this site for several days of camping, sitting around bonfires with friends and listening to folk singers play popular favourites accompanied by the guitar. The best part of the festival is its closing all-night concert: a guitar-like raft sets sail on the water and becomes a makeshift stage. Listeners take their seats right at the Volga??s steep river bank, and thousands of electric torches are lit. Everyone joins in the festivities together with the folk artists, and on that night the river bank is called ???Singing Hill.???
The gigantic Volga Automotive Plant (VAZ) that produces LADAs, reliable and inexpensive cars preferred by the majority of Russians, is located in Togliatti. The city was named after an Italian communist hero Palmiro Togliatti in 1964. Before then this 300-year-old city was called Stavropol-on-the-Volga. Interestingly, the oldest parts of the city are now under the water of man-made reservoir that was formed during the construction of the Volga Dam in the 1950??s.
Despite being a large industrial center, Togliatti has no pollution problems: it is surrounded by large forests with abundant wildlife. Here you can see moose, roe deer, foxes, hares, and squirrels. Local legend has it that the pine forest that now marks the center of the city was planted in the first half of 19th century by French prisoners of war captured by the Russians after Napoleon??s defeat in 1812.
The Samara Region has over 160 museums. The open-air Museum of Technology in Togliatti is, perhaps, the most impressive of them. The museum covers 40 hectares (100 acres) and displays over 500 articles of technology, such as automobiles, steam locomotives, airplanes, and tanks. Many of the museum pieces are still in good working order. Very recently the museum??s collection acquired a 90-meter (300 foot) long diesel powered submarine that is taller than a 5-storey building and weighs 2800 tons. Bringing this giant here all the way from the Baltic Sea was a considerable challenge that required true mastery of navigating many canals and rivers. The last 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) of the journey, the gigantic vessel had to be dragged along a specially assembled metal surface. In the museum it was placed next to a long-range bomber plane.
Togliatti also has a very unusual and sentimental monument. It is a monument to a dog who waited 7 years to be reunited with his owners. The locals called the dog Kostya (short for Constantine, from the same root as the word ???constant???) or simply Verny (???the devoted one???). Kostya??s owners were killed in a car accident on the main highway in Southern Togliatti, but the dog miraculously survived. Since that tragic day, the dog never left the place of the accident, staying there till he died. A meter and a half (about 5 feet) tall bronze sculpture is placed near the road in such a way that the dog??s head seems to follow every passing car with an expression of great hope. The base of the monument has the word ???Devotion??? on it. A few years ago, this tragic story of a devoted canine became known to everyone in Russia. So, the citizens of Togliatti raised funds for the monument.
???Motherland??? statue, which stands on the highest point of Mamayev Kurgan, reaches 52 meters (171 feet)
- Volgograd, better known as Stalingrad, is the site of the most important battle of World War Two. Certainly, the two main monuments of the city are related to the war: the giant ???Motherland??? sculpture and the panoramic museum dedicated to the famous Battle of Stalingrad.
Mamayev kurgan (???Mamay??s Mound??) is the largest WW2 memorial complex in Europe. Its main monument is a symbolic statue called ???Motherland??, whose height including the piedmont and the sword is 83 m (over 272 feet) ?? 52 m (over 170 feet) without them ?? and its total weight is 7900 tons (17.4 mln lb). In comparison: the height of the Statue of Liberty in NYC including the piedmont and the torch is 93.5 m (307 feet) ?? 46.4 m (over 152 feet) without them ?? and its total weight is 254 tons (559,471 lb).
There are other monuments in the city as well, including the Church on the Waters, the ???Old Sarepta??? and ???Kazachy Kuren??? museums. The Volga gives plenty of excellent opportunities to have a good rest, with sources of therapeutic mineral water and sandy beaches for sun-tanning. Visitors may stay outside the city in small houses built in the 18th or 19th centuries, and enjoy the local food and rituals.
Astrakhan kremlinSturgeon ?? national treasure of RussiaDELTA OF THE RIVER
- The Astrakhan Region has been Russia??s ???fishing centre??? as far back as four centuries. Sturgeon, sterlet soup and black caviar are the area??s specialties. Astrakhan is called ???the capital of Caspian fisheries???: 90% of the world??s sturgeon-like fish species are caught here. Not only do the local fishermen know how to catch great amounts of fish, they also know how to process it so that the result is fish of superior quality and taste.
Sturgeon-like fish are Russia??s national wealth. In order to keep the number of fish on a stable level, eight fish hatcheries are operating in the Astrakhan Region today. Catching these priceless fish independently is forbidden by law, but catch-and release fishing is common here. The caught trophies are weighed, the proud fisherman takes pictures with his treasure, and then releases the fish back into the river. Astrakhan fishing is the number one lure for tourists who wish to try their luck, but the larger area of the Volga Delta is considered a natural reserve where only licensed persons are permitted to fish.
During the months of September to November, tourists visit the delta to hunt waterfowl: over 78 species of birds dwell here, including ducks, geese, pintails, teals, bald-coots, etc. During the winter, wolf-hunting is permitted, though it is an expensive pleasure that requires a helicopter.
In the delta of Volga, you can see vast fields of blooming lotus
- The Volga Delta is one of the best places to fish in Russia ?? hence the nickname of the area: the ???24-hour bite.??? Fifty-six species of fish dwell here, allowing one to choose from a wide selection: fish can be eaten fresh in the summer, or salted and smoked for the winter. The largest siluri and various kinds of carp in Russia, including 300-kilogramme husos, can be caught in the Astrakhan Region. Tourist accommodations vary greatly, with choices ranging from boat hotels and camp grounds to summer houses along the river bank. Hunting and fishing cruises on small ships are also offered.
Near the Volga Delta, on the border between Russia and Kazakhstan and in the bays of the Caspian Sea, one can find a plant of amazing beauty, the lotus. Ship cruises are specifically organized for the time period when the flowers blossom so that tourists can enjoy a fantastic view of lotus fields for as far as the eye can see.
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