The City of Astrakhan: history and present time
Astrakhan is the administrative centre of Astrakhan region, which also includes 12 other districts and towns, situated in the southern-eastern part, 1534 kilometers away from Moscow. It is found in the Caspian lowlands, on the river Volga, in its highest point. In the west Astrakhan region borders on Kalmykiya, in the north - on Volgograd region, in the east - on Kazakhstan. The city is situated on 11 islands; occupied territory - 500 square kilometers - is divided into 4 districts.
The climate is continental and arid. Average temperature in January is -10 С, in July + 25 С. Annual precipitation is 230 millimeters in a year.
Here you can find the river and sea ports of the Volga-Caspian pond, transport junction of railway lines (towards Saratov, Kizlyar, Guriev) and freeways (towards Volgograd, Stavropol and other cities), international airport.
The population in January 01, 1999 is 488 thousand people (estimated according to the statistics data). High presence of different nationalities has become an Astrakhan historic peculiarity. In Astrakhan there are more than 100 nationalities, 14 living in peace with each other religious confessions, 17 national cultural societies, 155 public unions (associations). Over 150 minorities and ethnic groups are found in Astrakhan, among them: Russians - 82.0%, Tatars - 7.9%, Kazakhs - 3.0%, Ukrainians - 2.2%, Belorussians, Jews, Chechens, Armenians, Kalmyks - less than 1.0%, others - 2.9%.
Astrakhan is one of the oldest Russian towns. It has a long and interesting history. Being located at the north of the Caspian Sea, it stood on the Great Silk Way and played an important role connecting West and East. During many centuries Astrakhan and its region was the place, where different civilizations met. Many peoples inhabited the Lower Volga since the ancient sea had retreated.
In the thirteenth century a large trade centre – Sarai Batu – the capital of the Golden Horde – rose up in the Lower Volga. It attracted the merchants from the most far-away countries and was famous for its palaces.
The city of Hadzhy-Tarkhan, the centre of the Astrakhan Khanate, which had detached from the Golden Horde, rose up on the right bank of the Volga. It was the historical predecessor of Astrakhan. In different years it had different names: Ashtarkhan, Gitorkhan, Tsitrokhan. Such a variety of names still has no exact historical explanation, as well as the name of modern Astrakhan itself.
Originally Astrakhan was located on the right bank of the Volga, and only in the sixteenth century it was replaced onto the opposite bank, as the new place was more safe.
In 1558 a wooden citadel was erected on the left bank of the Volga. It was the starting point of Astrakhan. And soon the Kremlin was done of brick. It was being built since 1582 to 1589. The Kremlin in Astrakhan is righteously considered to be an outstanding monument of Russian architecture and fortification of the sixteenth century. Being the main place of interest in Astrakhan, the Kremlin hasn’t lost its spiritual significance. The ancient walls and towers of the Kremlin remind us of the glorious deeds of our ancestors.
The main adornment of the Kremlin is the Uspensky Cathedral erected in 1698-1710 by a surf architect Dorofei Myakishev who managed to embody in his stone masterpiece the idea of the spiritual strengthening of Russia. They say that when Peter I saw the Uspensky Cathedral he exclaimed that there was no other cathedral of such beauty in Russia and ordered to erect a similar cathedral in St. Petersburgh.
In June 1722 his Highness Peter I paid a visit to sunny Astrakhan. The Tsar was getting ready for a march to Persia and that was why he was personally interested in the fortification of the southern outpost of Russia. On his initiative the Caspian fleet was created in the mouth of the Volga. Long before the fleet was founded the first Russian military ship “Orel” was sent to Astrakhan to guard the trade routes.
The historic name of the great Russian Commander Suvorov A.V. is also connected with the fortification of Astrakhan where he stayed during 2 years.
The representatives of the most noble Russian families were the Voivodes of Astrakhan in different years: the Obolenskys, the Trubetskys, the Odoevskys... Peter the Great himself did a lot for the development of the city: by his decree a shipyard and the Admiralty were built here, the Garden Office and “The Tsar’s Poultry-Yard” were opened.
The history of the city and its sight are inseparable, and one can easily guess the outlines of ancient times in the modern city.
At the beginning of the twentieth century Astrakhan was a well-known cultural centre with rich musical and theatrical traditions. There were lots of clubs and Societies of Culture here. Educated people appreciated literature and were keenly interested in the world stars: Fyodor Shalyapin, Maria Ermolova, Vera Komissarzhevskaya performed on the stages of Astrakhan theatres.
People coming to Astrakhan were often surprised at the great number of wooden houses, so uncommon for the steppes and half-deserts. Astrakhan was famous for its wood-working industry and a lot of timber was floated down the Volga. Russian tower architecture was to be observed in the streets of the city. Skilful craftsmen decorated the houses with masterfully carved ornaments.
The architectural style of modern Astrakhan with a lot of historical buildings makes it possible to call the city a historical museum under the open sky. It’s not by chance that Astrakhan is mentioned in the list of historical cities of Russia. Astrakhan was a large trade centre where Russia encountered the East: Indian, Persian and Armenian merchants erected their commercial town houses here. The city also attracted nomadic inhabitants of the steppes. One was amazed at the intricate interwoven sound ornament of different languages sounding in Astrakhan streets and markets.
Astrakhan is a frontier city - the southern gates of Russia. It is situated on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, which make it a commercial and transport center. Astrakhan is a large river and seaport. The main waterway of the country, the Volga, flows through Astrakhan and connects it with the Black, Baltic, Northern and Mediterranean seas. All these advantages made the city of Astrakhan a linking point for the goods coming from India and Iran to Europe.
The Astrakhan State Reserve is located in the delta of the Volga river. It is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the country, founded in 1919. Flora and fauna of Astrakhan region is unique. Various species of fish, birds and animals can be found here. Among them are Dalmatian pelican, mute swan, pheasant, sturgeons and others.
Astrakhan, presented by its Mayor, Igor Bezrukavnikov, the first mayor being elected by voting, focuses its attention on the international and transfrontier cooperation activities. The main priority is to form the international and legal status of the Caspian sea, to search for foreign partners and contracts for Astrakhan enterprises, attraction of foreign investments, increasing of external trade transit cargo through the Astrakhan port.
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