Russia’s territory stretches across the entire vast Eurasian continent from end to end. The geographical border between Europe and Asia runs along the eastern face of the Ural Mountains which extend over 2,000 kilometres from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the steppes of Northern Kazakhstan in the south, marking off the Ciscaucasian, or so-called “European” part of Russia from Western Siberia.
Both the name of the region and the determination of its borders have changed with time. Medieval geographers named the area the “Stone Belt,” while Russian pioneers simply called it “Stone.” It wanot until the 17th century that the term “Urals” was coined to demarcate the entire territory including the ural Mountains themselves and the area surrounding them. The Bashkirs, one of the indigenous peoples of this region, have a legend of the heroic giant Ural who sacrificed his life for the happiness of his people. Later, they formed a burial mound over his grave, from which the mountains sprang.
The Urals are an ancient land on which the histories of various tribes and peoples were played out. The archaeological complex in the Chelyabinsk Region known as Arkaim, or “land of cities,” dates back to the Bronze Age and is six times older than Troy. Today, this site is a place of pilgrimage for many scholars and tourists from around the world. Archaeologists are convinced that this was the very place where the first horses were domesticated, where the first two-wheel chariots were built, where the first bronze forgeries were erected – Arkaim is birthplace of one of the world’s most ancient civilizations. On the Ural territory, one may find many beautiful and secret caves. Wall drawings from the Palaeolithic Age were found in the Kapovaya Cave. The Kungur ice cove bewilders one with its naturally formed ice-lace and amazing crystals, as well as its underground lakes, stalactites and stalagmites.
Thousands of travelers are attracted by the beautiful sites and monuments in the Ural area, such as the “Pechora-Ilych” Nature Reserve, where one can hand-feed the elk, or “Yugyd-Va” (“Clear Water”) National Nature Park in the Subpolar Urals. The area is also famous for its skiing centres, such as Abzakovo, Zavyalikha, Gora Yezhovaya (“Hedgehog Mountain”) and Ozero Bannoye (“Bathing Lake”), situated near the industrial city of Magnitogorsk which is famous for its gems and non-ferrous ores.
The “capital” of the Urals is considered to be Yekaterinburg, where over 1.3 million people reside. This major industrial centre is famous for being the site of one of the most tragic events in modern Russian history: the Bolsheviks executed the entire family of Nicholas the Second, the last Russian emperor, on July 17, 1918.
The Ural territory is a place of eternal snows and tundra, age-old taiga and steppes, quiet lakes and rapid rivers. One of the most interesting tourist routes is a trip along the 592 kilometer long Chusovaya River which flows from Asia to Europe. Sights to see along the way include 100 metre high stone rocks, from whose summit one can take in the beautiful view of the surrounding landscape.
From olden times, the Urals have been famous for their unique mineral treasure trove: there is hardly an elementin Mendeleyev’s table that could not be found here. Ural copper was used for the Statue of Liberty in New York City, and malachite Hall of the Winter Palace (Hermitage) and the columns of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. The Ural area is also renowned for its resorts and mountain skiing centres. The town of Ust-Kachka in the Perm Region is built near curative mineral water springs.
In the middle of the 19th century, a “gold fever” epidemic hit the valley of the Miass River several years before the same sickness took hold of the Alaska residents. It was exactly here that the biggest gold find of 36.2 kilogrammes was recorded on the territory of Russia. To this day, adventures still come to the area to try their luck and test their fate.
The Urals, especially the Chelyabinsk Region, is the motherland of talented craftsmen, such as stone-cutters, moulders, armour-makers and others. The town of Zlatoust is famous worldwide for its damask sabers decorated with unique ornaments. More than a century ago, the artistic iron-moulding of the town of Kasli was awarded a grand prix by the Worldwide Exhibition of Trade and Industry in Paris. Tourists enjoy taking these subtle iron-made figurines with them as in memory of the Urals, as well as malachite boxes and rings adorned with local gems.
Siberia is an image rather than a stric geographical notion. Many people, especially foreigners, consider Siberia everything that extends beyond the Ural Mountains eastward, i.e. the whole northern part of the Asian continent. For those who have never been out there, the cities, taiga, seas, rivers, lakes and swamps of that vast area merge into the traditional stereotypes of snow, frost wilderness and enormous distances.
In fact, Siberia is quite versatile. Its division into areas is rather tenuous: Western and Eastern Siberia, Altai, Tuva and Khakassia, the Sayans and the trans-Baikal area, yakutia and the Far North can be separated at certain various points. 5,000 kilometres from west to east, 3,000 kilometres from north to south, 10 million square kilometers, which make an area 18 times the size of France, – that is Siberia!
The first foreigners who came to Siberia were northern Russians. Their first towns were Obdorsk, Tyumen and Tobolsk, which grew from fortresses that emerged after the military campaigns of the Cossack leader Yermak in the second half of the 16th century.
This area is extraordinarily rich in natural resources but hasn’t yet been developed in many respects. It is as long as three centuries ago that Mikhail Lomonosov, a famous scientist and enlightener, foretold: “With Siberia will Russia’s might increase.” Oil, gas, wood, diamond, peltry, animal, fish and the purest fresh water reserves are found here; the world’s largest power stations are built on mighty Siberian rivers. Everything is vast in Siberia: the Ob, Irtysh, Yenisei, Angara and Lena rivers; the Altai and Sayan mountains; Baikal and Teletskoye lakes. The longer part of the Trans-Siberian Railroad built at the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th centuries goes through Siberia: its total length counts about 7,000 kilometres (from Chelyabinsk to Vladivostok).
The Siberian frost is also sort of local legend: sometimes the thermometer reaches – 40or even -50 C, so “a mere” -25 or -30 C, considered here to be a normal winter temperature, remains unnoticed by the local residents. Conversely, the summer in the south of Siberia is quite hot, up to 30 C. One can swim in local rivers and lakes, although their water stays cool: even in July it warms up to 18 C maximum. There are also artificial “seas” in Siberia which are the reservoirs of numerous hydroelectric stations. The cities of Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk, the largest ones in Siberia, are found in its southern part.