Volga, The town of Ostashkov is located on the shore of Lake Seligher. From afar, it seems that it is floating right on the water .The first mention of the town in old manuscripts was in 1371 – its earlier name was Klichen. Residents of Ostashkov were tradionally fishermen, skinners, shoemakers and blacksmiths. Excursion ships 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 this tiny beautiful island.
Winding its way through numerous lakes and swamps 100 kilometres to the north of Moscow, the Volga absorbs waters of small and medium-sized rivers on the Valdai Plateau and flows through the towns of Kalyazin, Myshkin, Tutayev, Rybinsk, Ouglich, yaroslavl, Kostroma, Plyos and other old towns of the Golden Ring, which 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 the belltower of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas (1800) which dominates the part of the town flooded during the construction of the Ouglich 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.
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 tranquility and the spirit of antiguity that reigns there. The area study museum, which houses over a thousand exhibits 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 river ways and railroads. From 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.
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 of the 100 cities of world importance. The city has often been called “the pocket of Russia” because many wealth merchants and skilled craftsmen lived there, and its profitable geographic position turned it into the largest centre of trade and industry in Russia. Many types of goods were arriving in Nizhny Novgorod from the East and all over Russia, and the Nizhny Novgorod Fair, which has been around for several centuries, is one of the events that glorified the town as the trade capital of Russia.
The Nizhny Novgorod Region is well known for its unique folk crafts, and tourists flock here to see and purchase nesting dolls, decorative paintings on wood (in the towns of Gorodets, Khokhloma and Semyonov), metal works (in the town of pavlovo), filigree works (in the town of Kazakov) and lace-making (in the town of Balakhna) among others.
Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, is the centre of the Islamic Community in Russia. Near Kazan is Bulgar, a settlement where the Tartars founded their state and adopted Islam, which disappeared in the 15th century. More and more foreigners visit Bulgar every year, and pilgrims to this site attract not only Muslim but also Russian Orthodox believers. Other sights of Kazan are the Kremlin (constructed in the 16th -18th centuries), the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul (18th century), the Mosque of Mardjani (18th century), the Kazan University campus (19th century), among others. The village of Sviyazhsk and the town of Yelabuga show the remains of fortified settlements of an ancient tribe of the Volga (1st millennium A.D.).
Suumbeke Tower is the most interesting architectural monument which became a symbol of Kazan. Supposedly, it was built in the second half of the 16th century and has many legends related to it. One of the them tells about Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who learned about the heavenly beauty of Suumbeke, a widowed Tartar queen. He made her an offer to become a tsarina in Moscow but she refused him, leading to the Russians making war on Kazan. Not wanting to be the cause of bloodshed, Suumbeke agreed to marry the brutal tsar, but made one condition: a tower higher than all of the minarets in the city had to be erected within a week. This was to be her wedding gift and, miraculously, the tower was indeed erected. During the wedding feast, the brie expressed her wish to look down upon her native city from the top of the tower due to her imminent departure to Moscow. She went up to the very top floor and suddenly threw herself down, together with her baby. After witnessing the tragedy, Ivan the Terrible destroyed Kazan completely.
It is also very interesting to visit some of the other indigenous peoples of the Volga area, including the Chuvash, Mordovians and Volga German communities. One can participate in their national festivals, such as kurban-bayram, sabantuy, kirkhi-syra (a beer festival taking place in the autumn), kazeh-meseh (a traditional Tartar goose festival), mostorovan-morot (a festival of Mordovian folklore), akatuy (a Chuvash festival), among others.
By crossing the Volga on a small ship, 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 metres and stretches for 75 kilometres along the right bank of the Samara Bend. Pine forests, stony steppes and watery meadows can be found all along here, and some coves contain huge reservoirs of crystal clear water. When in Zhiguli, one can enjoy canoeing on the Volga or hiking and riding along it. 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 greed spheres in the sky, which the locals call “cat’s paws”, or triangular beam-like apparitions called â€œcatâ€™s ears,â€ 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.
Samara is one of the five cities on the Volga with populations of more than one million residents and has the longest embankment along the Volga Many tourists visit Samara for the chance to see the 37 metre deep Salinâ€™s bunker (the deepest of the World War Two declassified sites), taste of Zhugulyovskoye, Russiaâ€™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.
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.”
Saratov, one of the largest cities on the Volga, stands on the river’s right bank. During the 17th – 18th centuries, the bloody peasant uprisings led by Stepan Razin (1630-1671) and Yemelian Pugachyov (1742-1775) occurred here. The history of Saratov cannot be separated from that of the English, French, Belgian, German and other European peoples who inhabited the city. This cultural conglomerate gave an electric flavour to the city’s architecture. Many palaces and administrative buildings of the 19th and early 20th centuries have been preserved in the centre of the city; their styles can be described mainly as “provincial Art Nouveau,” “pseudo-Gothic” and “Moscow Baroque”.
A few kilometers away from Saratov is the village of Smelovka, where Yuri Gagarin, the first man in s pace, landed on April 12, 1961 after his historical cosmic journey. Right across from Saratov is the city of Engels, named after Friedrich Engels, the closest friend and colleague of Karl Marx, who both wrote and published The Communist Party Manifest in 1848 and thus became the founders of the communism theory.
The Astrakhan Region has been Russia’s “fishing centre” going as far aback as four centuries. Sturgeon, starlet soup and black caviar are the area’s specialities, and Astrakhan itself is called “the capital of Caspian fishers”: 90% of the world’s sturgeon-like fish species are produced here. Not only do the fishermen know how to catch great amounts of fish here but they also now how to process it, so that the result is a 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 sport fishery and illegal fishing are 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 do so. 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. In winter, wolf-hunting is permitted, though it is an expensive pleasure that requires a helicopter.
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 which can be eaten fresh in the summer or salted and smoked in the winter. The largest siluri and various kinds of carp in Russia, including 300 kilogramme husos, can be hooked in the Astrakhan Region. Conditions for 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 offered as well.
Near the Volga Delta on the border between Russia and Kazakhstan, one can find a plant of amazing beauty, the lotus, in the bays of the Caspian Sea. Ship cruises are specifically organized for the time period when the flowers blossom so that the tourists can enjoy a fantastic view of lotus fields for as far as the eye can see.