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No. 4, 2012

Igor Veshny


In the center of the Eastern European plain, at the confluence of the two great Oka and Volga rivers, lies one of Russia's most beautiful cities - Nizhny Novgorod. The city, which was founded in 1221 by Prince Georgy Vsevolodovich of Vladimir and Suzdal, remained until the 17th century a fortress town, Russia's frontier stronghold in its multiple wars with its neighbors.

For several centuries, this outpost took many blows from Finno-Ugric tribes and Tartars, frequently being destroyed, burned down and rising like a Phoenix from the ashes. That is why the oldest monuments here date back only to the second half of the 17th century. The city has a total of over 600 unique historical, architectural and cultural monuments, the main one being the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin. It is located in an exceptionally beautiful spot, stretching across a steep cliff, right by where the Oka and the Volga join together. The southern part of the Kremlin is at the top of the hill, while the northern part runs along the banks of the Volga, and the eastern and western parts go down the sides of the hill like a huge stone staircase.

The stone Kremlin, an outstanding example of Russian fortification art, was erected at the beginning of the 16th century, when Nizhny Novgorod was a reliable support for Moscow in its struggle for the great river artery. Twelve of the thirteen Kremlin towers still remain to this day, and part of the fortress walls has already disappeared over time. These walls at that time enclosed a multitude of churches, but the only one left is the Archangel Michael Cathedral, originally built before the mid-16th century and rebuilt between 1628 and 1631. This is the oldest extant Kremlin building. The Cathedral contains the tomb of Kozma Minin, a Russian national hero and one of the organisers of the Zemskoye Opolcheniye (Land Militia) formed in 1611-1612 to fight against the Polish and Swedish intervention during what was called the Time of Troubles, period of profound crisis of the Russian state in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Four hundred years ago, in 1612, Nizhny Novgorod was where the people's militia gathered under Kozma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky to rid the country of the invaders. There is a monument to the heroes in the city center, at the precise place where Minin stood to call on the people of Nizhny Novgorod to liberate Moscow from the aggressors. This is a modern copy of the original monument standing in Red Square in Moscow. Its creation was a kind of historical justice: after all, it was originally intended to raise the monument in Nizhny Novgorod, the city where the people's militia actually came into being.

The second half of the 17th and the 18th centuries were a golden area for Nizhny Novgorod. Shipbuilding wharfs were opened; crafts flourished, as did trade, thanks to the proximity of the Makarevskaya fair. In fact, that was the time when the famous Khokhloma was born in the Nizhny Novgorod area - decorated wooden dishes famed throughout the world.

In 1722, on the way to the Persian campaign, it was in Nizhny Novgorod that Peter the Great celebrated his 50th birthday. Then began the city's historical rise, until it became the Nizhny Novgorod Vicegerency.

The beginning of the 19th century made trade and industrial Nizhny Novgorod also the cultural center of the Volga region. Decisive for Nizhny Novgorod was transfer of the Makarevskaya Fair to the village of Kunavino, which was close to and is now part of the city. The Nizhny Novgorod fair soon became one of the biggest in Europe, changing both the appearance of Nizhny Novgorod and the way of life of its people and giving Nizhny Novgorod the unofficial status of "Russia's third capital."

In 1851, Russia's first iron barges were built at the Sormovo Plant here. It very soon became one of the biggest industrial facilities in the country, producing barges and tugs, marine schooners, and ship boilers and, in 1871, Russia's first two-deck passenger ship left the company's slipways.

The Nizhny Novgorod Guberniya was at the forefront of many industries. For instance, in the 1870s, close to Nizhny Novgorod, in the small town of Balakhna, the entrepreneur Viktor Ragozin built the world's first plant producing mineral lubricant oils out of oil residue. Ragozin's oils were rightly recognized as the best in the world at many international exhibitions at the end of the 19th century.

Many outstanding Russian people have come from the Nizhny Novgorod region, including the eminent Russian 18th century inventor Ivan Kulibin, the great Russian mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky, author of the 11-volume History of the Russian State Nikolai Karmazin, the writer Maxim Gorky, the engineer Rostislav Alexeyev, who built the world's first hydrofoil and hovercraft, the legendary pilots Pyotr Nesterov and Valery Chkalov. By the way, the monument to Chkalov in Nizhny Novgorod stands by the Kremlin's Georgievskaya tower, on Minin and Pozharsky Square. This is one of the places most beloved by the townspeople and visitors alike, with its magnificent view of the Volga and the meadows beyond. From this viewing platform, Russia's biggest staircase, with 560 steps, leads down to the Volga.

In the early 20th century, active construction began of the city's industrial zone: the Gorky Automobile Plant (GAZ) opened its gates and the Sormovo shipbuilding factory was reconstructed. During World War II, Nizhny Novgorod was the center for the aviation and machine building: during the War, the GAZ plant made as many artillery pieces as were produced in aggregate by all Germany's plants. After the War, Gorky became a "closed city."

From 1932 through 1990, the city bore the name of Gorky. At the turn of the 21st century, many traditions lost in Soviet times were revived, the Nizhny Novgorod Fair came back to life, ancient churches and monasteries were re-opened. In our day, the "Volga capital," one of Russia's most beautiful cities, joyfully welcomes visitors from all over the world.

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Oil of Russia, No. 4, 2012
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