Archive

No. 3, 2012

Vladimir Rogov

FROM THE VENICE OF THE VOLGA TO THE GATES OF THE CASPIAN


The Astrakhan Region spreads far and wide across the low-lying flatland of the Caspian Depression, covering an area of more than forty thousand square kilometers. This area borders to the north and northwest on the Volgograd Region, to the east on Kazakhstan, to the west on the Republic of Kalmykia, and to the south is washed by the waters of the Caspian Sea.

The area currently occupied by the Astrakhan Region was known to olden-day historians several centuries B.C. Even Herodotus described the life of barbaric bellicose nomadic tribes who populated the Caspian regions. It is known that around the time of the birth of Christ, tribes of Alans, Huns, Avars, Khvalises, and so on took up residence in turn in the area, giving way to new nomads. In the 3rd century A.D., Khazars, a branch of a Turkish tribe that came from Altai, began settling in these lands. In the 8th-10th centuries, the area belonged to a powerful state known as the Khazar khaganate. Later other ferocious nomads, the Cuman people, settled there, who were replaced by the Mongol Tatars in the first half of the 13th century. The latter set up their own far-flung capital of Sarai-Batu (approximately 80 km to the north of the present-day city of Astrakhan near the village of Selitrennoye). The first written information about Astrakhan in fact dates back to the 13th century, when the village of Ashtarkhan was mentioned among the Tatar settlements.

In the 15th century, after the Tatar Golden Horde was weakened as a result of the internecine wars, it was succeeded by the Astrakhan khanate, which used to be a small vassal of the Sarai Golden Horde. For about a century after this, the Astrakhan territory was an arena of internecine wars among the Nogais, Crimean Tatars, and Circassians, whereby the city of Astrakhan was invariably subjected to terrible destruction from which it barely recovered. Nevertheless, from as far back as ancient times, important trade routes passed through the territory of the present-day Astrakhan region. In 1558, the Astrakhan khanate was joined to the Russian state and the Astrakhan region became an important southeast military and trade outpost of the Russian state.

In the 1580s, a stone Astrakhan Kremlin "modeled after the Moscow Kremlin" was built at the site of the motte-and-bailey structure. Subsequently, it repeatedly withstood the onslaught of the enemy and became one of the best fortresses of medieval Russia. Only in 1670 was the fortress seized by uprising Cossacks and peasants led by legendary ataman Stepan Razin.

In the 17th century, trade, fishing, and salt-works underwent tempestuous development in the Astrakhan region. Under Peter I in the first quarter of the 18th century, a powerful naval fleet, admiralty, wharf, and port were created in Astrakhan. Incidentally, this was when one of the city's nicknames arose ‒ the Venice of the Volga, first due to its commercial significance, second owing to its picturesqueness, and finally because it almost had as many bridges as St. Petersburg and Moscow themselves.

In the 1860s, the Astrakhan port became one of the largest in the country, which was directly related to the development of the oil fields in Baku.

Today, the region is one of the largest centers in the country in shipbuilding, cellulose and paper manufacture, and the fish-processing industry.

The fuel industry is the key branch in the Astrakhan region. This is where Astrakhanskoye, the largest gas condensate field in the European part of Russia, is situated.  LUKOIL's development of oil and gas reservoirs on the shelf of the Northern Caspian is a new page in the history of the power industry in the Astrakhan region. The Russian company's high environmental standards, implementation of the "zero discharge" principle, and its participation in special programs to restore fish supplies guarantee preservation of the area's beautiful natural environment.

The countryside is particularly spectacular in the Volga River Delta where the Astrakhan Nature Reserve is situated. It boasts unique landscapes, one of the preserve's main attractions being the picturesque valley of lotuses. The magnificent pink lotus flowers are one of the symbols of the Astrakhan region.



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