Astrakhan region: a torrid story in the Volga delta

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Main facts:

  • Administrative center: Astrakhan

  • Federal District: South Russia

  • Language(s): Russian, Kazakh

  • Population: 1,014,065

  • Timezone: UTC+4

  • Main religions: Orthodoxy, Islam

Top 10 attractions:

Sights map of Astrakhan region

Travel around Astrakhan region

There are places in Russia that are so deserted and endless that it seems as if a person’s foot has never stepped here. Here tens and hundreds of kilometers follow each other in the flat landscape of the steppe, which periodically gives way to sand dunes and salty estuaries. Everywhere you look, from the horizon to the horizon there will be the same picture: the endless hills under the scorching sun, the warm wind blowing from everywhere and the silence ringing in the ears. This will appear before the eyes of the traveler in Astrakhan region - the edge of the wide steppes, free nomads and the incredible identity reflected in the milestones of its history.

The Caspian Depression where the Astrakhan region is located is a very sloping and arid region, where rare clay soils alternate with endless sands and salt marshes. Wormwood grows everywhere here, and only in the lands adjacent to the Volga there are forest thickets and dense vegetation. The Volga River, which after Astrakhan spreads into the widest delta in Eurasia and flows into the Caspian Sea, is the main resource of life in these lands, around which many interesting and entertaining events took place that influenced the course of not only Russian, but also world history. So, it was on the banks of the Volga in the XVIII-X centuries of our era that the capital of the Khazar Khaganate existed, one of the main states in western and middle Asia. It was here that the Polovtsi folk settled, who committed devastating raids to the south and the Volga regions of Russia, which were then suppressed by Khan Batu and his Tatar-Mongols. Not far from Astrakhan, near the village Selitrennoye was the capital of the Golden Horde - the city of Sarai-Batu. During the heyday of the Khanate, it was a huge metropolis where more than 75,000 people lived, and its length along the Volga was more than 10 km! Russian princes came here for the jarligs, and it was from here that the history of the exaltation of the Grand Duchy of Moscow began, which subsequently united their lands into the Russian Empire. When at the beginning of the 14th century, Khan Uzbek proclaimed Islam the main religion of the Golden Horde, this caused a huge number of protests that led to many years of turmoil and a succession of changes of rulers in the state. This unrest ended after Khan Tokhtamysh, with the support of the great Timur, defeated all his rivals at the end of the 14th century and destroyed the capital Saray-Batu. Nowadays, only a small reconstruction reminds of the once great city.

When Khan Mamai entered into direct conflict with the Grand Duchy of Moscow and lost, Khan Tokhtamysh defeated his troops in 1380 after defeating the Battle of Kulikovo and, as a result, reunited the Golden Horde. But the thirst for power and the excitement of victories led him to revolt against his former ally Timur. Attacking the ancient fortress of Derbent, Tokhtamysh signed a death sentence for himself - Timur completely defeated his troops in the Battle of the Terek River, and then plundered and destroyed most of the Golden Horde. As a result, Horde collapsed, after that the Siberian Khanate, the Uzbek and Kazakh Khanate were formed, and later the Kazan and Crimean Khanate arose. Subsequently, they were also destroyed either by Timur, or by Kalmyks, or Volga Cossacks and other opponents.

Thus ended the history of the Golden Horde, but not the history of the Astrakhan region. After the collapse of the Horde, the Astrakhan Khanate emerged with a new capital in the city of Astrakhan, which began to establish trade relations with neighboring states. It traded with Bukhara, Kazan and even with Moscow (mainly traded salt from the numerous salt flats and Lake Baskunchak). However, after the capture of Kazan and the betrayal of the friendship of the Astrakhan Khanate, Tsar Ivan the Terrible decided to capture the Astrakhan Khanate, which happened in the summer of 1558 thanks to the Don Cossacks. From that moment on, Astrakhan became the outpost of the Russian state in the Volga delta: a high Kremlin was built here, trade relations with neighboring states began to improve, pottery production and fishery were developed.

But we must not forget - Astrakhan was located thousands of kilometers from the capital of the Moscow state, and the power of the center here was largely symbolic. Freemen from all over the country flocked here, along with fugitive peasants and robbers of all stripes, and therefore it is not surprising that it was the southern regions of Russia and the Volga region that became the springboard for numerous peasant revolts and Cossack uprisings. So, in the 17th century, Stenka Razin, an ataman of the Don Cossacks, was hosted here and delivered a lot of trouble to the royal court. He went on his trips down the Caspian and up the Volga up to Volgograd (previuosly Tsaritsyn) and Samara, seizing fortresses along the way and plundering merchant ships. In his army there were many peasants who suffered from strong serfdom, and therefore it is not surprising that he received great support from the people (some consider him a hero even today!). In 1670, after an unsuccessful siege of Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), Stenka Razin was seriously injured and was taken out by his colleagues to the village of Kagalnitsky, which is near Rostov-on-Don. However, the local Cossacks, understanding the brunt of their responsibility, took the settlement and gave him to the royal troops. Thus ended the glorious life of Stenka Razin ... some talk that in various places on the Volga, also not far from Astrakhan, the innumerable golden treasures that he collected during his campaigns are still buried in the ground.

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In the 18th century, Peter the Great decided to make Astrakhan city the most important Russian city in trade with eastern countries, and therefore he joined many Volga cities (Volgograd, Samara, Saratov, and others) to the region, ordered to built here the Admiralty and to assemble the navy with Kazan Admiralty for his Persian campaigns. During this time, the lands of Dagestan and the fortress of Derbent, several khanates in the lands of Azerbaijan and Armenia and part of the territory of the Caucasus were annexed to Russia, but later this territories (except the Caucasus) were returned to Persia. During this time, the Kremlin was restored in Astrakhan, which became white-stone, the White City area and a number of water canals were built, which made Astrakhan another Russian city on the water after St. Petersburg ("Venice on the Volga river").

In the following decades, the Astrakhan province developed and flourished (with the exception of the period of the next peasant uprising under the leadership of Yemelyan Pugachev). Many military clashes did not occur here, as in the neighboring Caucasus, and thanks to the Volga, Russian and foreign merchants constantly brought goods from distant regions here. Meanwhile, the region has not become wealthy and rich, largely due to the difficult climatic conditions and insufficient state support. The main sources of income for the region are still cattle breeding (mainly sheep, but there are cows and camels too), agriculture on the flood lands near the Volga (famous Astrakhan watermelons), as well as salt extraction on the famous salt marshes and Baskunchak Lake.

As you can see, the history of the Astrakhan region is full of vivid and exciting events that greatly influenced its appearance and formed particular distinctive features. The multinational population practicing different religions has formed a unique climate of tolerance and inter-ethnic respect, which are difficult to meet even in Moscow. Free history defines the freedom-loving spirit of Astrakhan residents, who are broad-minded and, at the same time, always looking for opportunities for additional income. Finally, the amazing nature of the region amazes with its beauty and inspires pure thoughts and is worth to get to know it personally.