City Guide: Samara, Russia
Discover Sun, Sand, and Surf On the Banks of the River Volga
Located in Russia's southeastern territories, 53°14´N 50°10´E, the city of Samara boasts a population of approximately 160,000,000.
Samara, known as Kuybyshev from 1935 to 1991, lies on the banks of the Volga River. Founded in 1586 as a defensive outpost, it soon developed into a major trading center for the whole of the Volga region in Russia's southeastern territories, and today is noted for its contributions to industry, including the automotive industry, railroad equipment manufacturing, and the aerospace industry. It is also central to the European Russian transportation network.
An Eye for History
Samara was founded in 1536 as a defensive port. It rapidly developed into a center for trade due to its central location in the Volga region. The principle trading was for grain, but as the industrial capacity of Russia and the rest of the world continued to develop, Samara became a center for the production of motor vehicles, chemicals, candies, and metals. It was also, during the Cold War, an important location for the aerospace industry. It was a closed city through most of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
During World War II, Stalin named Samara the provincial capital of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1943. Moscow was under siege by the Germans and at risk of being occupied. Evidence of Samara's significance during wartime resonates in the remains of Stalin's Bunker, now a museum.
In 1941, sworn to complete secrecy, a team of more than 500 metro builders from Moscow were brought to Samara to construct a bunker, a shaft 8-meters in diameter and 37-meters deep, leading down to the entrance. If it were not so difficult to get into, this Bunker would certainly be Samara's most popular tourist attraction, although Stalin himself never used it. Inside the bunker, perfectly in tack, is a conference hall, a number of offices for the leaders of the Kremlin, a number of living rooms, and a dining room.
Out and About
While Samara isn't the best town for so called "hardcore" sightseers, there is plenty of interest within the city limits. A stroll up and down the city streets can be rewarding by itself; many are lined with old-fashioned wooden houses and spotted with the occasional scenic park.
Places of interest are:
- Ploshchad Slavy and the Monument of Glory
The Ploshchad Slavy is Samara's official memorial to World War II. The memorial square offers by far the best views of the Volga. The Monument of Glory, located in the same area, is a testament to the contribution of Samara's aviation workers during World War II. Note the wings on the 13ft figure standing atop the 40ft pedestal.
- St George Cathedral
By the north-eastern corner of Ploshchad Slavy is the small but appealing cathedral dedicated to St George. Built in 2001, the cathedral structure seen today was constructed to honor the original cathedral that stood on the site, which was destroyed during the Communist era. Entrance to the church is free.
- Iversky Women's Monastery, Volzhsky Prospekt, #1.
This impressive monastery was founded in 1850 and housed as many as 500 nuns. Facing the Volga, the building includes several chapels, a 70 meter belfry, and accommodation for a considerable number. Much of the structure was created during the late 19th and early 20th century, although the monastery was officially closed in 1925 so that the building could be used to house workers from the Zhigulevsky Brewery, which is across the street.
The monastery reopened in 1991 and has undergone considerable refurbishment and redecoration since.
- The Alabin Samara Regional History Museum, Frunze Ul., #159.
Tel: 233-2498. Open Tues-Sun 10-18
The largest and most comprehensive museum in Samara, the Alabin Samara Regional history Museum contains displays on just about everything that has a connection to Samara and the surrounding Volga regions; everything from dinosaur bones found in the area to the World War II efforts and the workers of the Soviet era.
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