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REGIONS & CITIES  / EUROPEAN RUSSIA (CENTRAL)  / NIZHNY NOVGOROD


"If St. Petersburg is Russia's head, then Moscow is its heart
and Nizhny Novgorod, its pocketbook."

- 19th century proverb

Originally founded in 1221 as a military outpost by the Grand Prince Yuri, the city center sits surrounded by high walls atop steep cliffs overlooking the confluence of the Volga and the Oka Rivers. The city's main value, however, would not be military. During the first two centuries of its existence, the city was burned and sacked at least seven times by various tribes and invaders. The motive for this violence, of course, was the city's fabulous wealth. Its central position within the important Volga region and along the two rivers, along important trade routes (which indirectly connected Baghdad, Europe, and Asia), its status as a religious and political center, as well as, perhaps most importantly, the enterprising spirit of its populous meant that city was host to substantial wealth.

With each destruction, the city was rebuilt and today stands as a compact city of centuries-old commercial buildings, river ports, churches, mosques, and a 16th century kremlin. As a cosmopolitan city of wealth, it also became an important education and cultural center, which also continues to this day, evident in the many universities, institutes, theatres, museums, and oddly numerous bookstores within Nizhny Novgorod. In the 18th century, it was the most prosperous trade center in Europe.

The Soviets renamed the city "Gorky" in 1932, in honor of the great author and official Communist favorite, Maxim Gorky, who was born there. Under Soviet rule, the city also became an important industrial center for military technology, with some plants growing purposely around churches and mosques which were then usurped by the enterprises to serve as storage sheds for materials and equipment. The city was soon "closed," meaning that the city was off-limits to foreigners and tightly restricted for communications and for Russians wishing to enter or leave. With this status, Nizhny Novgorod became also a city of exile for such high-profile dissidents as physicist and humanitarian Andrey Sakarhov.

Today, having regained its original name and lost its closed status, Nizhny Novgorod is noted as a model city in the revitalization of Russia and the transformation back to a market economy. The Volga still hosts two-thirds of Russia's overland transport, and the city and region remain an important industrial, political and cultural center. The great number of historical, architectural and cultural monuments remaining in the city (most of which are now being restored), recently prompted UNESCO to include Nizhny Novgorod in the list of 100 cities constituting world historical and cultural value.

 

Thinking about a short trip to Nizhny Novgorod?

Why to Go There: Known as Russia’s “third capital,” for it’s long-standing economic importance. It was the first city to privatize industries after communism and is today one of the most prosperous per capita in Russia. Also: the birthplace of writer Maxim Gorky and the town of internal exile for famed dissident Andrey Sakharov. Both men have special museums here now.

Budget: A couple of days and about 3000 ru ($100)

How to Get There: Trains leave regularly from the Kurski Railroad Station (at the Kurskaya Metro stop).  You may buy tickets there.

Sample Itinerary: You may choose to purchase night train tickets to and from the city. This will give you a full day in Nizhny, without the expense of a hotel. If you do chose to stay overnight, we recommend you make reservations in advance. For help on this, or for other questions, you may contact us. What you chose to see in Nizhny Novgorod will depend on your tastes: there are varied sites here related to Russian literature (Gorky - see esp. the museum of literature), military history, dissidents, etc. We recommend that you allot time to take in the beautiful Kremlin and to walk its historic ramparts, Also, see Bl. Pokrovskaya (the commercial and cultural center of the city), and the Alexadrovsky Gardens (which offer spectacular views of the Volga). Other interesting sites include river cruises of the Volga (the boat station is near the Kremlin) and the grand staircase which leads up the hill from the Volga, built in celebration at the end of WWII.

Notes: Yes, Novgorod and Nizhny Novgorod are separate towns (and very different). “Nizhny” means “lower,” so named because it is further south than Novgorod. There are many different transliterations of “Nizhny” including “Nizhni,” “Nizhney,” “Nizhnii,” etc. But they are the same place. The Soviets renamed the city Gorky, and it is still referred to by this name, although officialy the old name of Nizhny Novgorod has been restored.

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The Staircase

Former Communist Party HQ - now the Chamber of Commerce

Monument to Gorky at Sunset

A Balalika Player at the Kremlin

Train from Moscow: 8 Hours     Plane from Moscow: 3 Hours
Population: 1.5 million