Runaway serfs, paupers, and dissidents settled the Rostov Region in the fifteenth century. This motley crew eventually became collectively known as the Don Cossaks, named for the major river of the region. They were to remain troublesome for the government for many centuries to come. It was the Don Cossaks who led the peasant rebellions of the 17th and 18th centuries and who helped lead one of the bitterest White Army offensives during the Civil War. Ironically, however, they were also one of the best fighting units for the government, participating in wars against the Turks and the Swedes, to name a couple.
Their independent and creative culture is today a fascinating subject of study for historians, archeologists, and others. The town began with the Temernic Custom House in 1749, but grew around the fortress erected in 1761 and named for St. Dmitri of Rostov. Officially chartered in 1797, it was renamed Rostov-na-Donu to distinguish it from the older city of Rostov in northern Russia. It grew rapidly after the opening of its port in 1834, which serves both the Don River and the Sea of Azov, and was a major grain-exporting center throughout the 19th century. Its position as a center for trade between European Russia and the Caucasus area also gave it the name "Gateway to the Caucasus."
The city is also still a center for culture, tradition, and folklore. Heavily damaged in WWII, it was largely rebuilt afterwards with in grand soviet style. Today the city is known for warm weather and massive architecture and monuments. Pushkinski Bulvar is littered with monuments to the poet. Also, the Rostov region is the native land of Anton Chekhov and Mikhail Sholokhov, winner of the Noble Prize for Literature. Perhaps despite their size and occasional ultra-modernity, the monuments and architecture of the city remain pleasing, a reminder that Communism was attempting (at least theoretically) to build the future of mankind as mankind then saw it. Now Rostov-na-Donu is a city of over 1 million people and a center for science, education, and industry.
Generally speaking, the inhabitants here are quite friendly but speak very little English, offering the opportunity for an excellent experience of full Russian immersion.
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