History of Nizhny Novgorod Region

From the very start, Nizhny Novgorod has played an important part in the history of the Russian state, constituting a significant and colorful part of the Volga region. No history of any period of the Russian state, from Kievan Rus’, through the era of Muscovite rule, to the Communist period, would be complete without the involvement of people from the province. The region was a stronghold of patriotism, a powerful center of trade and enterprise, the birthplace of many famous Russian industries and a cradle of the natural sciences and culture.

Every Russian knows the names of Ivan Kulibin, Kuz’ma Minin, Valery Chkalov and Maksim Gorky, who were all from Nizhny Novgorod. The once-renowned Nizhegorodskaya Trade Fair (Yarmarka) is undergoing a renaissance, hosting guests from across the globe. Legions of tourists come to see the legendary Lake Svetloyar.

Many scientific achievements can likewise be linked to Nizhny Novgorod’s scientists. From ancient times through to the present day the Nizhgorodskaya province has been, and in the future will continue to be, an indivisible part of the history and culture of the Russian state, and a source of its continued development.

The founding of Nizhny Novgorod

The princes of Vladimir and Suzdal’ saw the confluence of the Oka and the Volga as a key strategic point, as it stood right on the trade route which the rivers constituted, and secured the princes’ southern and eastern borders from Bulgar raiders, who had fortresses along the Volga.

The area was important from both an economic and military point of view. The fighting for control of the region took on an especially vicious character. In 1152, Prince Yury Dolgoruky built the town which is now known as Gorodets 60 km upriver along the Oka. In 1164 Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky led a successful expedition against the Bulgars, and the mouth of the Oka became the usual muster point for Russian soldiers before an expedition.

In 1220, the Bulgars were forced to seek peace, which was agreed to under strict conditions. To reinforce the treaty, Grand Duke Yury Vsevolodovich built a town at the confluence of the Volga and the Oka, which he named Nizhny Novgorod. The town became an economic, military and political center of the Rus’ culture of the time, being especially important in permitting relations between Russia and the East.

However, Nizhny Novgorod and Gorodets were both captured by the Tatar invaders in the years that followed. Under the Mongol yoke, Nizhny Novgorod continued to grow and strengthen, despite the oppression of the Tatars. In 1341 it became the center of its own principality, whose borders stretched across huge swathes of what is now Russia.

However, after a series of military defeats by the Tatars, and under constant threat of attack, Nizhny Novgorod joined forces with Moscow, becoming Moscow’s entry point to the Volga.

The formation of the province

The 17th and 18th centuries were dominated by the rise of agriculture in the Volga region. Tracts of new farmland were brought under the plough. New industries arose.

One of these was the production of potash, which is essential for the production of glass, soap, dyes and gunpowder. It was manufactured in great quantities in Arzamas, and from there shipped abroad via Arkhangel’sk. Balakhna was famous for its salt production, and also became important as a shipbuilding center. Weapons from Pavlova were in demand all over the world. Lyskov supported a vibrant community of artisans. The town of Bogorodskoe was known for its leather goods.

At the beginning of the 18th century, a large factory making anchors was opened near Gorodets, and by the middle of the century there was an iron and steel factory at Demidov.

Nizhny Novgorod became the biggest industrial center of the region. Its main industries were the rope manufacture, shipbuilding and metallurgy, but it also had leather factories, sawmills, distilleries, breweries, brickworks, steelworks, potteries and textile factories.

Peter the Great formally created the province in 1714-1719, with its center at Nizhny Novgorod. Traders from the province had links to towns all along the Volga, Moscow, and even with Siberia and other countries. Fish were shipped in massive quantities up the Volga from Astrakhan, the boats returning laden with salt and grain.

From the first years of the 17th century onwards, the market at the 15th century Makar’evsky Monastery, just down the Volga from Nizhny Novgorod, became famous among traders from all parts. Merchants from the east, England, Denmark, Sweden and a host of other countries brought their goods here. It was said that the market here was greater and more profitable than the better-known European markets at Frankfurt and Leipzig. In 1816, after it was destroyed by fire, the market was relocated to Nizhny Novgorod.

Famous Russians from Nizhny Novgorod

The self-taught inventor Ivan Kulibin has a special place in any list of famous people from the province. He earned fame as an unusually talented watchmaker. When he was just 15, he amazed many by fixing the complicated mechanism of the clock in the Stroganovskaya church. He went on to make pocket watches which not only told the time but also played tunes and showed a short puppet show. When Catherine the Great traveled down the Volga, he demonstrated to her his array of scientific instruments, including telescopes and microscopes. Many of his other inventions are also famous: the single-arch bridge, smokeless fireworks, new lamp technology which increased its brightness 500 times, and a self-propelled boat.

In 1818, the great folklorist Mel’nikov-Pechersky was born in Nizhny Novgorod. His novels and stories captured the rich folk heritage of the region and conveyed it to the rest of the world. The great Russian mathematician and scientist Lobachesky and poet Dobrolyubov were also born in the city.

From 1863 to 1869, the father of Lenin, Il’ya Nikolaevich Ulyanov, worked in the city. Lenin’s older siblings, Anna and Alexander, were born there. Lenin himself was a frequent visitor to the city.

The famous Popov, the inventor of the radio, was also connected to Nizhny Novgorod. From 1889 to 1898 he was in charge of the Trade Fair’s power station.

Perhaps the most famous child of Nizhny Novgorod was Maksim Gor’ky, after whom the city was renamed in 1932. Daily life and happenings in the city are reflected in his work. There he created the legend of the folk-hero Danko, wrote «Song of Sokol» and «Song of the Stormy Petrel», and wrote many stories and books. He took an active part in the revolution in Nizhny Novgorod. Despite imprisoning him twice the local police were unable to stop his revolutionary activities, complaining to their superiors that «all revolutionary activity in Nizhny, is a result solely of Gor’ky’s activities. » When he was expelled from Nizhny Novgorod in 1901 under suspicion of acquiring a printing press for the Sormovsky Social Democrats, his supporters conducted the first political demonstration in the history of the city.

Nizhny Novgorod Region and modernity

Nizhny Novgorod Region was one of the first areas of the country affected by the economic and agricultural reforms of the early 90s. These days, it remains a powerful industrial city, with local production constituting 52% of the national total of heavy goods vehicles, 8% of cars, 57% of buses, 17% of steel pipes, 16% of newspaper, 27% of washing machines and 10% of heavy machine tools.

The potential of the city for further development is clear, with a highly educated workforce and strong tradition of research. In the province, there are 26 institutes of higher education, several affiliates of the Russian Academy of Sciences, about 100 scientific research laboratories, carrying out research into nuclear physics, chemistry, electronics, and so on.

The city of Nizhny Novgorod is itself rich in history and tradition, to the extent that it has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Tourists come from far and wide to visit the city, as well as other famous destinations in the area, such as Serafimo-Diveevsky Monastery and Lake Svetloyar, where legend has it that the city of Kitezh sank into the water to save it from invaders. Some still believe that the faint sound of bells can be heard coming from the water.

Major cities of Nizhny Novgorod Region

Nizhny Novgorod

Nizhny is the center of the province, and one of the most important transport, industrial and cultural centers of Russia. It is the third largest city in Russia, with 1. 4 million inhabitants, of its province’s total of 3. 6 million.

Nizhny has long benefited from its advantageous geographical position: it is located at the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers. Major railway lines spread out from the city in three directions. The city is divided into eight administrative regions, with the biggest being Avtozavod with 300 000 inhabitants.

Nizhny was built in 1221 by Prince Yuri Vsevolodovich as an outpost against the Mordavians. It was briefly the center of its own principality in the 14th century. In 1612 it played a key role in defeating the Polish, with the famous Minin and Pozharsky forming their militia here. In 1812 after the trade fair was moved there from Makarevsky Monastery, it became one of the most important trade centers of Russia. Many factories were built in the towns surrounding the city, and were then swallowed up as the city expanded. From 1932 to 1990 the city was known as Gorky in honour of the great writer. Today, it is still a major industrial city, with cars, ships, engines, aeroplanes, machine tools, televisions and much more still being made there. It has vast transport capacity, with four railway depots, shipyards and three ports. Scientifically, it is strong, with a huge number of laboratories and research institutions, universities and academies. It also has a conservatory, theatres, opera, ballet and a host of museums. Its most famous sights are undoubtedly the 16th century Kremlin although there are many other spectacular historic sites such as the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael, the various monasteries of the city and its many beautiful churches.


Arzamas is 100 km from Nizhny Novgorod along the Tesha river, and is a road and rail transport hub. With 109 000 residents, it is the third largest city in the province. It is also the local capital, with its administrative area including 163 000 people and 2 000 square kilometers. The city is first mentioned in chronicles from 1366, and became an important fortress in the second half of the 16th century, serving as the first line of defense for the Russian state, a function which it carried out until the 18th century. Later, it became a trade and transport center, especially important as a step in the route from the black earth regions to the banks of the Volga. Arzamas was thus an intermediate stage on the way from Moscow and St Petersburg to cities along the Volga, such as Samara. Many goods were processed on their way through the city. In 1670 the Tsarist army was based here during the suppression of the Razin uprising, and more than 11 000 rebels were executed nearby. The city quickly grew rich from the trade passing through, and stone houses, monasteries and churches were built. Azarmas became known for its onions and geese, and the felt trade developed. The dozens of churches in the city made art important, with gilding, molding and icon painting all seen. In 1802, the painting teacher Stupin opened a school here, which produced the famous Perov. Most of the cultural landmarks that can still be seen are from the 18th and 19th centuries, of which the most obvious is the Church of the Resurrection. Many famous writers, including Pushkin and Tolstoy, visited the city, and Maksim Gorky was exiled here. Arzamas is undoubtedly one of the most historic Russian cities, and today is also a major industrial center, with car parts, light industry equipment, medical equipment and sweets all being made here. There are two universities in the city, as well as a theater, museum and planetarium.


Balakhna is located on the west bank of the Volga, 35 km to the north-west of Nizhny Novgorod, and can be reached from Nizhny by the Zavolzhe line or by Ivanovo Shosse. It is a small city of 64 000 inhabitants, and is the capital of its administrative subdivision which encompasses 900 square kilometres and 93 000 people. It first appears in records in 1536, as a center of the salt trade and shipbuilding, also winning fame for its lace and tiles. The greatest cultural attraction of the city is the Nikolskaya Church, one of the first stone buildings in the city. The famous Minin was born in Balakhna. The city is host to a number of industries, and a power station which is supplied by local peat brought in on a special narrow-gauge railway. Balakhna is regarded as one of Russia’s historic cities.


The city of Bor is located just across the Volga from Nizhny Novgorod. It is linked by road, rail and boat to the city, and has a population of 65 000. Its administrative region is one of the biggest in the province, with 136 000 people and 3600 square kilometers. As early as the 14th century, it was known as a center of handicrafts. Its name reflects the pine forests (Bor means «coniferous forest» in Russian) which extended to the Volga. Its inhabitants were involved in crafts, or in transport. Now it is host to a huge glassworks, which supplies glass for car windows, a shipyard and a variety of other factories.


Gorodets is 60 km from Nizhny Novgorod along the Volga, on the road from Zavolzhe to Linda. It has 34 000 inhabitants. It is the capital of its local administrative region of 104 000 people and 1500 square kilometers. It was founded by Prince Yuri Dolgoruky. It was the first Russian town in the Volga region, originally being a frontier fortress defending Rus’ from the raids of the Bulgars, and won fame as Gorodets Radilov and Little Kitezh. The city was sacked several times by the Tatars (in 1238, 1408, and 1536) and came to be known as «Empty Gorodets». In 1263 Aleksandr Nevsky died here on his way back from the Horde. In the 19th century, Gorodets became famous as a center of the Old Believers. Icon painting was important, especially in the traditional style: Prokhor from Gorodets was one of the most famous artists in ancient Russia. Other industries such as leather working, soap making and woodcutting were also important. These days, there are several factories in the city, including one making traditional decorations.


The city of Dzerzhinsk is 35 km to the west of Nizhny Novgorod along the railway, on the main line from Moscow. It is close to the banks of the Oka, and to the road from Moscow to Kazan. It is the second largest city in the province after Nizhny Novgorod, with 285 000 inhabitants. In 1872, a gypsum factory was set up here, and in the 1920s a phosphate factory and sulphuric acid plant were founded. In 1929 the worker’s colony of Dzerzhinsk was founded, and within a year it had become a city. Today in the city, there is a high-profile chemical industry, with several separate factories operating. The city possesses a major railway freight terminus and the biggest port on the Moscow canal system after Moscow itself. There is a variety of theaters and a polytechnic. Overall, the city is pleasant, well planned and tree-lined.


The city of Kstovo is 25 km from Nizhny Novgorod along the Volga on the road from Moscow to Kazan, and the Okskaya — Zeletsino branch line. It has a population of 64 000, and its administrative area of 1300 square kilometers has a total population of 113 000. In the 14th century, it was known as Kstoskaya, which comes from the old Mordavian word for ‘wild strawberry’. In the past it was largely agricultural, but in modern times it has become important in the petroleum industry thanks to its refinery. 5 km outside the city is an industrial park with its refinery, producing a variety of petroleum products, along with other factories producing everything from tyres to vitamins and vodka.


Pavlovo is situated 75 km to the south-west of Nizhny Novgorod, directly on the Oka, as well as on the road from Nizhny to Kasimov. It is also the terminus of a railway branch line. It has a population of 72 000, and its surrounding area is home to 120 000. Since the 16th century, it has been a waypoint for goods transport between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. Pavlovo quickly became famous for its metalworking, and produced all sorts of metal goods, from weapons to cutlery and scissors. In the 19th century, these cottage industries were gradually developed and industrialized, with a factory eventually being built. These days, Pavlovo’s major industry is the manufacture of buses, but there are also other factories in the city such as a cutlery factory and a souvenir factory. The city is also famous across Russia for its various special foodstuffs, such as its unique breed of chickens and geese, playing host to a cock’s crow competition with competitors coming from far and wide to take part.


The city of Sarov lies in the far south of the province, 200 km from Nizhny Novgorod. The town originally rose up around the local monastery. Its name is Finno-Ugric in origin, which supposedly refers to the boggy nature of the land. From 1946, the town has been closed due to its status as the center of the Soviet, and then Russian, nuclear and military research programs. Previously it was officially called Arzamas-16 and Gorky-130, and then from 1952 to 1995 was known as Kremlev. To this day the city is closed to foreigners without special dispensation.

Geographical situation

Nizhny Novgorod region is located almost directly in the center of the European part of the Russian Federation, on the Western-European or Russian plain, roughly equidistant from the coast in the west, north, and south.

In the north-west, the province borders on Kostromskaya Oblast’, in the north-east, on Kirovskaya Oblast’, in the east with the Marii-El and Chuvashian Republics, in the south, with Mordovia, in the south-west, with Ryazanskaya Oblast’ and in the west, with the Vladimirskaya and Ivanovskaya Oblasti.

The climate in the Nizhny Novgorod region is mild continental. Winters are cold and long, with lots of snow, with the average temperature in January falling to around −12 degrees Centigrade, while summers are relatively warm with mid-July temperatures about +19 degrees. The central and southern parts of the province are rather warmer. Precipitation averages 500-550mm yearly. Rain falls unevenly across the province, however, with the north-west receiving more rainfall than the south, which experiences occasional droughts.

The northern frontier of Russia’s celebrated «black earth» runs across the province. As one moves southwards, the European dark coniferous taiga gives way to areas of mixed broadleaf forest, and large open meadowland starts to appear.

The Volga divides the province in two: the low-lying land to the left of the river is known as the Zavolzh’e, while the land to the right is elevated, hilly and carved up by gullies and ravines.

On the territory of the Nizhny Novgorod region there are more than 9000 rivers and streams, with a combined length of 32000 km. 600 of them are more than 10 km long. The major tributaries of the Volga which join the river from the right (that is to say, the west) — the Oka and Sura — are navigable. The most important of the tributaries joining from the left (east) are the Vetluga and Kerzhenets. Their picturesque banks attract boatloads of tourists. In addition, there are around 3000 lakes and reservoirs in the province.

The city of Nizhny Novgorod is the administrative center of the province, and an important transport hub. From here river, rail and road transport arteries branch out to provide essential links with industrial centers, consumers of local production, and important cultural centers.

The province contains over 11000 km of general purpose roads, with the density of road transport being 3. 7 times the national average. The density of the rail network is similarly 3. 3 times the national average. There is an international airport only 12 km from the centre of the province, which is served by direct Lufthansa flights four times a week from Frankfurt. In addition, the province is covered by about 1000 km of navigable canals and rivers. The Volga, Europe’s biggest river, is the main marine artery. After the construction of a hydro-electric power station, the river’s depth is now maintained at an appropriate level for safe navigation. Thanks to the Volga, her tributary the Oka, and Russia’s canal system, Nizhny Novgorod region is linked by water to all the seas on which European Russia has a coastline (the Baltic, White, Azov, Black and Caspian seas) and also with Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Urals.


Nizhny Novgorod culture as one of the most important factors of the social development, that reflects the level of the people’s self-consciousness and their emotional state, is deeply rooted in the past.

The life and deeds of Saint Prince Alexander Nevsky, Rev. Makary Zheltovodsky, Rev. Seraphim Sarovsky, Patriarch Nickon, archpriest Avvacum, Kozma Minin, Ivan Kulibin, Nikolay Dobrolyubov, Maxim Gorky, Pyotr Nesterov, Valery Chkalov, Andrey Sakharov and many other people famous in the world are closely connected with the Nizhny Novgorod region.

It is the region where estates of famous Russian noblemen and merchants such as Stroganov, Rukavishnikov, Sheremetiev, Bestuzhev-Ryumin are situated.

Three autumns spent by Alexander Pushkin in the village of Bolshoe Boldino in the Nizhny Novgorod region inspired him for creating his 50 best masterpieces.

The beauty of the Nizhny Novgorod land gave inspiration to V. Korolenko, P. Melnikov-Pechersky, M. Balakirev, I. Repin.

On the territory of the region the unique historic settlements and monuments of culture are located, many of them have the status of federal significance. Among them there is the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, the ensembles of Holy Trinity Seraphim of Diveevo monastery and Makariev monastery, the country estate of Alexander Pushkin in the village of B. Boldino, the house of famous aviator Valery Chkalov and many others.

In the Nizhny Novgorod region the folk art crafts, handicrafts and holiday traditions are carefully maintained.

The rich historical and cultural traditions provide the explanation of why the Nizhny Novgorod region plays an important role in the modern social and cultural life of the country.

Many art festivals have gained a reputation all over Russia, and some of them have become world-famed. These are Art Festivals named after A. Sakharov «Russian Art and the World», «Boldino Autumn», the festival of the international charity program «New Names», «First Performances of the Season» Theatrical Festival, International Scientific Conference «Boldino Readings», Pushkin Poetry Festival in the village of B. Boldino.