It is hard to imagine a finer and more fortunate location than Samara, the administrative, industrial, and cultural centre of the Middle Volga. The city stands in the centre of a boundless expanse of the steppe on the high left bank of the Volga River, bounded by the Zhiguli Mountains. Most of the city is situated in the area between the Volga and its left tributary, the Samara River. The elevation drop of the banks of the Volga ranges from 28 to 150-200 m. The Zhiguli Mountains near Samara formed the Samara Bend in the Volga River.
Samara extends for 50 km lengthwise and is 20 km wide; it occupies an area of 46 597 hectares. Many air, rail, and water routes and highways pass through it, and it is conveniently connected with all the important Russian regions and other republics.
The Volga is the most important waterway. It is a great navigable river with large fish stocks that occupies an area of 53 600 sq. km and connects the Volga region with the Baltic and Black Seas and the Sea of Azov.
Samara Region borders on Saratov Region (Lower Volga) in the south, Ulyanovsk Region (Volga region) in the west, Tatarstan in the north, and Orenburg Region (Ural region) in the east. There are 11 cities in the region (10 under regional jurisdiction and 1 under district jurisdiction): Samara, Togliatti, Syzran, Novokuibyshevsk, Chapaevsk, Otradny, Zhigulevsk, Oktyabrsk, Kinel, Pokhvistnevo, and Neftegorsk. Samara and Togliatti are additionally divided into 12 city districts. There are 27 municipalities, 10 municipal districts, 9 inner-city areas, 12 rural towns, and 284 rural districts.
Coat of arms
Samara Region has a temperate continental climate, but the summers are much warmer and the winters harsher than in western Russia. The average annual temperature is +3.8 °C, with average July (the hottest month) temperatures of +20.7 °C (but ranging from +18 °C to +25 °C) and average January (the coldest month) temperatures of -13.8 °C (-16 °C to -12 °C), although the annual variation can be from -35 °C in winter to +33 °C in summer.
The Volga Uplands extend along the right bank of the Volga, reaching elevations of 375 m in the Zhiguli Mountains, while the left bank of the river is low and flat. The Zhiguli Mountains in the northern part of the Samara Bend are one of the most beautiful places in the entire East European Plain. The mountainous terrain of cliffs, crags, and deep valleys give the Zhiguli range both esthetic and scientific value.
The entire region is located on the Russian Plain, at the meeting place of three native zones: forest, steppe, and forest-steppe (a transitional zone between the forest and steppe zones). This geographical location makes for varied natural landscapes, from taiga forests and ancient peat bogs to endless steppes and countless lakes and other water bodies. However, the greater part of these landscapes has been destroyed by human economic activity; surviving natural areas have been designated as natural monuments. Samara Bend National Park was established at Samara Bend in 1984.
The Volga River valley has its own wonderful world of nature, with a multitude of islands covered with reeds, poplars, and willows and cut by channels and countless small lakes. There are deciduous forests with steppe areas in the northern part and pine forests on sandy river terraces. Steppes with dark chestnut soils extend through the southern part of the region. The soil cover in Samara Region is characterized by general east-west zoning and typical black earth (chernozem) soils.
The formation of reservoirs in the Samara Region has made it possible to expand irrigation farming, increase the amount of arable land, and increase animal production, as well as locate flour-milling companies in Samara. The hot summer months provide enough warmth and light for growing and ripening various crops. Corn, sugar beets, grapes, and melons are grown in the region’s southern districts. Samara Region is also a supplier of wool, meat, and valuable sturgeon.
According to archaeologists, human settlements first appeared in the Middle Volga region in the Upper Paleolithic period. Isolated nomadic Scythian and Cimmerian (or Samarian) tribes roamed through what is now Samara Region. These lands repeatedly changed hands. In the 7th century, they were part of the Khazar Kaganat. Then in the 10th century, the army of Prince Svyatoslav liberated the people of the Volga from Khazar rule. In the 13th century, these lands came under the rule of the Golden Horde, where they remained until the mid-16th century when Russia regained the territory of the Middle Volga.
Samara Bend was in an economically and strategically advantageous location, which was of great interest to the Muscovite rulers. Thus, in 1586, by decree of Tsar Fedor Ioannovich, Samara Fortress was founded near the mouth of the Samara River as a base for defending the Russian state against nomad raids.
This favourable geographical location played an enormous role in the city’s formation. Fertile soils, superb pasture lands, a bountiful fishery, and a bustling intersection of trade routes brought an influx of people, which accelerated the colonization of these lands. Samara became a city in 1688. From 1708 to 1773, it was part of Kazan Province, and then became part of Astrakhan Province.
In 1850, Samara Province was formed as an independent administrative unit. It was famous throughout Russia as a major grain trading and agricultural centre. At that time, a governor ruled Samara and the city had its coat of arms. A large number of public administration offices helped to govern the city. Samara was a real cultural centre of that time; new schools, gymnasia, and private educational institutions were built and museums and theatres were opened.
The spiritual life of Samara Province was quite rich by provincial standards, with nearly 1000 churches, 20 monasteries, a Catholic church, St. George’s Lutheran Church, a synagogue, and 2 mosques. Several newspapers were published in the city (10 before 1917).
Samara was an important merchant city and trading centre, where banks and an exchange operated. The first public city bank began operating in 1852. The city also kept pace with the development of the health resort business. Famous resorts and centres specializing in kumiss (fermented mare’s milk) and mud therapy were located in Samara.
Strukovsky Garden, founded in 1849, was considered to be the largest and most famous city park in the Volga region. The beautiful city also played a considerable role in the development of the entire country. Great national and foreign cultural figures lived and worked here, including writers Alexei Tolstoy, and Vladimir Korolenko, N.M. Garin-Mikhailovsky, Maxim Gorki, Yaroslav Gashek, artist Ilya Repin, and Lenin. French writer Alexandre Dumas even described Samara in his book From Paris to Astrakhan after a trip along the Volga by steamer.
Samara was not left out of the dramatic events of the first half of the 20th century. The First World War and the Civil War left a deep imprint on the territory’s history; many historical monuments were destroyed. In 1935, the city and region were renamed Kuibyshev after the famous revolutionary who proclaimed Soviet power in Samara. The region has existed within its present boundaries since December 1936.
During the Second World War, Samara became one of Russia’s largest industrial centres after several engineering and aircraft plants were evacuated here from the west. The main government offices and foreign embassies also moved to Kuibyshev in late 1941, so that the city was rightly known as the capital of the home front.
In the postwar years, the region continued to increase its economic potential by expanding the engineering, hydroelectric power, and car manufacturing industries. The Lenin Hydroelectric Power Plant (GES named after Lenina) was built in 1957 to meet the region’s rapidly increasing demands, resulting in the flooding of a large area. Samara is also known as the city where the first R-7 carrier rocket was built. This was the rocket that in 1961 sent the first Vostok spacecraft into orbit with the world’s first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, on board.
In 1990, the city and region regained their historic names of Samara and Samara Region.
Today, Samara Region is one of Russia’s pillars of industrial power along with Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Urals.
Culture and art
The city of Samara is a striking combination of historical monuments, modern residential buildings, and massive industrial structures. It is also a city of high culture, education, and research centres.
Even in the 19th century, Samara Region had a very interesting cultural life and rich and varied theatrical traditions. The city’s oldest theatres have memories of performances by celebrated artists, such as Fedor Chaliapin, Ivan Kozlovsky, R. Glier, David Oistrakh, L. Utesov, L. Sobinov, and many others. The famous Russian actors Pelageya Strepetova, Modest Pisarev, and Aleksandr Lensky also worked here.
Samara Region has considerable cultural potential, with its theatres, museums and their branches, a philharmonic, a state symphony orchestra, and one of the finest art galleries in the Volga region. The museum of local history has a superb collection of more than 114 000 exhibits. The Lenin Science Library has unique book stocks; there is also a library for the blind. The state and municipal libraries provide library services for regional residents. The Novokuibyshevsk and Chapaevsk central library systems, the Samara branch of the children’s library, and the regional children’s library were the winners of the All-Russian library project competition “The Library on the Threshold of the 21st Century” organized by the Open Society Institute.
Residents of other cities besides Samara have a full and interesting cultural life. Togliatti has three professional theatres, a philharmonic, and a museum; and Syzran also has its own theatre and museum.
Theatre studios for youth and musical arts groups operate in addition to the professional theatres. Many creative events, including international events, are held with the participation of professional unions of architects, designers, writers, composers, artists, theatre workers, and journalists. The Dmitry Kabalevsky competition for young Volga pianists, jazz festivals, the “Sounds of the Volga” festival, and the All-Russian competition for solo folk dance performers and choreographers are held in Samara. The State Volga Russian Folk Choir and the Valery Grushin memorial festival of amateur traveller songs are known far beyond Russia.
The people of the Volga have a tradition of forming cultural and business ties with foreign twin cities, for example, Samara and Stuttgart (Germany), St. Louis (USA), Stara Zagora (Bulgaria); Togliatti and Flint (USA), Wolfsburg (Germany), Valence (France), and Kazanlyk (Bulgaria).
The beneficial geographical position of the Samara Region makes it possible to attract tourists from other regions of Russia and from abroad, to develop therapeutic, entertaining, and active tourism. Several big rivers of the region (the Volga, the Samara, and the Sok) give wide opportunities to develop cruise tourism. High-tech industries of the region attract specialists, which is important for business tourism. The culture and history of the region, where people of more than 40 nationalities live, help develop educational tourism.
The banks of the Volga have long been known as prestigious resorts. In the XIX and at the beginning of the XX century the famous painter Vassili Sourikov and the great singer Fyodor Shalyapin spent their holidays there. The Zhiguli Hills, green woods, sandy river islands, and calm creeks give a continuous change to the landscape. There are modern sanatoriums, rest homes, and tourist centres in the pine woods, on the banks of the Volga, and in the Zhiguli area. There is also one of the best health resorts in Russia “Utyos”, the President’s summer residence. A large number of tourists are attracted by the Kamennaya Tchasha and its holy water spring in Samarskaya Luka, the Strelnaya mountain, from which a wonderful view opens on Samara and Togliatti, excellent mountain-skiing routes in Krassnaya Glinka, and rich hunting grounds.
It is not only the unique nature that attracts tourists to Samara Region but also its sights and old cultural traditions. The historical centres of Samara and Syzran still have some fine specimens of classical, gothic, and modern styles of architecture. There are 8 public museums in Samara, among which are the Local Lore museum with its unique archaeological and numismatic collections, the Museum of Fine Arts with a collection of icons and pictures of the Russian avant-garde, and the memorial museums of Alexei Tolstoi and Ilya Repin.
The combination of picturesque landscape, pleasant climate, and rich historical and cultural heritage of the region provide favourable conditions for the development of tourist business. But this potential of the region has not been explored yet.
Travel agencies today are mainly orientated toward foreign tourism, which gives high profits. The regional demand for tourist services is not met at the present level of regional tourist infrastructure, 60% of which needs modernization, and quality professional services.
To solve all these problems it is planned to work out a regional program “The Development of Tourism in Samara Region”, which is to provide conditions for bigger investments in this sector and to make tourism one of the leading branches of the regional economy. The program has been developed since 2001 by a task team organized by the Samara Oblast Administration Department of Trade and Industry.