The Volga River, the largest river system and one of the most important rivers of Europe rises northwest of Moscow in the Valday Hills and flows 3,700 km (2,300 mi) to the southeast before emptying into the Caspian Sea near the city of Astrakhan’. It is navigable for about 3200 km (about 2000 mi), and large numbers of ships ply its waters with freight and passengers. The Volga is fed by more than 200 tributaries (about 70 of which are navigable), including the Kama, Samara, Oka, and Vetluga. Together, the Volga and its tributaries occupy a watershed covering about 1,450,000 sq. km (about 560,000 sq. mi), or about 40 percent of European Russia.

The Volga emerged as an important trade route between the Slavic lands of Eastern Europe and points farther east in the 8th century. By the 17th century the cities of Samara, Saratov, and Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd) were important trade ports along the river; so too, to a lesser degree, were Yaroslavl’, Kostroma, and Nizhniy Novgorod. Russian scientists and others conducted surveys of various stretches of the Volga between 1700 and 1900. The surveys, combined with the completion in 1808 of the canals linking the Volga and the Baltic river system, greatly accelerated economic development. Steamships and barges were the preferred modes of transport. The Volga was first harnessed to generate hydroelectric power in the late 1930s. During World War II (1939-1945), it served as an important transport route for troops and supplies, and the Battle of Stalingrad was fought along its banks.

The Volga also supports about 70 species of fish, 40 of which have commercial value. These include the Caspian roach, herring, pike, and sturgeon. An expert from the InterPress Service News Wire iterates the important role the Volga plays in Russian life:
"The Volga Basin is considered to be the cultural heart of Russia. More than 60 million people live in this area which contains 70 percent of Russia’s cultural and architectural monuments. It is also the economic heartland of Russia with 46 percent of the nation’s industrial potential, as well as 50 percent of the entire Russian agrarian complex. More than 70 percent of the country’s river transport and 20 percent of its fish catch – including 90 percent of Russian sturgeon – come from the Volga and its tributaries" (Ivanov).

The Volga riverPhoto: Andrey Roshektaev

The Volga riverPhoto: Andrey Roshektaev

The Volga riverPhoto: Andrey Roshektaev

The Volga riverPhoto: Andrey Roshektaev

The Volga riverPhoto: Andrey Roshektaev