Don is the second most important river in Russia after the Volga. It begins near Moscow and flows south, entering the Sea of Azov, a branch of the Black Sea near Rostov-on-Don. Between the Don and the Volga is large area of fertile steppe, much of which has been converted to farm land. The Don is dammed up into reservoirs like the Volga, below the dams at Volgodonsk, the river takes on a wild natural character again: kingfishers, herons, and egrets, sea eagles and cormorants appear as one approaches the Black Sea.

The Don is the fifth-longest river in Europe and played an important role for traders from the Byzantine Empire, helping to link Scandinavia and the Vikings with the Middle East. The Don basin is between the Dnieper basin to the west, the Volga basin to the east. The native of the Don region were Slavic nomads. the river was viewed as the border between Europe and Asia by some ancient Greek geographers.

The Don rises in the town of Novomoskovsk about 200 kilometers south-southeast of Moscow and flows for a distance of about 1,870 kilometers to the Sea of Azov. From its source, the river first flows southeast to Voronezh, then southwest to its mouth. The main city on the river is Rostov on Don.

Known as “Father Don” to the Don Cossacks, who had their homeland on the river, the Don bisects an area of rolling hills. It is often frozen until late spring. In the spring fields sometimes flood. In the winter the area around the river is very cold, with the first snowfall often in November. In the summer it can be very hot and dry, with a brown haze of dust hanging over the landscape. To the east is most steppe. The land is more fertile to the west.

Volga-Don Canal

Volga-Don Canal (32 kilometers south of Volgograd) was constructed and opened in only three and half years. It connects the Volga River — and with it the Caspian Sea — to the Don River — and with it the Sea of Azov and Black Sea Its completion in 1952 was an important milestone in the creation of Russia's inland waterway from the Black Sea to the Baltic.

The Volga flows from north of Moscow into the Caspian Sea while the Don empties into the Black Sea near the city of Rostov. The 64-kilometer (40-mile) canal links these two great rivers. The Soviet Union and Russia for a long time invested more in barges and canals than they did in trucks and highways which is one reason their transportation system has such a difficult time delivering fresh vegetables to the north before they spoil. Barges and ships are often held up by bottlenecks that form at the canal locks.

Navigation on the Volga-Don canal begins in late March and ends in early December. It is closed in the winter because of ice. Ships can pass through the canal from several hours to several days, depending on the amount of traffic. In 1997, a museum was opened up close to the 1st lock that covered the history and construction of the canal and exhibits documents and things from that time. In 2010, the reconstruction of the canal’s hydraulic structures, sluice gates, pumping systems, electrical equipment and machinery began. Complex reconstruction of the Volga-Don Canal with updated of navigation systems, pumping stations and upgrading of all of the gateways was scheduled for completion in 2019.

History of the Volga-Don Canal

For centuries, merchants traveled between the Black and Caspian Seas and between the Volga and Don Rivers because there was no waterway that connected. Many good were moved at a place where the Volga and the Don came close to each other. The lack of good Volga-Don waterway greatly complicated the trading business. The place where the Don and Volga approached each other was long eyed as a place for a canal. During the Azov campaigns of Peter the Great in 1695-96, the need for building a canal to bring military supplies to the region was apparent. Peter ordered the construction of a canal between the Ilovlya and Kamyshinka rivers that flow into the Don and the Volga. The ambitious project was started but fell far short of being realized.

Canal construction plans were developed in the pre-revolutionary times, but attempts to start construction were postponed. In the 1920s electrification plans and canal schemes were ready to be launched but World War II brought these plans to a halt. After the Battle of Stalingrad, Soviet engineers hydrobuilders and geologists arrived in the ruined city and mapped out a route for the future canal. In 1948 construction began.

Completing the 101-kilometer canal in three and half years was a remarkable achievement. Over 150 million square meters of earth was dredged and dug up; and over three million square meters of concrete was poured. The work involved about 8,000 machines: excavators, dump trucks, bulldozers and other equipment. Over one million people — most of them from war and prison camps and some civilians — were put to work on the project. In addition to the shipping canal, three other channels, a reservoir and 13 locks were created. Where Locks 1 and 13 were built triumphal arch dedicated to the victory in World War II, as well as praising the industrious Soviet people, were raised.

In July, 1952 the Volga-Don shipping channel named after VI Lenin was unveiled. The ship "Josef Stalin" passed through the Arc de Triomphe at the first lock and was greeted at t the entrance to the channel with a monument to the "leader of the peoples". In 1960 the monument was demolished, in its place installed a Lenin monument that was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest monument for real man. Next to the 13th gateway is a monument to the "Connection of Fronts."

The construction of the Volga-Don canal completed the process of linking the Black Sea and Caspian Sea — and with them the Middle East and the Mediterranean — with the Baltic Sea and northern Europe and Russia, allowing river and sea vessels overcome obstacles that had previously blocked, or at least slowed and encumbered, Russian trade.

Don Cossacks

The Don Cossacks were the largest and most dominant of the Cossack subgroups. They originated as a band of mercenaries that lived around the Don River about 200 to 500 miles south of present-day Russia. By the second half of the 16th century they had grown large enough that they were the most powerful military and political force in the Don region.

In tsarist Russian, they enjoyed administrative and territorial autonomy. They were recognized and received an official seal under Peter the Great and established settlements in the Ukraine, along the Volga River, and in Chechnya and the eastern Caucasus. By 1914, most of the communities were in southern Russia, between the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus.

Peter the Great visited Starocherkassk, the capital of the Don Cossacks, near the Black Sea. He saw a drunken Cossack wearing nothing but his rifle. Impressed by the idea of man giving up his clothes before his weapons, Peter made a naked man holding a gun the symbol of the Don Cossacks.

Under the Soviet, Don Cossack lands were incorporated into other regions. Today, many are based around the city of Stavropol. The Don Cossack uniform includes an olive tunic and blue pants with a red stripe running down the leg. Their flag features crises, sabers and a double-headed Russian eagle.

The Don Cossacks are the legendary fighters who have been at the front lines of many famous Russian battles, including skirmishes between Russia and Moldova in the 1990s. In Azov you can explore a museum that chronicles their courage in battle against the Turkish and Persian empire. Cossack settlements of the region used to be near the borders with Turkey. The former Turkish fortress Azak, which turned into a small Don town of Azov, is located 35 kilometers from Rostov.

Rostov Oblast

The Rostov Oblast (Region) is situated in southern part of Russia and is known for its Sea of Azov beaches and being Russia's southern gateway. It is was the capital of the Don Cossacks, who both revolted against and allied with the tsars. The great writers Mikhail Sholokhov and Anton Chekhov lived and worked here and key events in the Civil War and World War II took place here.

Rostov Oblast covers 100,800 square kilometers (38,900 square miles), is home to about 4.3 million people and has a population density of 42 people per square kilometer. About two thirds of the region’s people live in urban areas yet it has large swath of fertile farmland. Located within the Russian Southern Federal District, Rostov oblast lies in the Pontic-Caspian steppe and borders Ukraine to the east. The Sea of Azov, a branch of the Black Sea is to the south.

Rostov Oblast and the southern part of Russia has a warm climate: winters are late and wet, and snowfall occur and icy conditions occur, and summers are hot and dry. The best season to visit is from May to October. In spring and autumn, bring light jackets and raincoats. Summer is an ideal time for those who are not afraid of the bright sun and heat.

Getting There: By Plane: The Don Platov airport near Rostov-on-Don receives about 20 flights from Moscow per day. Planes arrive from St. Petersburg less often, but every day. Flight from Moscow take about two hours, from St. Petersburg — about 2 hours 40 minutes. A one-way ticket costs about RUB 2,000 from Moscow and RUB 2,300 from St. Petersburg during the off-season, RUB 3,300–3,500 per season, respectively.

By Train: It takes a little less than a day to travel from Moscow by train; from St. Petersburg, up to a day and a half. From Moscow, a ticket starts at RUB 1,500; from St. Petersburg, RUB 2,700. By Bus is perhaps the easiest and most affordable way to get to Rostov. The trip from Moscow takes 16-17 hours; from St. Petersburg, a little more than a day. Tickets cost RUB 1,000, 2,500, respectively. By Car: The distance from Moscow to the south is a little more than 1000 kilometers, from North Palmyra — about 1800 kilometers.


Rostov-on-Don (320 kilometers southwest of Volgograd) is a pleasant city of 1.1 million located where the Don River empties into the Sea of Avoz (Black Sea) near Russia's southernmost point. The terminus of most long-distance Volga cruises, it is an industrial center lying in the middle of a large farming region. There isn't that much to see in the city but it makes a convenient jumping off point for sights nearby. Rostov-on-Don has a high rate of crime and problems with drug and alcohol abuse. Twenty-nine serial murderers and rapists were caught in there in the 1990s.

Rostov-on-Don is the administrative center of the Rostov Region and the Southern Federal District of Russia, an important port of five seas and the scientific and cultural center in the south of the country. Officially, the city was founded in 1749 with a decree from Elizabeth I for a customs station. The city’s name comes a fortress for St. Dimitry of Rostov that once stood on its territory. Count I. Bezborodko visited Rostov-on-Don in 1812 and wrote: “The city or the suburbs — Rostov — is one and a half or two versts from the fortress ... The location at the river Don is very beautiful! There are many ships along this river, some houses are stone, and more of them are wooden.”

During the civil war Rostov-on-Don became one of the centers of the White movement. The Ice campaign of the Volunteer Army began here. Unfortunately, only a small part of the monuments of architecture, archeology and monumental art, which reflected the magnificent history of the city has been preserved: during World War II, German troops twice occupied the city, fierce battles for Rostov-on-Don took place there. The city was among the most negatively affected by the war. But even under intense shelling, the Paramonovsky warehouses where city resident’s have traditionally liked to bathe, as well as several old churches, survived.

Accommodation: In downtown there are several large hotels: Don-Plaza, Marins Park Hotel, Mercure, Europe. Rooms in these places cost from RUB 2,700 per night. A cheaper option is to settle in a hotel away from the center or in a hostel. Here, the cost per night starts at RUB 600-1500. If you plan to stay in the city for a long time, it is more convenient to rent a room or apartment. Housing in the center costs from RUB 8,000 per room, in a residential area of the city — from RUB 10,000 for a separate apartment. They are easy to find through the Airbnb.

Transport: The most popular transport in Rostov-on-Don is the bus. The city center, as a rule, is 30–40 minutes or less, from any district of the city, if there are no traffic jams, which are not a big problem. In addition to buses, there are trams, trolleybuses and minibuses, The fare is from RUB 17 to RUB 26. With a transport card, the fare is cheaper. You can track the movement of passenger vehicles in real time on the Rostov-Transport website. Yandex.Taxi is the main taxi service operating in the city. If you have a license and a passport, you can rent a car for about RUB 1,300 a day, A deposit is required.

Sights in Rostov-on-Don

Sights in Rostov-on-Don include the Central Market, Nativity Church, a synagogue, the Armenian Quarter, the Museum of Local Studies, Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, a zoo and a number of parks. Paramonovsky warehouses is where city resident’s have traditionally to bathed. The mansion of Petrov now houses the Rostov Regional Museum of Fine Arts.

Teatralnaya — the main square of the city — is where you can the theater named after Gorky. The building is an architectural monument of constructivism, together with the Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral they represented Russia at the London Museum of the History of Architecture. You should also go to the theater on a free evening. A ticket for a performance of a local troupe costs from 250 rubles.

Tachanka-Rostovchanka monument, established in 1984 on the embankment of the Don, is the city symbol. According to Anatoly Sknarin, the sculptor who created it, the Tachanka symbolizes the liberation of Rostov from the White Guard in 1920. As was the custom in Soviet times, many newlyweds still come here to lay flowers. It is remarkable that such a monumental sculpture is completely hollow, as it is made of gypsum. That is one reason why climbing on the sculpture is prohibited.

Cossack-Related Places Near Rostov-on-Don

The former Turkish fortress Azak, which turned into a small Don Cossack town of Azov, is located 35 kilometers from Rostov. Contrary to popular belief, there is no Sea of Azov here, but there is the largest local history museum-reserve. The exhibits include skeletons of dinosaurs, mammoths and prehistoric giant animals. A visit to the main exposition costs adults RUB 120 on weekdays and RUB 200 on weekends.

Novocherkassk (40 kilometers north of Rostov-on-Don) is a town of 200,000 that was the Don Cossack capital after 1805 and was the setting for Mikhail Sholokhov's “And Quietly Flows the Don.” Ataman Matvey Platov, the general who lead a group of Cossacks that chased Napoleon's army back to France, lived here. Today is the center of a Cossack revival, with large numbers of young boys attending the college of Cadetsky Korpuse for Cossack military training.

The History of the Don Cossacks Museum in Novocherkassk contains a comprehensive exhibition of the Cossacks coins, weapons, and personal effects as well a fine collection of Russian art. The striking Ascension cathedral is also worth a look.On the outskirts of Krasnodar, there is a well preserved village of cottages, streets and landscaping from the time of the Cossacks.

Zateryany Mir Ethno-Archeological Complex is an open-air museum at a Cossack farmstead with workshops where you can make a stone ax or knife, shoot with bow, make pots, forge iron or pour bronze, take care of animals or ride a horse. You can also participate in the archaeological excavations.

Starocherkassk: Capital of the Don Cossacks

Starocherkassk (32 kilometers from Rostov-on-Don on the Sea of Azov) was the capital of the Don Cossacks for two centuries. Founded in 1593, it features a number of sights associated with the Cossacks: the remains of Cossack fortresses; sites associated with the uprisings of Razin and Bulavain; the fortified house where Bulavin lived and was killed; several Cossack fort houses; and the palace of the Cossack ataman.

There is a museum devoted to Cossack life. Among the churches are Resurrection Cathedral, a lovely structure with white walls and wooden domes; simple-looking SS Peter and Paul Church (1751); and the Church of Our lady of the Don, the private church of the Cossack ataman. On the last Sunday of every month in the summer there is a Cossack fair with dancing, crafts and horseback riding.

Starocherkassk Historical and Architectural Museum Reserve was created in 1970 at the initiative Mikhail Sholokhov, the famous Don writer and Nobel Prize winner, to preserve the architecture, history, and culture of the Don Cossacks from the 17th to the early 20th centuries. Currently there are about 70,000 items divided into 26 collections and exhibits in the museum.

More than forty structure of domestic, religious, and civil architecture, reflecting the centuries-long history and culture of Don Cossacks, have survived in Starocherkasskaya village. The main attraction is the manor of the Efremov nobility with its numerous architectural artifacts from the 18th-19th centuries. It is the only estate of its kind in the southern part of Russia.

The Don Нost Resurrection Cathedral (1706-1719) is the oldest stone church in the Don region. Its bell tower (1725-1730) is the only one in the south of Russia made in the tent-shape style. The cathedral is beautiful from the outside, but its interior — with elaborate painting and carvings — is even more impressive. Its iconostasis is a magnificent piece of decorative art.

Architectural attractions include the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the patron saints of fishermen. This is a striking example of stone church architecture of the 18th century. The famous chieftain Matvei Platov was baptized there. The Church of the Transfiguration (from the middle of the 18th century) is the home of the Ratnenskoe cemetery, the final resting place for members of famous Don Cossack families such as the Platovs, Orlovs, Efremovs, and Krasnoshchekovs. The Don Church, named after the Our Lady of the Don icon, was built in the second half of the 18th century by the Efremov chieftains.

Fortress of St. Anne

Fortress of St. Anne (in Starocherkasskaya) is the only surviving in southern Russia earth fortress of the beginning of the 18th century. Located on the southern tip of a hill, it is bounded by the Don River, Peschanoye Lake and Vasilev and Gniloy shallow channels. The main structures are it six seven-meter-high earth ramparts, with curtain walls and six bastions connected by them.

The initial construction of the fortress took place in May 1730 and ended in 1733. In the northwest of the fortress, soldiers and Cossack settlements were built. The fortress was part of the Ukrainian defensive line, which consisted of 15 fortresses located between the Dnieper and the Don rivers. The military post of the fortress consisted of six musketry regiments and a Cossack regiment.

The fortress of St. Anna was the main outpost of Russia in the Don-Azov region until the construction of the fortress of St. Dmitry Rostov. After 1763, the military post of St. Anne fortress was transferred there. Because the fortress has not been used as a fortification since then the ramparts, ravelins and bastions have been preserved almost in their original form.

Taganrog: Chekhov’s Hometown

Taganrog (65 kilometers from Rostov-on-Don) is where Chekhov was born and lived half his life and where Peter the Great had hoped to establish a great naval base. Sights include a literary museum in a reconstruction of Chekhov's school and a reconstruction of the Chekhov family house. The famous Russian actress Faina Ranevskaya was also born in the town. The Chekhov house-museum is in a small house.

The Anton Chekhov Literature Museum is located in the old building of the boys classical gymnasium where Chekhov once studied. It is part of the Taganrog State Literature, History, and Architecture Museum and Preserve. Chekhov has spent 11 years, from 1868 to 1879, studying in this school, the oldest educational establishment in the south of Russia. For a long time, the Taganrog gymnasium was the only secondary educational institution in the region.

The literary and commemorative exposition “Writer and Motherland” was inaugurated in stages from 1980 to 1985. The goal of the exposition is to study of life and work of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov and the importance of the city of Taganrog in his literary estate. His interest in writing, the formation of many of his characters and impressions that laid the basis of much of his work were all hatched in Taganrog. . The memory of his years in the gymnasium have been reflected in many of Chekhov's stories: “This and That”, “The Tutor”, “The Teacher of Literature”, “A Classical Student”, “Ariadne”, “The Man in the Case” and others. On January 29, 2010, to mark the 150th anniversary of Chekhov's birth, a new exposition titled “Chekhov: to his hometown and the world” was inaugurated, offering more than 1,600 new exhibits. The latest museum technologies have enabled the expansion of the museum's space.

Sea of Azov

The Sea of Azov (southern Russian) is a sea connected to the northeastern Black Sea by the narrow four- kilometer-wide ) Strait of Kerch. Sometimes regarded as a northern extension of the Black Sea, it is bounded Ukraine to the north, the Crimean peninsula to the west and Russian to the south and east. The Don River and Kuban River and 20 or so smaller rivers flow into it. There is a constant outflow of water from the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Sea of Azov is the shallowest sea in the world, with the depth varying roughly between one and 14 meters (three to 46 feet) and averaging seven meters. The sea is greatly affected by the inflow of numerous rivers, which bring sand, silt, and shells, which in turn form numerous bays, limans, and narrow spits and causes the sea to have low salinity and a high amount green algae. Abundant plankton results in greenish water and a large number of fish.

The Sea of Azov is 360 kilometers (220 miles) long and 180 kilometers (110 miles) wide and covers an area of 39,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles). The coastline is low and smooth. There are numerous spits and sandbanks and these have a lot of vegetation and birdlife. The narrowness of the Kerch Strait limits the water exchange with the Black Sea. As a result, the salinity of the Sea of Azov is about one third of the salinity of the oceans. Tthe Don and Kuban rivers, account for more than 90 percent of water flowing into the sea, with the Don supplying about twice the water as the Kuban. The Kuban delta is located at the southeast, on the east side of the Kerch Strait. It is over 100 kilometers long and covers a vast flooded area with numerous channels. The Don flows from the north into the large Taganrog Bay.

Tanais: Greek Black Sea Colony

Tanais (at the mouth of the Don River on the Sea of Azov) is where a Greek settlement flourished from the 3rd century B.C. to the A.D. 4th century. It was the most northerly outpost of ancient Greek civilization. Later, in the 13th century, Genose merchants ran a trading post here that was used to ship Silk Road goods to Europe. It also helped introduce the plague to Europe. There are few remains from these periods. Near the villages of Nedvigorvka is a museum with Greek gods, amphorae, bronze oil lamps and other artifacts that have been unearthed in archeological digs.

Tanais Conservation Area was the first archaeological reserve museum established in Russia. It opened in 1961 on the site of the ancient settlement and necropolis of Tanais and was later expanded. In 2009, the Tanais Conservation Area was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Prof. I.A. Stempkovsky determined the location of the Tanais in 1823. Archaeological excavations began in 1853 under Prof. P.M Leontyev from Moscow University. In 1854 he published "Archaeological investigations on the territory of the ancient Tanais and its surroundings" Archaeological excavations were continued in 1867 by N.I. Tizengauzen, in 1870 by P.I. Hitsunov, and in 1908-1909 by N.I. Velelovskiy. Since 1955, regular archaeological investigations, including the excavations, have been carried out by Russian archaeologists with help from specialists from the German Institute of Archaeology and the Warsaw University archaeology department. [Source: UNESCO Chair in Urban and Architectural Conservation]

Elizavetovskoe and Kiziterinskoe Ancient Settlements

Elizavetovskoe Ancient Settlement (four kilometers from the city of Rostov-on-Don) contains the remains of the ancient settlement located in the delta of the Don River, on the western outskirts of the Gorodishche village, north of the village of Elizavetinskaya. In the of the 6th-5th centuries B.C. a local version of Scythian culture developed and arose in the Elizavetinskoe ancient settlement. Archeologists have noted there is evidence of the existence of many cultures here: Scythian, Sarmatian, Meotian, Greek and, most likely, Amazons. In 1967, archaeologist found a burial of a woman warrior dating to the 5th century B.C., with an iron sword, a spearhead, bronze arrowheads, a fragment of an iron knife, glass and gold beads, and bronze bracelets. They also found a burial of the Scythian king with gold armor.

Kiziterinskoe Ancient Settlement (in Rostov-on-Don on the right bank, at the mouth of the Kiziterinka River, western part of the 5th street) is a site dated to the A.D. 1st-3rd centuries. Historians have established that Kiziterinskoye ancient settlement dates back to the Greco-Sarmatian period (1st-4th century AD), but layers of ancient culture (17th-15th century B.C.) were also found.

Kiziterinovskoe Meotian settlement appeared on the banks of the Don at the beginning of the 1st century A.D. The lifestyle of the Meotians was sedentary. They created their settlements on the high banks of rivers and surrounded them with a moat. Meotian settlement had square form. The total area of the ancient settlement is 10,000 square meters. The population did not exceed 400-500 people.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in September 2020

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