Caspian Sea is the world's largest inland body of water. Bordering Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran, it is 760 miles (1,200 kilometers) long, 130 (200 kilometers) to 300 (480 kilometers) miles wide and has a surface area of 143,550 square miles (370,000 square kilometers) and is 92 feet (28 meters) below sea level. It is about the same size as California or five times the size of Lake Superior, and 1½ time the size of all the Great Lakes combined in terms of surface area but hold less water than Lake Baikal in Siberia. [Source: Robert Cullen, National Geographic, May 1999]
Named after an ancient tribe called the Caspii and really a lake not a sea, the Caspian Sea has no outlets but loses a lot of water to evaporation. Its water is salty. The Volga River flows into the northern Caspian Sea and is the source of 80 percent of its water. The level of the Caspian Sea rises and falls with the flow of the Volga River, with the level at its highest in the spring after the river swells from the spring melt.
The Caspian Sea has no access to the world’s seas. The northern part of the Caspian Sea is very shallow. The average depth is 20 feet (6 meter). Around the Volga Delta the depth is only around seven feet (two meters). The water in the north is less salty than other parts of the sea and is bluer in color. The Caspian Sea is much deeper in the southern and central sections. There are two deep basins, separated by an underwater ridge. The deepest point 3,190 feet (975 meters).
On the eastern shore is a unique gulf called the Garabogaz Bay (Kara-Bogaz-Gol). Covering 7,000 square miles (18,00 square kilometers), an area almost as big as Lake Ontario, it is almost completely cut of from the rest of the Caspian Sea by sand spits. Water evaporates very quickly here because of the exceptionally arid climate. The water level in the gulf is lower than the rest of the sea and water rushes through narrows that separate the gulf from the sea. Along the southern seabed are a number of “mud volcanoes,” some of them several hundred feet high. They spew out clay and are capable of quick, unpredictable growth. They are associated with oil deposits but also present a challenge for pipeline planners.
The Caspian Sea Basin lies as low as 132 meters below sea level. The forested slopes of the Caucasus mountains and Iran's Eburz mountains abut against the southwestern and southern shore. To the east are the Balhhan Ramges and the Kara-Kum desert. To the north is the Ust-Urt plateau and beyond that are the rolling Volga uplands.
See Separate Article CASPIAN SEA factsanddetails.com
Volga Delta (south of Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea) is where the mighty Volga river breaks up into at least 800 branches and thousands of smaller streams that flow through vast marches. The marshes helps filter pollutants from the Volga so that the water is relatively clean when it reach the Caspian Sea. The Volga Delta is home to over 200 different kinds of bird, including herons, ducks, swans, white-tailed eagles and many other species as well as wild boar, foxes, beavers, muskrats and 30 other animals. In the summer the area comes alive with color as vast carpets of pink and white lotus flowers bloom.
The Volga Delta is the largest delta in Europe and has grown significantly in the 20th century due of changes in the level of the Caspian Sea. In 1880, it covered an area of 3,222 square kilometers. Today it has an area of 27,224 square kilometers and is approximately 160 kilometers across. The Delta is known for its famous Caspian shallow waters and the Major Bank, the main shipping and fish migration thoroughfare, its impassable thickets of reeds, jungle-like ducts, and its rich fish population.
All the major fish species found in Europe live in the Volga Delta: crucian carp, pike, tench, carp, catfish, saber fish, perch, chub, roach, and many others. The Volga-Caspian region is one of the world's major destinations in terms of its diversity and abundance of fish. Sturgeon, the source of caviar, is of particular importance. The region is home to the common sturgeon, beluga, stellate sturgeon, and sterlet. Overfishing threatens these fish.. Fishing stations in the Volga Delta are located in Kamyzyaksky, Krasnoyarsky, Narimanovsky, Privolzhsky, and Volodarsky municipal districts. Their presence makes it possible to visit the shallow waters in Ikryaninsky, Kamyzyaksky, and Limansky municipalities, as well as on five banks of the lower Volga: Igolkinsky, Belinskiy, Novo-Vasilievsky, Malo-Belinskiy, and Karaisky.
The Volga Delta is on the seasonal migration routes of many species of bird. Millions of birds pass through the delta each year and 280 different bird species have been counted there, including 30 endangered species such as the white-tailed eagle, white crane, and the Dalmatian pelican. The presence of large amounts of water and food that birds like ensure the richness of the bird life found there. Swans, geese, and ducks tend to live in the parts of the delta close to the Caspian Sea. The area is home to some 50 species of mammals. The forests of the delta are populated with hares, raccoon dogs, foxes, wolves, jackals, and weasels.
See Separate Article VOLGA RIVER factsanddetails.com
Lotus Fields of the Volga Delta
Astrakhan oblast is one of the three places in the world where the Caspian lotus grows — a flower unique in its beauty and a symbol of the region. Vast areas covered with lotus flowers attract thousands of tourists every year. The lotuses blossom from the end of July to mid-September. A carpet of blue-green broad leaves covers the surface of the waters, and erupts in constellations of pastel-pink flowers emitting a sweet almond-like aroma.
Most people visit the lotus fields with a travel companies that specialize in tours of the flowers. The main part of the lotus fields is located in the Volga river delta, which is accessible by four regions in Astrakhan oblast. As a rule, lotus field tours include a hotel pick up and a transfer to a tourist camp, where budara boats set out for the delta, accompanied by local guides. The cost of the tour includes a fisherman's lunch at the tourist camp and a swim during a mid-tour stop at the “green post”. During the tour, tourists have the chance to learn about the flora and fauna of the delta area of the Volga river with its great variety of interesting wildlife species. White-tailed sea eagles, cormorants, herons, ducks, swans, and pelicans can be spotted in this region. Bird watchers are strongly advised to take their binoculars along.
The fields cover hundreds of hectares. Visitors on the tours often served local delicacies such as lotus nastoika (infusion), sandwiches with black caviar and balyk. The tour generally takes an hour or an hour and a half. When arrived back at the recreation center, they fish, eat fish, relax, swim or go to the city. A one-day tour costs within RUB 2,000 per person. If you wish, you can book a room at the recreation center for several days and enjoy nature, fishing and lotuses for a bit longer. Accommodation: There are camp sites in Kamyzyaksky, Volodarsky, Ikryaninsky and Limansky areas. Prices for accommodation start at RUB 600 per person per day. If money is no object there is accommodation for RUB 10,000 per day and even more expensive options.
Water Divider on the Volga
Astrakhan water divider is located on the Volga River, between Volgograd and Astrakhan in the Narimanov district of the city. This hydraulic structure is very unusual and unique. There are said to be only two in the world: the one here and another in South America in the Amazon. The main purpose of the water divider is to deliver water downstream to the Volga delta in years when the water flow is weak and not enough river water reaches the delta..
Construction of the divider began in 1963near the modern city of Narimanov. The total structure consists of a water divider dam about 1100 meters in length and an earthen dam about the same length in the eastern part of the river to allow vessel to pass while the water divider gateway is operating. When the water divider is functioning there are two two possible navigable passages 110 meters long. Each of them is a huge closed metal lifting gate weighing about 1200 tons. Regulating the so-called dam consists of 33 small gate total at length of 840 meters.
V. P. Krivkin wrote: “The main purpose of a water divider is to raise the level of fish reproduction in theVolga-Caspian basin by a regular supply of water to the most valuable natural spawning grounds in the eastsrn delta of the Volga. Simultaneously with the construction of the water divider, the production of electrical power by the Volga hydroelectric stations increases since no-load releases during low flows are no longer required. [Source: Hydrotechnical Construction, July 1974]
“The North Caspian fishery region in its size, raw material base, and fishing intensity is one of the main fishindustry bodies of water in the Soviet Union. The great economic significance of fisheries in the North Caspian is determined not only by the quantity of fish but also by its high-quality species composition. Reproduction of the stock of most valuable semimigratory fishes of the region is inseparably tied to the Volga delta and especially its eastempart, where the main natural spawning grounds are located. The drop of the water level in the Caspian Sea, which began long before construction of hydroelectric stations, and their construction, changed substantially.
In 1977 construction was completed and the water divider was ready to do its job. However, for all time of its existence, the water divider worked only six times: in 1977, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1988 and 1989, while the total duration of his work was 160 days. As a rule, the water divider worked for 20-30 days at the end of the flood, when the water level began to decline.
Astrakhan (500 kilometers southeast of Volgograd) is a 91,042-square-mile region located around the Volga delta on the north side of Caspian Sea. Famous for sturgeon, caviar, fruit and it multi-cultural heritage, it was conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century, destroyed by Tamerlane in 1395, made into the capital of a southern knanate by the Tatars and claimed by Ivan the Terrible after the fall of Kazan in 1552
Astrakhan lies in the middle of Europe's only desert and at the meeting point of Russia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East. It receives less than six inches of rain. Even so fertile soil and irrigation water help farms produce bountiful crops of watermelons, cherries, peaches and apricots. The region has always prospered due to it strategic location and productive agriculture
The rich nature of the Volga Delta attracts people to the Astrakhan region. Tourists come to the region to catch big carp or catfish, gorge themselves on watermelons, check out the blooming upon lotus fields in the Volga Delta and have a swim in the hot weather. . Summers are hot and dry here, with average high temperatures often exceeding 35 degrees C (95 degrees F). Winters are cloudy, humid and windy, with little snow. Warm weather arrived in mid-April and lasts until October.
Getting There: By Plane: There are flights from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Krasnodar, Kazan, Mineralnye Vody and Baku. One-way fare: RUB 2,700 and above from Moscow (travel time 2 hours 20 minutes); RUB 2,300 and above from Saint Petersburg (travel time 2 hours 30 minutes); RUB 3,054 and above from Kazan (travel time 2 hours).
By Train: Approximate one-way fare: RUB 1,500 and above from Moscow (travel time 26 hours); RUB 3,000 and above from Saint Petersburg (travel time 36 hours); By Bus: A ticket from Moscow is RUB 2,100 and above, travel time 20 hours. By Car: If you are travelling by road, the distance between Moscow and Astrakhan is 1,400 kilometers. It is better to plan the route in advance and estimate the fuel expenses. By Cruise Ship: Tourists going to Astrakhan by water arrive here on cruise ships. The season opens on May holidays.
History of Astrakan
The first reliable mention of Astrakhan, then known as Haji-Tarkhan, was in 1333 by the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta. Haji-Tarkhan was the autumn residence of the khans of the Golden Horde; the city was considered to be the largest trade center between India, Persia, the Russian principalities and Europe. In 1395, the lands of the Golden Horde were attacked by Tamerlane, and Haji-Tarkhan was sacked and fell into disrepair. In 1456, Astrakhan became the capital of the Astrakhan Khanate, a relatively weak state with a mostly nomadic Tartar population.
In 1556, Ivan the Terrible annexed the Astrakhan Khanate to Russia, and in 1558, the city was moved 12 kilometers on the left bank of the Volga River to make it easier to defend from trublesome neighbours. In 1670, Astrakhan residents let Stenka Razin in the city and organized a local government. A year later, a tsarist governor besieged the fortress of Astrakhan and the Astrakhan residents’ rebellion was crushed in two and a half months. The plague in 1692 claimed the lives of more than 10,000 of the city’s 16,000 inhabitants (according to the Brockhaus Encyclopaedia).
The Astrakhan province was created by the decree of November 22, 1717 by Peter the Great. Until 1934, Astrakhan was an administrative part of the Lower Volga Region with its center in Saratov, in the Stalingrad region. Since 1943, the city of Astrakhan is the center of the Astrakhan region. In the summer of 1942, Hitler's troops came within 100-150 kilometers of approached Astrakhan. Nazi planes bombed ships on the Volga River, but inflicted little damage on the city itself. During the war, Astrakhan was a key oil supplier on the route between the Caucasus and Central Russia. Many hospitals were located in Astrakhan.
Astrakhan City (100 kilometers northwest of the Caspian Sea and 1,500 kilometers southeast of Moscow) is a city with 500,000 residents and seems like a Central Asian version of Amsterdam. Located in the Volga Delta, it is filled with canals, bridges as well as mosques and stone houses that once lined bustling bazaars. The residents are a mix of Russians, Tatars, Kalmuks and Kyrgyz.
Astrakhan City is situated on 11 islands of the Caspian lowland, in the upper part of the Volga Delta, The main part of the city is located on the left bank of the Volga, and approximately 20 percent of the city residents live on the right bank. Two bridges connect both parts of the city across the Volga.
In 1950-60s, Astrakhan was reconstructed. A new general plan for the development and reconstruction of the city was approved, according to which new parks and squares were built, the reconstruction of the Volga River embankment and the restoration of the Kremlin were launched, new housing estates appeared, roads were sealed, etc.
Accommodation: Hotels, Hostels and Guest Houses in Astrakhan Major booking sites show at least a hundred accommodation options for tourists. This is not the limit. Astrakhan has hostels, guest houses and large hotels for any budget. U Hostel offers budget-friendly accommodation. Prices start at RUB 450 per night. For this price you will receive a bed with curtains, a lockable drawer, a shared kitchen, free tea and cookies. The hostel is located within walking distance of the Kremlin and other city attractions.
Novomoskovskaya Hotel, located 150 meters from the Kremlin, opened its doors in 1793. This historic building was renovated several years ago. Today, it is a five-star hotel. Prices for accommodation here start at RUB 4,000 per day. Closer to the Volga embankment there is another hotel with a century of history. Astrakhanskaya Hotel (formerly Evropeyskaya) was founded in 1890. Throughout its history, it accommodated the Emperor Alexander III, writer Maxim Gorky, artist Vasily Surikov, journalist Vladimir Gilyarovsky and the singer Fedor Chaliapin. Prices for accommodation here start at RUB 3500 per day.
Sights in Astrakhan City
The main landmark, the Kremlin, is an impressive hilltop fortress built in 1550 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside is the Assumption Cathedral, Trinity Cathedral and Red Tower. Other sights include the former Azov-Don Bank, Gubin’s mansion, the tent-roofed tower of the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour, Demidov’s courtyard, Kustodiev Art Gallery, History and Architecture Museum, Cherniishevsky Literature Museum, Kazan Icon Church and Ioann Zlatoust Church. There is also a university, public gardens and old wooden houses.
Thepm Dogadin Astrakhan State Art Gallery feature nearly 20,000 exhibits, including an interesting collection of abstract paintings and prints. The gallery is located in an old three-story mansion with a well-kept courtyard. Summers here are rich in events featuring local and visiting musicians, artists and art critics. Admission fee for the entire exhibition is RUB 200 for adults, RUB 50 for children (under school age — free) and RUB 100 for pensioners and students.
The Neva-Volga fountains on Lenin Square represent an unusual composition — a chain consisting of seven fountains stretches for almost half a kilometer. This is one of the largest fountains in the world. The beginning and end of the chain are marked with large fountains — anmed the Neva and the Volga. Smaller fountains, unite the entire composition with the help of channels similar to full-flowing rivers. Complement the ensemble are unusual sculptures harmoniously inscribed in the composition.
The Astrakhan Kremlin was founded during the reign of Ivan the terrible. Back then, it was wooden. Today, it is made of stone. Historical artifacts are still being found here. During the laying of the water supply system, construction workers found the remains of a hut with perfectly preserved household utensils. The Kremlin houses several thematic exhibitions. They can be seen in the towers and the armory building that was reconstructed after sketches that had been preserved.
In 1558, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the wooden Kremlin was build as an outpost on Russia's southeastern frontier. In the 1680s, stone walls and eight towers (seven of which have been preserved) were built. The walls were made of the stone brought from ruined cities of the Golden Horde. The Kremlin's configuration was determined by the landscape. The Kremlin forms an improperly-shaped triangle. The walls are up to 3.5 meters wide, while the height of the building reaches 11 meters. The total length of the walls is 1,554 meters. Three of the seven remaining towers have through-passages, and the other four have closed passages.
Ensemble of the Astrakhan Kremlin was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Astrakhan Kremlin is a markworthy monument of military and engineering art of building of the second half of 16th century and of the orthodox church architecture of 17th-18th centuries.” Opening hours: daily, from 7:00 am to 9.00 pm. Free entrance to the Kremlin grounds. Price of one exhibition ticket: RUB 50 (about 30 US cents) for adults, RUB 30 for students, RUB 20 for children (up to 3 years — free).
History of the Astrakhan Kremlin
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: In 1558 a wooden Kremlin was built. Construction of stone fortification of Astrakhan Kremlin started during the reign of Ivan the Terrible and it was completed during reign of Fedor Ioanovich with participation of Boris Godunov. Walls and eight towers were erected in the period of 1582 - 1589. The project of the stone Kremlin was approved in Moscow and Moscow specialists Mikhail Velyaminov, Grigoriy Ovzin and government official Dey Gubasty headed reconstruction of the Kremlin. The configuration of the Kremlin was dictated by a local natural landscape. The Kremlin planform is a right-angled triangle with walls of 3-3,5 meters thickness and 7-1 1,3 meters height. The whole length of walls is 1554 meters, total area of the Kremlin is 11 hectares and these parameters are kept up to our days. [Source: Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO]
“Initially the Kremlin walls had 8 towers and 7 of them are preserved to our days. Three towers have passages and four other are blind: Red Gate, Nikolskay Gate, Prechistenskie Gate, Ordnance tower (or "Torture"), Arkhireyskaya, Zhitnaya, Krymskaya (Crimean). The real embellishments of the Kremlin are unique orthodox temples: the Cathedral of the Assumption, Trinity Cathedral (1 568) with adjoined Refectory Camber of former Trinity monastery (lost), Kirill's Chapel (1 677), Over-the-gate Nikolskaya Church (1738) and the Cathedral bell tower (80 meters height, 1910).
“The Assumption Cathedral of the Astrakhan Kremlin is considered by right as one of the best pieces of the Russian church architecture of the early 18th century. During his visit to Astrakhan in 1722 Emperor Peter the Great expressed admiration for the exquisitely decorated five-domed Assumption Cathedral: "In the whole of my empire,- Peter said, - there is not a single cathedral as beautiful as this one".
“Just after construction of the Kremlin walls a military garrison, the building of Administrative Chamber, Voevode's mansion had been placed there. In 18th century the Govemor Palace, Metropolitan's Chambers, the Govemor Chancery and 131 dwelling houses were built in the Kremlin. In early 1720 all these dwelling houses were taken out from the Kremlin and during the period of 1806 - 1813 only officer houses, barracks and other buildings for Astrakhan garrison were constructed there.
“In the middle of 20th century the military garrison was withdrew from the territory of Astrakhan Kremlin and the garrison service buildings adjacent to the wall were pulled down, but the house of officership front rooms preserved, in general, its primary appearance up to date. The guard- house erected in 1808 in the center of the Kremlin exists now and in spite of some inside re- planning it keeps the historical value as an object of original construction of the stone Kremlin. At present all existing buildings on the Kremlin territory are under protection of the State.”
Historical Events and the Astrakhan Kremlin
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Astrakhan Kremlin is bounded up with significant historical events in Russia: In 1556, the Astrakhan Khanate was conquered by Ivan the Terrible, who had a new fortress built on a steep hill overlooking the Volga. In 1569, Astrakhan was besieged by the Ottoman army, which had to retreat in disarray. A year later, the Sultan renounced his claims to Astrakhan, thus opening the entire Volga River to Russian traffic. In the 17th century, the city was developed as a Russian gate to the Orient. Many merchants from Armenia, Persia, India and Khiva settled in the downtown, giving it a multinational and variegated character. [Source: Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO]
“In 1614 inhabitants of Astrakhan took by storm the Kremlin and expelled Marina Mnishek (she would like to seize the Russian Throne) and her protector ataman (Cossack chieftain) Zarutskiy. For seventeen months in 1670-1671 Astrakhan was held by Stenka Razin and his Cossacks. The city rebelled against the tsar once again in 1705, when it was held by the Cossacks under Kondraty Bulavin. A Kalinuck khan laid an abortive siege to the kremlin several years prior to that. In 171 1, it was made a capital of a gubemiya, whose first governors included Artemy Petrovich Volynsky and Vasily Nikitich Tatishchev. Six years later, Astrakhan served as a base for the first Russian venture into Central Asia.
“In 1942, during World War II Astrakhan stood the siege and the Astrakhan Kremlin played again a role of the main defence of the Astrakhan City which has not been occupied. At the present time towers, walls and monuments of the Astrakhan Kremlin are under restoration for its 450 anniversary in 2008. The works on preparation of Kremlin properties as museum pieces are also in progress.”
Buildings in the Astrakhan Kremlin
Astrakhan State United Historical and Architectural Museum Reserve comprises five historical buildings: Krasnye Vorota tower (exhibit: Astrakhan Kremlin, an Example of Military-Engineering Ingenuity from the Mid-16th Century); an Artillery yard with a gunpowder store from the 16th century; and a Torture Tower from the 16th century (two exhibits: Old Astrakhan Architecture and Legal History), as well as expositions of Guardhouse and Arsenal.
“According to a report submitted to UNESCO: In the center of Kremlin, in the building of former Administration of Military Commander it is presented museum exposition "Culture and Mode of Life of Peoples of Astrakhan Region". In the exposition there are unique artefacts of Russians, Tatars, Kazakhs, Kalmyks and some other peoples of the Lower Volga. Now it is supposed to place the Residence of Astrakhan Governor and his Chancellery in the building of former military store.On the first tier of the Red Gate Tower it is placed an exhibition "the History of Astrakhan Gamson" and on the third tier at a height 14,7 meters there is a vista point for tourists.”
The Dormition of the Mother of God Cathedral in the Kremlin is one of the best examples of Russian church architecture of the early 18th century. Peter the Great, who visited Astrakhan in 1722, admiringly said that he had never seen such a beautiful temple in his empire. There is a place for executions near the cathedral. There are two places for executions in Russia: on Red Square in Moscow and here. The belfry of the Dormition Cathedral is the Resurrection Bell Tower built at the beginning of the 20th century. By the way, the bell tower is a “leaning” one: it leans off-center by 52 centimeters.
Artillery (Torture) Tower of the Astrakhan Kremlin is the third extant ancient tower in the Kremlin, along with Zhitnaya and Crimea. The tower got its name because of the Artillery, or Zeleynogo, courtyard adjacent to it. It’s other name dates back to the 17th century when the authoritarian governor Ivan Twig used torture in his judicial inquiries in the tower
Sarai: Golden Horde Capital
Sarai (Between Astrakan and Volgograd) was the Golden Horde's capital. It was sacked by Tamerlane in 1395. Little is left except a few bricks. Sarai (also transcribed as Saraj or Saray) was the name of two cities, which were both capital cities of the Golden Horde, the Mongol kingdom which ruled much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in the 13th and 14th centuries. "Old Sarai", or "Sarai Batu" was established by Mongol ruler Batu Khan in the mid-1240s, on a site east of the Akhtuba river, near to the modern village of Selitrennoye. "New Sarai" or "Sarai Berke" was at modern Kolobovka, formerly Tsarev, an archeological site also on the Akhtuba channel 85 kilometers east of Volgograd, and about 180 kilometers northwest of Old Sarai. [Source: Wikipedia]
Old Sara was most likely located on the Akhtuba River, a channel of the lower Volga River, near the contemporary village of Selitrennoye in Kharabali District, Astrakhan Oblast, Russia, about 120 kilometers north from Astrakhan. Sarai was the seat of Batu and his successor Berke. Under them Sarai was the capital of a great empire. The various Rus' princes came to Sarai to pledge allegiance to the Khan and receive his patent of authority (yarlyk).
Sarai was described by the famous traveller Ibn Battuta as "one of the most beautiful cities ... full of people, with the beautiful bazaars and wide streets", and having 13 congregational mosques along with "plenty of lesser mosques". Another contemporary source describes it as "a grand city accommodating markets, baths and religious institutions". An astrolabe was discovered during escavations at the site and the city was home to many poets, most of whom are known only by name.
Both cities were sacked several times. Timur sacked New Sarai around 1395, and Meñli I Giray of the Crimean Khanate sacked New Sarai around 1502. The forces of Ivan IV of Russia finally destroyed Sarai after conquering the Astrakhan Khanate in 1556. In 1623-1624, a Russian merchant, Fedot Kotov, travelled to Persia via the lower Volga. He described the site of Sarai: “Here by the river Akhtuba stands the Golden Horde. The khan's court, palaces, and courts, and mosques are all made of stone. But now all these buildings are being dismantled and the stone is being taken to Astrakhan.” Since Old Sarai lies at 120 kilometers from Astrakhan and New Sarai at 300 kilometers, it is difficult to decide to which of these two cities this description applies. After the destruction of New Sarai, Russia established the fortress city of Tsaritsyn (later Stalingrad, now Volgograd) to control the area.
Sarai Juk (Little Sarai) was a city on the Ural River. It is often conflated with the other Sarais in historical and modern accounts. This town was the main city of the Nogai Horde, one of the successors of the Golden Horde. Although sacked by the Ural Cossacks in 1580, it was later used as the headquarters by some Kazakh khans.
Selitrennoe Ancient Settlement Museum
The Selitrennoe Ancient Settlement Museum (100 kilometers north of Astrakhan) was founded in 2003 on the site of Old Sarai, the ancient town founded by Batu Khan in the 13th century that was the capital of the Golden Horde. It is located on the Akhtuba river bank in the Kharabalinsky district. Selitrennoe Ancient Settlement is an federal archaeological monument. It is considered to be one of the largest archaeological sites in Russia.
The ruins of the capital of the Golden Horde have long attracted the attention of travelers and explorers. Since 1965 archaeological research has been performed in the Selitrennoye ancient settlement.
Over the years, scientists have excavated more than 30,000 square meters in the town. Pottery and glassmaker workshops were uncoverd, and traces of bone carving workshops and a semi-precious stone processing workshop were discovered. Manors of the Golden Horde aristocrats, a complex of public buildings standing on the square, were discovered, including a large mosque and a public bathhouse. In addition dozens of homes belonging to ordinary citizens were explored.
Lake Baskunchak — Saltier Than the Dead Sea — and the Singing Rocks
Lake Baskunchak(340 kilometers away from Astrakhan) is saltier than the Dead Sea and black Baskunchak clay is said to have many health benefits and cure many diseases. Visitors often travel to the lake as part of day trip and walk along the shore, take a quick dip and smear themselves with clay.
The most popular season for swimming is June-August. Cars are not allowed at the lake, you have to take a shuttle bus. The winters are freezing here, yet the scenery resembles pictures from other planets, even more fantastic than in the summer. You can stay at “Baskunchak”Health and Recreation Resort. Prices for a standard double room start at RUB 1,500 a night.
Lake Baskunchak lies in the Bogdinsko-Baskunchaksky Nature Reserve, founded to protect the semi-desert environment and Lake Baskunchak, Russia’s largest endorheic lake (a lake with no outflows). Among the specially protected sites in the reserve are Bolshoe Bogdo (Big Bogdo) Mountain, one of the southernmost peaks of the Urals, and Zeleny Sad (Green Garden) area, an oasis of forest vegetation in the semi-arid Caspian region.
Big Bogdo Mountain, the highest point (at 147 meters) in the Caspian Depression and home to the "singing rocks", Swiss-cheese-like limestone formations that produce unusual sounds when air blows through them. The top of Big Bogdo is 130 meters above the terrain. The hill itself is a karst (limestone) formation with over 30 caves. It is growing approximately 1 millimeters in height each year due to the pressure of the underlying salt dome.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), 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