Libmonster ID: KZ-1558
Author(s) of the publication: Olga BAZANOVA

The city of Astrakhan-also described as a "Russian Venice"- takes in a cluster of eleven isles in the estuary of the Volga, just where the great Russian river branches out to flow into the Caspian Sea. The first written record about this locality goes back to the thirteenth century A.D.: in his travel notes Francesco Pelagotti, a merchant of Florence, Italy, mentions As-Tarkhan, a major commercial and industrial center of the Golden Horde, just 12 kilometers north of what is now Astrakhan.

Crushing the Khanate of Kazan in 1552, Czar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) cleared the way to the Khanate of Astrakhan, a "gate to Asia". Gaining a foothold in this key strategic region, Muscovy enlarged her territory. Not only that: she could also build bridges to oriental countries and push ahead toward the North Caucasus and Siberia. After the victorious war campaigns of 1554 and 1556 Russia, as an eminent early 19th-century writer and historian Nikolai Karamzin noted, "moved her domains towards the Caspian Sea

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and, besides glory and splendor, she was in for new sources of wealth and power, and kept expanding her trade and political sway."

Ivan Cheremisinov, the voivode (governor) of the newly added allodium who captained the Astrakhan war campaign, chose a vantage place for a fortress that was to safeguard the southern frontiers of the Russian state. As the Sacristan Chronicle (put down by Cyril Vasilyev, a sacrist of the local Dormition Church, and published as late as 1887), it was a tall holt rising on an island amidst "impassable bogs and quagmires and saline patches and woodlands in part... bounded by the Volga, three rivers... and by a deep saline lake... so that one could not approach it closer than ten versts (about ten kilometers) except by boats which the Tartars had none at the time".

Ivan Vyrodkov of the Works Prikaz (Administration)- the first Russian war engineer whose name is in the annals of history-started building a rampart of wood and earthwork in 1558; that year is considered the foundation date of Astrakhan. Meanwhile the Crimean Khanate would make repeated attempts to seize it; the Nogai tribe would also raid the territory, along with "other overseas neighbors"... But the stronghold withstood such assaults. It became clear, however, that Russia's southernmost advance post had to be reinforced further in keeping with the fortification canons of the day.

In 1584 to 1589 a stone citadel (Kremlin) was put up in place of the old wooden one. According to the Piskarev Chronicler*, the stone kremlin was "immeasurably nice,

* This chronicle recorded in the early 17th century furnishes bits of historical evidence from the birth of Rus (Russia) down to the year 1615. Now in the stock of the Russian State Library in Moscow.-Ed.

with its belt of green-and-red marble". A fine example of Russian defense-line architecture, the Astrakhan kremlin became one of Russia's impregnable fortresses. The construction work was overseen by Mikhail Velyaminov and Grigory Ovtzyn, master urban builders from Moscow, as well as by Dey Gubasty (Dey the Big Lip), a government official. They made use of plinthos wall brick brought in large quadrangular solid blocks from the ruins of the Golden Horde's 13th-century towns in the lower reaches of the Volga.

The walls and towers of the citadel were furnished with bicorn merlons (prongs) and machicoulis loopholes (embrasures) tilted somewhat for delivering oblique fire from small arms or for pouring hot pitch or boiling water on the heads of attackers. On the ground level pockets of low fire were built in the wall (7 to 11 meters tall, 3 to 5 m thick), as it was common practice in other Russian fortresses, with heavy guns employed for shelling. Higher up were loopholes for harquebuses-these positions were installed in a checkered fashion with respect to the loopholes below. Such kind of fire organization made in possible to boost manifold the density of fire; never used before in the art of warfare, that system was the last word in war-making.

Each level of the towers held loopholes for all-round defense; defenders were able to move freely through passageways on top of the wall (vantage positions for making use of small arms) and through tunnels cut within the wall. Several towers have survived in their original look. These are the Crimean Tower (17 meters tall) built in five levels as well as the four-level Artillery Tower (16 meters tall) likewise used as a dungeon, and the Granary Tower, 12.7 meters tall.

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Two towers were added much later: the Transit Tower, also yclept St. Nicholas Gate, surmounted by a chapel consecrated to Saint Nicholas of Mirlikia (1729-1738), the patron saint of seafarers and fishermen; and the four-level Archierean Tower, 15 meters tall, erected in 1843.

The Red Gate Tower (14.5 m), rising topmost on the kremlin grounds, overlooks the Volga; during restoration works in 1958 to 1966 architects reproduced it the way it looked like in the sixteenth century. Opened there in 2012 is an exhibition-"Astrakhan as Russia's Southern Outpost (16th-19th cent.)" based on exhibits in care of the regional museum. Put on display on the ground floor are items about town life in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in particular, on the role of Astrakhan in fostering economic ties with neighboring regions and in the defense of the Russian state. One of the eye-catchers is a model of the restored wall of the old wooden kremlin with its loopholes and guns of the late fifteen-hundreds; nearby are materials and tools employed by its builders, and a small-scale panorama of the siege of the fortress by the Crimean-Turkish host in 1569.

The first floor features trade relations in the 18th and 19th centuries. A major hub of industries and commerce, Astrakhan was a trans-shipping point of goods (silk, muslin, spices, rice, coffee, fruits, morocco and many other things) brought in from Central Asia, Persia, Transcaucasia, India and other parts by foreign merchants who set up their courts in the town. We can take a look at what eastern shops and all the various boats-fishing and oil-carrying vessels, and all-looked like. Getting upstairs to the second floor we see photos and cards of the 19th and early 20th century alongside maps and town plans of the

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"Caspian capital"; and last, we can enjoy the cityscape of present-day Astrakhan if we mount an observatory above and, using telescopes installed there, take a close look at particular houses of the inner city.

The St. Trinity Monastery (17th-18th cent.) is the oldest surviving historic monument of the Astrakhan kremlin. This cloister comprises three churches built on a common semi-basement: the St. Trinity Church, the Feast-of-the-Purification Church, and the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. Added to these churches as wings are two (summer- and wintertime) refectories. Standing nearby is the Cyril chapel (1677) erected above the grave of Cyril, the first hegumen (father superior) of the monastery. The facades of these buildings have been renovated, and work is in progress on restoration of the interiors.

The august Assumption (Dormition) Cathedral is certainly a gem of the kremlin and the most remarkable architectural monument in the region of the low Volga built between 1698 and 1710. This is one of the country's most spectacular monuments of the Moscow baroque*. It was built on donations of the townspeople and visiting merchants; the building works were supervised by Dorofei Myakishev, a serf architect. Yet the very idea of the House of the Lord-its image as we see it today-was conceptualized by His Eminence Sampson, the Metropolitan (Archbishop) of Astrakhan. He had it built in two levels and devised elements of the decor. Father Sampson did a great deal for his eparchy and its Orthodox churches.

This is an imposing church. Its monumental cube is crowned with five golden domes, and its facades are done

See: I. Terekhova, "Russian Baroque", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2009.-Ed.

in ornate brick facets of a hundred varieties and in lavish carvings of white stone. A two-level gallery encircles the ground floor fenced off by a palisade adorned with intricate carved images, including those of the Savior, Theotokos and saints; the effect is that of aerial grace relieving somewhat the massive heaviness of the base. "This is the fairest church in my land," said Peter I visiting Astrakhan in 1722.

Next to the cathedral is the Lobnoye miasto, a public tribune used now and then also as a place of execution; it is the second one in Russia to have survived to this day after one in the Red Square of Moscow. Linked to the church, this is a cylindrical structure with a round pad for the archbishop and clerks. Its raised platform was used for public molebens (services) and for promulgation of government ukases, or edicts. The inner room was under a judicial chamber and a gaol. A broad stairway takes us to the first floor of the cathedral with the upper (summer) Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos. The lower church consecrated to the Icon of the Vladimir Mother of God-put up between 1714 and 1914-doubled as a burial vault of archbishops of Astrakhan and voivodes; two Georgian tsars were laid to rest there, too.

Rising nearby is the tall 80-meter Belfry of the Purification furnished with three gateways. This is the last structure erected in the Astrakhan kremlin in 1908 to 1912. The decor of its facades is rendered after the model of the Assumption (Dormition) Cathedral, and thus both buildings merge into a single architectural ensemble.

The Astrakhan kremlin is fairly large-11 hectares, or about 28 acres. It encloses other structures as well-the Archierean House dating to the 16th-17th centuries, lodgings of army officers, barracks for private soldiers

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(1805), the guardhouse, and the like. Astrakhan had to keep a strong garrison well into the 18th century. There were also quite a few residential houses of wood and earthwork. Recovered during diggings in 2012 were bits and pieces of 14-century decor, stoves of the 17th century and other artifacts. The most significant find was a home furnished with a barn believed to be dating to the late sixteen-hundreds and early seventeen-hundreds, badly damaged by a fire. Detected in it were the millstones of a handmill, scorched bags of oats, ceramics preserved rather well and other items.

In 1974 the kremlin became part of the amalgamated Astrakhan State Historic and Architectural Preserve and Museum, one of the oldest in Russian provincial towns. Dedicated in 1837, the museum added in 1911 other premises in the town hall to keep its expanding stocks; part of its collections is still there. With renovation works completed in 2012, the halls of the museum now display many new exhibits, for one, "flies in amber" on the history and natural environment of the land.

The "Gold of Nomads" holds pride of place among the exhibits of the Gubernatorial Museum as it was called in old days. It shows articles of precious metal recovered by archeologists since the 1960s in burial mounds of Iranian tribes populating the dry steppes north of the Caspian in the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. Exquisite articles recovered from the grave of a warlord are the first to catch our notice. These are the symbols of power, in particular, the grivna or pectoral-a hoop worn about the chiefs neck and adorned with scenes of "lacerations" depicting a predator tearing an ungulate to pieces. Also in this treasure find are seals, belt buckles in the shape of a squatting

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beast cum mosaic shell, a gauntlet supplied with five decorative borders for tightening sleeves on the wrist. Buried together with the ruler was his trusty steed and its harness decorated with ornamented round badges having heads of gryphons above.

There are lots of other precious curios. For instance, gold earrings with images of horsemen in a chariot (5th cent. B.C.); a plate in the shape of an equus couchant dated 6th-5th cent. A.D.; a helical bracelet with heads of rams at both ends (3rd cent. B.C.); a tumar (a case for a charm to ward off evil, disease, barrenness or the Evil one). We see also items of posh tableware-every kind of chalices, amphorae, kylikes, oinocheias, scoops and other vessels for ritual libations; there are articles used in magic rites as well as female toiletries. Many exhibits are done in the feral style, that is in the fashion of fancy beasts.

In 2012 the local history department of the Astrakhan regional museum opened an Armory Room displaying an exclusive collection of cold steel and firearms, and war equipment of the seventeenth to the latter half of the twentieth century. Guests can take a look at weapons and armor manufactured in medieval Iran, sabers and rifles made at Tula* and Zlatoust**, Caucasian daggers and cavalry swords. The rarities on display include a matchwork musket made in Western Europe in the 18th cent., a Middle Asian karamultuk (a long-barrel matchwork gun), an Indian flintlock gun manufactured in the 19th century and decorated with gold and mother-of-pearl, and the first Soviet automatic pistol of the Korovin system made in 1926.

The Astrakhan museum holds rich collections of numismatics, ethnography, archeology and what relates to the natural sciences (mineralogy, botany, zoology, paleontology); we might just as well add the many documents, photographs, antique books, paintings, drawings, sculptures and all the various mockups and models, all told, nearly 300 thousand items. The museum has 14 branches both in town and out in the region.

It would be just as thrilling if you visit the Astrakhan Picture Gallery dedicated in 1918 and named after Pavel Dogadin, its founder. Of mercantile parentage, he was a skilled engineer and mechanic ardently in love with the pictorial arts. Dogadin donated his rich collection of more than 130 works of art of the late eighteen-hundreds and early nineteen-hundreds wrought at home and abroad. He also donated to his native town a collection of autographs and a private library, together with the house keeping all that. In 1921 the museum moved into one of the best mansions, now an architectural monument-the manor of a merchant Plotnikov, built around 1905 to 1909.

See: O. Borisova, "Town of Wonderworkers", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2013.-Ed.

** See: V. Schastlivtsev, D. Rodionov, Yn. Khlebnikov, "Secrets of Zlatoust Metal", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2012.-Ed.

Today the stock of the picture gallery numbers over 19,000 canvases, mostly works of eminent Russian artists of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Suffice if we mention the great 18th-century portrait-painters Fyodor Rokotov, Dmitry Levitzky, Vladimir Borovikovsky and their 19th century successors-Karl Brullov, Vassily Tropinin... Genre-painting of the 19th century is likewise well represented by such maitres as Vassily Perov, Nikolai Nevrev, Ilya Repin, Vassily Surikov, Konstantin Makovsky and Nikolai Yaroshenko... In the galaxy of landscape painters we find Arkhip Kuindji, Ivan Shishkin, Alexei Savrasov, Vassily Polenov, Isaac Levitan, among others. The innovative art of the late eighteen-hundreds and early nineteen-hundreds is embodied in the works of another constellation that rose to prominence at that time by virtue of their creative searchings. These are Mikhail Nesterov, Valentin Serov, Mikhail Vrubel, Viktor Borisov-Mussatov, Konstantin Somov, Sergei Sudeikin, Konstantin Korovin, Nikolai Roerich, Robert Falk, Vassily Kandinsky, Kazi-mir Malevich and many others. The realistic art of the early 20th century is as much a part of the works of Kuz-ma Petrov-Vodkin, Sergei Gerassimov, Alexander Deine-ka, Georgi Nissky, Semyon Chuikov...

The Engraving Cabinet opened to the public in 2009 is truly the gem of the exposition. Part of the exhibits comes

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from a gift donated to Astrakhan in 1892 by Ivan Repin, a merchant collecting works of art, books and other valuable items, and patronizing fine arts. At first his collection of 10,000 West European works of the 18th and 19th centuries (together with 9,000 engravings wrought by Russian and European masters between the 16th and 19th centuries) was in the custody of the Central Gubernatorial Library; in 1926 it was expanded by graphic art drawings and moved to the picture gallery.

This is a large and highly informative collection with its rich palette of genres and techniques of European art. Among the masterpieces we can see a woodcut, The Death of Maria (The Assumption of the Mother of God) after Albrecht Dürer (1502 to 1505); works by his compatriot Hans Holbein Junior painted in England in the fifteen-twenties and fifteen-thirties; we see also the Italians-Francesco Bartolozzi, Federico Barocci, and Giovanni Piranesi (16th-17th cent.). The 18 century is represented by William Hogarth (known for his satirical pictures of 18th-century English life, e.g., Marriage á la Mode, 1745). Next follow drawings by German-born Daniel Hodowetzki, Johann Riedinger, Georg Schmidt, Ignatius Klauberg, among others. Put on display is the working model of a 17th-century engraving lathe, a good teaching aid for students of the art of classical engraving.

One daughter branch of the Astrakhan Art Gallery is housed in a lovely mansion built in a la russe and thought to be Russia's best*. Anyway, it is the only one to have survived in the region. Such wooden tower-chambers were much in

See: T. Geidor, " Diversity of Styles in Russian Architecture", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2009; O. Protopopova, "Russian Style in the Osterman House", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2011.-Ed.

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vogue in the late eighteen-hundreds. In 1870-1872 Grigo-ry Tetyushinov, a merchant hailing from one of the local districts, would put up chambers like that for his private use. He was the first to build screw steamers and was among the founders of the Moscow Navigation School. In addition, he set up gardening courses for each and everyone.

The owner of these magic chambers first intended to use them only for a summer residence; yet in 1912 he had them weatherized for the winter season so as to live all-the-year-round there. The chambers were renovated and restored back to their original look in 2009 on the occasion of Astrakhan's 450th foundation date; the next year it hosted a cultural and musical center, The Tetyushinov House. It is a major educational center for art fans, and a place where they can meet artists, musicians, composers, stage actors...

This manor is built of logs in two levels. On three sides it is girdled with open verandas and attics, traditional for Russian national architecture. The windows, the pediment and the railings of the verandas are adorned with exquisite carved designs proper to Russian wood architecture; the butt-ends are closed by "towels", or vertical strips with ornamented edges; the cross-beams of the roof are protected against moisture by decorated gibs. A presidential decree of 1995 listed this mansion among objects of national historic and cultural heritage.

The layout of the mansion is still as it was, and so are the stoves faceted in while tiles. The Astrakhan townspeople have helped to revive the atmosphere of the old mansion in a "good-giving" crusade. Art gallery workers asked fellow Astrakhanians through the mass media to donate antiquities, if any, to the Historic and Cultural Center, and the townsfolk responded by parting with what they had-antique furniture, tableware, household articles, clothes, laces, napkins, and all. Guests can see that in the newly restored private den of the old homeowner, in the drawing and maid-servants' rooms. The "good-giving" crusade is still on. Visitors can enjoy see-and-touch exhibits and even use them on the premises.

Another wonder, as reported by Astrakhan newspapers back in 1909: a motion picture-palace opened on Indian Street next to the modern school; built in the posh new style, that electrical cinema with its hall seating seven hundred and a large foye was lauded as Russia's first in beauty. Indeed, it was an up-to-date affair justly named Moderne. We can well understand the glee of reporters: the vestibule of this temple of the "tenth Muse" had a winter garden, 1,800 m2 large, with evergreens and aquarium. The building with its lush indoor garden was renovated in the 1950s; today this is the Oktyabr movie-theater.

Still another wonder worth of a visit; a dendrarium and its exotic plants. Apart from four date-palms from the Canaries (age, 133 to 170 years, fructifying), this arboretum boasts of a fig-tree (Bengal ficus), 95 years of age. We might just as well name other exotic plants like the monsteroo, lemon-trees, araucnuts, philodendrons and other floral denizens of Central and South America. The Astrakhan arboretum is also home to exotic fauna species like monkeys, parrots and parakeets (cockatoo, gray parrots), peacocks, golden pheasants, sturgeons, piranhas. Even a crocodile is at home there!


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