Thursday, February 5, 2009, 3:31 PM Printable version
Ekaterinburg is the third largest city in Russia, the administrative centre of the Sverdlovsk region and the capital of the Ural.
Situated on the eastern side of the Ural Mountain range, Ekaterinburg was founded in 1723 as an iron foundry along the Iset River.
The city has now become the main industrial and cultural center of the Ural Federal District. Ekaterinburg forms a natural border between Europe and Asia at the crossroads of the two continents. Its geographical location as the “Gateway to Asia” determined its political, economic and cultural peculiarities.
|Approaching Ekaterinburg (New York Library), 1816. Picture via Clip_kpb @ E1.RU|
According to archeologists, remains of ancient mesolitic sites, dating from VIII-VII BC have been found on the territory of Ekaterinburg and its outskirts. Before the arrival of Russian settlers early in the seventeenth century, the area was populated by various nomadic groups that had scattered with the disintegration of the Mongol Horde and the conquest of the Siberian Khanate by the Cossack Yermak Timofeyevich in 1582. The merchant families of Stroganovs and Demidovs contributed to the development of this area.
|The city founders – Vasily Nikitovich Tatischev and Villim de Gennin. Photo by Stanislav "Poltergejst" Aristov|
The city was founded in 1723 by Peter the Great's servants and advisors — the military engineer General Georg Wilhelm de Gennin and the artillery academy graduate Captain Vasily Nikitovich Tatischev, who would become a prominent statesman, noted scientist and one of the first historians of Russia. They were tasked by Emperor Peter the Great to build a metallurgical plant on the Iset River that was supposed to be the largest in Russia. The official date of the city foundation is November 18, 1723, when two iron-forging hammers were put into operation in the foundry shop of the plant. The city however celebrates its birthday in August, when the weather is warmer. The city was named after Tsar Peter the Great's wife Empress Catherine I (Yekaterina I).
This new plant had the following facilities: two blast-furnaces, 14 iron-forging hammers, copper works, steel and anchor plants, etc. The metallurgical plant produced iron, cast iron and copper. At the time it was the largest iron making plant in Russia. Ekaterinburg fast became the industrial and military center of the Mining Administration and an important stronghold set up by the government of Peter I for the colonization of the vast expanses of the Ural and Siberia.
Tatischev himself staffed the first workers and builders. On April 2, 1723 the Uktus plant commissar received an order to meet workers from Nikita Demidov's plant — clerk, dam craftsmen and foremen. Among them was Leonty Zlobin, a dam builder from the Nevyansk plant. He gave general engineering guidance to the plant building and Iset dam. In autumn of 1723, soldiers of the Tobolsk regiment arrived. In June 1723 the construction works involved 2000 people — soldiers, forced farmworkers, free contractors, workmen of state and private plants and convicts. One of the workers on the plant was Ivan Alekseevitch Polzunov, father of Ivan Polzunov who invented the first Russian steam-engine.
According to the first general city planning scheme, the area reclamation was modeled on the best examples of European fortifications of Germany, Netherlands and France. That is why the name of the city includes the suffix “-burg” (German for “city”). The European influence can also be traced in the city planning and architecture as developed by Wilhelm de Gennin and Vasily Tatischev.
This plant used the energy of the dam on the Iset River — the oldest construction of the city preserved today. The dam was built in 1723 using Ural larch because this type of wood does not rot in water and becomes as firm as stone. Residents call this place tenderly “Historic Public Garden” or “Plotinka”. Today Lenin Street runs across the top of the dam separating the City Pond from the river below.
By the end of the 1750s steel and wire production was decreasing and in 1769 the copper works was stopped. In 1808 the iron foundry in Ekaterinburg closed down.
Ekaterinburg was build as the capital of the mining region — a wide territory spanning both sides of the Ural Mountains, linking Europe to Asia. The city developed as the administrative center of the metallurgical industry in the Ural and Siberia. The branch administrative system of mining plants was situated in Ekaterinburg and was independent from the local authority. After 1781 the administration of the mining system was ruled by the state government authority.
In 1725 a mint (“Platniy dvor”) was built where copper coins were produced for Russia’s currency. At first it produced the so-called "plat" (a heavy plate with the face-value equal to the metal price).
The mint and a lapidary factory (“Granilnaya fabrika”) were added to form one big enterprise in 1726. They were led by talented Russian mining experts, master carpenters and dam builders. The lapidary factory became the main supplier of semi-precious stones to Saint-Petersburg and European capitals. Stones from the Ural were used for production of the columns of the world-famous St. Isaac Cathedral and a rhodonite sarcophagus for the Tsar’s family. Stone vases and cups displayed in the Winter Palace (“Zimny Dvoretz”) of the Russian Emperor in Saint-Petersburg were also made at the lapidary factory in Ekaterinburg. Its fine artisanship adorns the expositions of many worlds’ famous museums.
At first Ekaterinburg belonged to the Tobolsk region. In 1781 it was granted the status of a town within the Perm principality. In 1783 the Senate approved its coat of arms. The upper part of the shield displayed a bear with the New Testament on its back against the background of red. The lower part showed a silver smelting furnace and a mine against the background of green which symbolized the abundance of minerals near the town. In 1781 Ekaterinburg was granted a city status by Empress Catherine II.
At the same time, Ekaterinburg was turning into a centre of non-mining industries and banking business. The discovery of Siberian gold brought fabulous wealth to the city and stimulated its growth. For a long time the mining of this gold was the monopoly of the Ekaterinburg merchants — the Ryazanovs, Rastorguyevs, Balandins and others.
The population of Ekaterinburg grew steadily. The merchant enterprises were developing fast. In 1735 the first mining schools were opened. They mostly taught mathematics and reading. Ekaterinburg at this time consisted mainly of wood constructions and the first stone buildings appeared only at the end of the XIXth century.
In 1761 the Siberian post road was built. During the regency of Catherine II the main transportation artery of the Russian Empire was paved — the so-called “Moscow” or “Greater Siberian” road. Thus Ekaterinburg played a crucial role in connecting the mineral-rich Siberian region and the European part of Russia and became the “Window on Asia” as Saint-Petersburg had earlier become the "Window on Europe".
Since the beginning of the XIXth century Ekaterinburg came to play an increasingly important role as an administrative, mining and all-Ural machine building center.
|Ekaterinburg before the Russian Revolution. lithograph. Picture via Clip_kpb @ E1.RU|
In 1807 Ekaterinburg was granted status as a “mining city” according to the "Mining enactment project". The head of the Mining administration and the city council ("Duma") were responsible for the city economy, law and order. Craftsmen and farm workers of local plants were granted a remission of taxation. In 1831 Ekaterinburg hosted the residence of the Head of Mining Administration of the Ural who ruled the city since the 1850s.
In the early 1830s Ekaterinburg became a center of machinery construction. Private and state plants produced mining and metallurgical machinery, water turbines and steam engines. After the Emancipation of Serfs in 1861 the mining industry of the Ural passed through a crisis. In 1863 city society pressed for status abrogation — Ekaterinburg lost its “mining city” status. In 1878 the first railroad in the Ural region was built. The rail line “Ekaterinburg-Perm” connected Ekaterinburg with Perm which at that time was the regional capital. Later Ekaterinburg became an important railway junction on the way to the East and grew as a trade center.
Despite its provincial character, Ekaterinburg was a major cultural center. It had a mining school, a mining research society, and a mining museum. The first theater company was established in 1843, for which, four years later, the citizens constructed a theatre building on "Glavny Prospect" (Main Street). In 1870, the Ural Society of Science Enthusiasts was established whose members published works about the Ural region and organized expeditions. Local merchants donated money for city culture. During this period many unique churches appeared in the city which were true masterpieces of architecture.
A great contribution to the further development of the city was made by Malakhov, the prominent Ural architect and a graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Some brick-built shops of the ancient Ekaterinburg plant have been preserved as monuments of industrial architecture in the so-called “Historical Garden” of the city.
The first part of the XIXth century was also marked by the flourishing of stone cutting art. Especially popular in those days were decorations in "Russian mosaic". Universally known Ural malachite, rhodonite and Orsk-deposit jaspers were used to make them.
At the end of the XIXth and beginning of the XXth century Ekaterinburg became the center of the Bolshevik movement. In 1917 Bolsheviks came to power in a peaceful way. In 1918 the City Duma was dissolved and the City Council was established.
|Sverdlovsk. Dom Soyuzov (Union House) and Labor exchange. 1920. Photo via marat58 @ E1.RU|
In Ekaterinburg the last Russian Tsar and his family were assassinated in 1918. After the Russian revolution in 1917 Nicholas II was arrested and sent to the city of Tobolsk in Siberia, and later transferred to Ekaterinburg. By August 1918, Russia was in the throes of Civil War — Red and White Armies fought with alternating success. On July 17, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their children Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Tsarevich Alexei were executed at the Ipatiev House. The Tsar family's remains were only discovered in 1979. In 1977 the Ipatiev House was destroyed by order of Boris Yeltsin who later became the first President of the Russian Federation. Exactly one day after taking power in 1991, Boris Yeltsin retrieved the remains of the royal family and the identification process began. The world famous Church on the Blood — the biggest church in Ekaterinburg, was later built on the site of the Ipatiev House as a shrine to commemorate the martyrdom of the Tsar and his family.
From 1924 to 1991 the city was named Sverdlovsk after the Bolshevik party leader and Soviet official Yakov Sverdlov.
In 1923 the city of Sverdlovsk obtained the status as the center of the Ural region ("Oblast") that included Kurgan, Chelyabinsk, Perm, Tyumen and Sverdlovsk.
In the 1920s-30s, Ekaterinburg became a large industrial center of Russia. During this time the famous "Uralmash" was built, becoming the biggest heavy machinery factory in Europe. Throughout the 1920s-1930s Ekaterinburg preserved its significance as an industrial and cultural centre of the Ural.
In 1925 the city got its first water supply line and first bus routes. In 1929 the first tram appeared on its streets and a broadcasting station was put into operation. High-rise buildings became the sign of the times. The first parks were opened — one named after Engels and another after Pavlik Morozov, also the Central Park and the famous Sverdlovsk Arboretum (Dendrological Park). At the same time many buildings and churches were demolished or turned into museums.
|Sverdlovsk. "Plotinka" (Dam), Lenina prospect. 1938. Photo via marat58 @ E1.RU|
In 1939 Sverdlovsk was among ten major cities with steady growing populations in the USSR. In 1940, the city had 12 institutions of higher learning, 30 technical schools, 100 secondary schools, 166 libraries, 7 museums, and 5 theatres. Sverdlovsk was turning into a city of big science. In 1932 the USSR Academy of Sciences opened its branch here.
After the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War the whole of the city's industry and economy was geared to serve the needs of the front — leading enterprises of the city were converted to military production. It was extremely important that plants and factories in Sverdlovsk start to produce tanks and weapons in the shortest possible time. Many factories in Russian Europe were evacuated to the Ural. It was necessary to augment the capacities of the existing enterprises and to install the equipment of the evacuated plants. As a result of the invested effort the industrial potential of the city kept steadily growing. At that time the concentration of population reached an unusually high degree. In 1943 "Koltsovo" airport was opened.
After the war Sverdlovsk continued to develop as a large industrial centre in the Ural. Its industrial plants and factories were important suppliers for machine engineering, ferrous and nonferrous metallurgy, chemistry, electrical engineering, and light and food industries. The city was rapidly growing and in 1967 its millionth resident was born.
|Svedlovsk. Intersection of ul. Prospekt Lenina and ul. Karla Libknekhta. On the left — "Kolizey" cinema. On the right — "Iset" Hotel. 1962. Photo from Grekov's archive.|
In the 1960s, in the days of Khruschev's government, a number of look-alike five-story apartment blocks sprung up all over the city. Most of them still remain today in Kirovsky, Chkalovsky, and other residential areas of Ekaterinburg. On November 18, 1978 the people of Sverdlovsk celebrated the Day of the City for the first time — now it is a traditional popular festival celebrated in the summer.
|Sverdlovsk. "Dom Profsoyuzov" (Labour Union House). The sign means "Glory to the working class". 1970. Photo via marat58 @ E1.RU|
On September 4, 1991 the city was returned to its original name — Ekaterinburg. Reconstruction of the demolished churches and buildings started.
The first President of the Russian Federation — Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin — started his political career in Sverdlovsk. He was a student in the largest University of the Ural — the Ural Technological University (“UPI”). Yeltsin was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and began working in the Communist administration in 1968. After his death, a monument and Yeltsin’s center were built in Ekaterinburg.
Today Ekaterinburg is a fast developing megalopolis with a unique geographical position on the border of Europe and Asia.