There are 15 cities in Russia with more than 1 million inhabitants. Russia is a huge country and so these cities can be separated by hundreds of kilometers. The largest cities in Russia play a key role in their economy and the economy of the regions where they are located. The history of these cities is not common from the western point of view because some of them were planned from the root to populate the regions far from Moscow. For this reason, some of them have few tourist attractions, being mainly constituted by large residential buildings and private or governmental offices. These are the 15 major cities of Russia by population.
1. Moscow (12,380,664)
The real age of Moscow is not known. There are some myths saying that the foundation of Moscow took place in ancient times. The first trustworthy chronicle which mentioned the settlement is the Ipatyev Chronicle, saying that on Saturday, April 4, 1147, the prince Yury Dolgoruky received his friends and allies headed by the prince Svyatoslav Olgovich in a small town called Moskov. In the early 13th century, Moscow became the center of principality for the first time. In the first half of the 15th century, the town gradually became more and more important. This fact was directly bound with the Tatar-Mongol yoke. The Golden Horde put the Russian principalities under its tribute. Its systematic raids on the Rus’ destroyed the land, and the princes were obligated to get permissions to rule from the Horde. At the end of the 15th century, Moscow became the capital of the largest Russian state, and, at the beginning of the 16th century – the capital of a unified Russian state. In 1712, the capital of Russia was moved to a newly built town of Saint Petersburg, but Moscow remained the place where emperors were crowned. In 1754, by Catherine’s II order, Michail Lomonosov founded the Moscow University.
Moscow is located in the center of the European part of Russia, between the rivers Oka and Volga. The climate is moderate continental: heavy frosts and extreme heat are rare. The average temperature in January – minus 7.2 degrees Celsius, in July – plus 20.4 degrees Celsius. The city has the status of a separate federal subject of the Russian Federation. It is the smallest federal subject by land area. The name of the city as well as the names of many other cities around the world, is bound with the name of the river it is standing on (the Moskva River). The river was called this way long before the settlement appeared. It is unknown who named it and what this name means. There are two main versions: Finnio-Ugric and Slavic. According to the first one, the word “Moskva” is derived from the Finno-Ugric language group which means “river-bear”. The Slavic theory points to the stem “mosk” denoting “marshy” or “moisture, liquid, marshland, dampness”.
2. Saint Petersburg (5,281,579)
St. Petersburg was founded by the first Russian Emperor Peter I in 1703. This was the date of founding the Peter and Paul fortress. The main idea was to establish the water routes from the Russian Empire to Western Europe and the rest of the world, because, at that time, the country didn’t have access to the world’s oceans. Opposite the Peter and Paul fortress, the first commercial port of Saint Petersburg was founded. From 1712 till 1918, St. Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Empire and the residence of the Russian emperors. In 1715, a Naval Academy was founded here, in 1719, “Kunstkamera” – the first public museum in Russia. In 1724, St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences was founded, in 1756 – a theater. In 1837, the first Russian railroad was opened (from Saint Petersburg to Tsarskoye Selo, the residence of the imperial family), in 1851 – from Saint Petersburg to Moscow.
According to the results of the 1897 census, the city’s population was 1,265,000 people. Before the World War I, the population exceeded 2 million (3rd place in Europe after London and Paris). The World War I greatly influenced the fate of St. Petersburg. In August 1914, on a wave of anti-German sentiment, the city was renamed Petrograd. Today, Saint Petersburg is one of the most important economic centers of the Russian Federation. The local economy is based mainly on industry and tourism. Tourism plays an important part in the city’s economy. In 2010, Saint Petersburg was visited by about 2,300,000 foreign tourists (mostly from Finland, Germany, the US, Sweden, France). All in all, together with Russian tourists, the city was visited by 5,100,000 people in 2010. In 2010, St. Petersburg ranked 7th among the most visited and popular tourist cities in Europe (#20 in the world). The city has more than 260 large and small hotels (27 thousand rooms). Today, St. Petersburg is also one of the centers of European cruise tourism.
3. Novosibirsk (1,602,915)
Novosibirsk was founded in 1893. It was a settlement on a place where the bridge over the Ob River was planned to be built during construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The settlement was named Novonikolayevsk after the Russian Empire Tsar Nicholas II and St. Nicholas. In 1897, the bridge was completed that made Novonikolayevsk the most important transport hub of the region. Later, in the beginning of the 20th century, it became even more important with the construction of the Turkestan-Siberian Railway connecting Siberia with Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region. In 1897, Novonikolayevsk population was about 7,800. In 1903, the settlement became a town. By 1917, the population reached 80,000 people. Novonikolayevsk was the largest industrial center of Siberia.
Soviet power was established in December 1917. Later, in May 1918, the city was captured by the White Army together with Czechoslovak war prisoners. Soviet power was established again in 1919, when the Red Army entered the city. During the Russian Civil War, the bridge over the Ob River was destroyed and the population began to decline. In 1926, the city received its current name – Novosibirsk (meaning “a new city in Siberia”). Novosibirsk again became a large industrial center of Siberia during Stalin’s industrialization. The city received several new large facilities of heavy industry, food processing and power generation. It was the reason why Novosibirsk earned the nickname “Siberian Chicago”.
4. Ekaterinburg (1,455,514)
In spring 1723, by the emperor Peter’s I decree, construction of the largest in Russia iron producing plant began on the banks of the Iset River. Ekaterinburg was built as the capital of the mining region spread on a huge territory on both sides of the Urals, in Europe and Asia. After completion of construction, Ekaterinburg plant overcame in technological equipment all other metallurgical plants not only in the country, but in the world. Catherine II presented Ekaterinburg the status of a district town of Perm gubernia. The main road of the Russian Empire was constructed through a young town – Bolshoi (Big) Siberian Road. That’s why Ekaterinburg, together with other Permian towns, became a key-town to endless and rich Siberia, “a window overlooking Asia” like St. Petersburg was a Russian “window overlooking Europe”.
Ekaterinburg is the main administrative, cultural, scientific and educational center of the Urals. It is the official center of the Ural Federal District. The headquarters of Volga-Ural military district and the Presidium of the Urals branch of the Russian Academy of Science are located here. Besides, dozens of territorial bodies of federal power can be found in the city. That’s why Ekaterinburg received the name “The Capital of the Urals.” It’s worth saying that the geographical location of Ekaterinburg is extremely favorable and this fact influenced the development of the city. It is located in the Urals at the point where the mountains are low. This fact favored construction of the main transportation ways from Central Russia to Siberia through Ekaterinburg (Big Siberian Road, Trans-Siberian railway). As a result, Ekaterinburg became a strategically important city providing connection between European and Asian parts of the country.
5. Nizhny Novgorod (1,261,666)
From the 9th century, Slavic colonization took place in the upper Volga River, the region inhabited by Finno-Ugric peoples. By the end of the 11th century, the entire Upper Volga region, almost to the mouth of the Oka River, belonged to the ancient Rus’ state. In 1221, Russian Prince Yuri Vsevolodovich of Vladimir, founded a wooden fort at the confluence of the Volga and the Oka rivers. The settlement was named Nizhny Novgorod (“lower newtown”). In 1350, the town became the capital of an independent Suzdal-Nizhny Novgorod principality, which occupied a vast territory and competed with the Moscow principality. During this period, Nizhny Novgorod region was actively populated. In 1392 (but finally only in 1425), Suzdal-Nizhny Novgorod principality was annexed to the Moscow principality. During Ivan III and Vasily III, the town played a role of an outpost. It was a gathering place for troops during wars against the Khanate of Kazan. In 1500-1511, to replace an existing wooden fort, a stone fortress (kremlin) was built.
Nizhny Novgorod is located 417 km east of Moscow, in the center of the East European Plain, at the confluence of two major waterways of the European part of Russia – the Oka and Volga rivers. This location made the city an important shipping center of the country. The Oka divides the city into two parts. Nizhny Novgorod is the fifth most populous city in Russia. The city is one of the largest Russian centers of river tourism. The historical part of the city rich in tourist attractions and is an important tourist center. UNESCO included Nizhny Novgorod in the list of Top 100 cities in the world which are of great historical and cultural value.