Astrakhan Oblast (region) is located in the south of Russia. The region’s capital, the city of Astrakhan, is located on 11 islands of the Caspian Lowland along the upper part of the Volga River, 1400 km from Moscow.
The city was founded in the 13th century during the time of the Golden Horde at the intersection of west to east trade routes. It became a part of Russia after the conquest of the Astrakhan Khanate by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1556.
Astrakhan is the oldest cultural and economic center of the Lower Volga Region and one of Russia’s historical cities along with Yaroslavl, Vladimir, and Saint Petersburg.
Sunglasses, sun protective cream, and a sun hat are essential items to bring with you to Astrakhan due to its hot sun and dry climate. During the summertime, when the temperature reaches +40 ºС in the shade, you feel constantly thirsty. Therefore, it’s best to carry a bottle of drinking water with you so you won’t be distracted searching for it while seeing the sights, and there are plenty of them in Astrakhan.
Historical and architectural monuments, diverse museums, picturesque parks and squares adorn the city, creating the inimitable coloring of the local surroundings. By the way, Astrakhan is a rather ‘green’ city—here it’s forbidden not only to cut down trees but also to break off branches.
With its sculptures and fountains, the Astrakhan embankment is a good place to meet and stroll along the Volga, the longest erika in Europe (this is the word the locals use for river). While walking along the embankment at various times of the day, you might see fishermen fishing for black-spined herrings, Caspian roaches, silver carp, and other Volga dwellers.
The buildings of the Astrakhan Kremlin are visible behind the monument on the city’s main square to Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. The Astrakhan Kremlin has been rather well preserved until the present day, and it has displays that relate the detailed history of this fortification.
On the road from the Kremlin, you should stop off at the Selenskiye Isady fish market. The market offers a vast variety of caviar and fish caught in the region, among which Caspian roach has a special place. This fish saved thousands of people from starvation during World War II and the grateful citizens erected a monument in its honor.
In general, the breeding of valuable species of fish such as sturgeon, sterlet, and beluga sturgeon is among the traditional trades of the Astrakhan region. Meanwhile, black caviar is produced using not exactly a traditional method: specialists ‘milk’ the caviar, massaging the belly of the fish, and thereby save the females’ lives.
They say in Astrakhan that «watermelons should be eaten when the flies bite,» implying the end of summer. However, this does not indicate when you should drink it, therefore the Astrakhan-style champagne cocktail can be prepared any time of the year. In order to make it, champagne is poured straight into a watermelon and the contents are beaten with a mixer right inside the giant fruit. Then it is chilled, poured into glasses with ice, and the invigorating pink cocktail is drank through a straw. Is there anything the citizens of Astrakhan don’t do with watermelon? They make jams, compotes, salads, sweet candied fruits, and other dishes from it; it is also salted and pickled.
In the city itself, there are more than 200 different nationalities living harmoniously together, each with their own traditions and rituals, which, over time, have been woven into one intricate pattern. Mixed marriages are totally not uncommon here and bilingualism is in the order of things, which is reflected in the communication between the citizens themselves, as well as in the local press. While strolling around the city, you will see signs with a curious blend of names for streets, villages, and rivers originating from the Russian, Tatar, and Kazakh languages.
Here you will find a Russian orthodox church next to a mosque. There is also a Buddhist temple on the banks of the Volga and nobody is surprised to see it. Moreover, during the period of religious persecution, Muslims did not allow the orthodox Cathedral of St. Vladimir—which still operates in the city today—to be destroyed in 1939.
Regardless of their religious denomination, the residents of Astrakhan are used to celebrating holidays together, whether it’s the Tatar Sabantuy, the Russian Maslenitsa festival, the Muslim Nowruz, or the Christian Easter.