Yekaterinburg—Three Centuries of Russian Industry on the Border of Europe and Asia

There’s an obelisk on the border of Europe and Asia at the place where the Trans-Siberian Railway crosses the Ural Mountains, which are rather low and pitted with mines. Beyond this border, you are met by smoke from the factories and the gleam of the skyscrapers—Yekaterinburg is Russia’s 4th largest city in terms of population and the 3rd largest city in terms of economic and cultural influence. Here, you’re not in Siberia yet, but in the Urals—a huge and distinctive region, whose entire history is connected with heavy industry.

The heart of Yekaterinburg is «Plotinka», as the city’s residents affectionately call the dam of the pond on the Iset River. The dam’s launch in September 1723 marked the city’s birthday. The dam brought the world’s largest metallurgical factory at that time into action.
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Iset Riverbank

The «Window to Europe», Peter the Great’s ambitious project, required a reliable economic support area, which would enable Russia to equip a state-of-the-art army. In just a few years, the world’s largest industrial region in the period before the Steam Age was created in the ore-rich Ural Mountains. For almost the entire 18th century, Russia produced 30-40% of the world’s iron. The rivers of the Urals region still look like a necklace of ponds on the map—the dam gave life to every factory. Most of the city’s factories were owned by merchants (whose estates and churches still adorn the city to this day), and Yekaterinburg was originally built by the state to be the center of an industrial region.
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Sevastyanov’s House (built in 1817)

There is now a Historical Square on the site of a former factory with slabs of rocks from the Urals, but there are still squat workshops from the 18th-19th centuries along the square’s edges. In one of these workshops, there is an art museum with a collection of art specific to the Urals region, such as the Nevyansk Icon or Kasli iron sculptures.
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The industrial revolution of the 19th century bypassed the Urals, and, by the end of the century, Yekaterinburg became a merchant backwoods. It was only the Trans-Siberian Railway that began to lead the city out of decline. But it was here, in 1918, while the Civil War raged in Russia, that the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II, together with his wife, children, and attendants were killed. The industrial Urals, loyal to the «Reds», became a place of exile for the Romanovs. Merchant Siberia had turned into a «White» stronghold, and, faced with an offensive from the «Whites», the Urals Soviet initiated a reprisal against the famous prisoners. The imperial family was held in the engineer Ipatiev’s house, that had been converted into a real prison. They were shot in the basement of this house by a team of Bolsheviks led by Yakov Yurovsky. Their bodies were transported outside the city and burned in Ganina Yama—an abandoned mine pit that had been built a very long time ago by a certain Ganya (Gabriel). Ipatiev House was demolished in the 1970s by none other than Boris Yeltsin, who was first secretary of Sverdlovsk Region at that time. In the city where the Soviets killed the Tsar, he made his political career and became the main gravedigger of the Soviets.
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Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs (Ganina Yama)

Now, the snow-white Church on the Blood stands on the site of Ipatiev House, and a beautiful monastery has risen over Ganina Yama in the best traditions of Russian wooden architecture. Indeed, in the wake of «perestroika» and new thinking, the imperial family was not only completely rehabilitated, but also became recognized as saints of the Orthodox Church.
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Church on the Blood, built on the site where the imperial family was shot

The Soviet government brought a revival to the city: giant factories were built one after another here in the 1920s and 1930s. Yekaterinburg, called Sverdlovsk during the Soviet period, acquired a new face at that time. Lenin Avenue, Malysheva Street, and the industrial Uralmash district on the city’s outskirts became unique examples of Soviet constructivism that have been perfectly preserved to this day.
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Former water tower, built in the style of constructivism (1931)

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Dynamo Sports Complex, built in 1934 in the form of a ship (now there is a gym and a pool inside)

During the Second World War, the Urals region was very far from the front lines, but victory over Nazism was forged at factories in the Urals. Today, the Urals region remains the industrial heart of Russia and its capital remains a city with big ambitions.
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