|— Inhabited locality —|
Location of Saratov Oblast on the map of Russia
Location of Saratov on the map of Saratov Oblast
Coat of arms
|Federal subject||Saratov Oblast|
|In administrative jurisdiction of||Saratov Oblast|
|Administrative center of||Saratov Oblast|
|Municipal Status||Urban okrug|
|Mayor||Vyacheslav Leonovich Somov|
|Representative body||City Duma|
|Area||393 km2 (151.7 sq mi)|
|Population (2002 Census)||831,000 inhabitants|
|- Density||2,115 /km2 (5,500/sq mi)|
|Time zone||MSK/MSD (UTC+3/+4)|
|Postal code(s)||410000|
|Dialing code(s)||+7 +7 8452|
Saratov (Russian: Сара́тов (help·info)) is a major city in southern Russia. It is the administrative center of Saratov Oblast and a major port on the Volga River. Population: 873,055 (2002 Census); 904,643 (1989 Census). In addition to ethnic Russians, the city also has many Tatar, Ukrainian, Jewish and German residents.
According to legend, Saratov is the successor of Gelonus, a Scythian city that was the northernmost colony of the Greeks, and which is conjectured to have existed near the present-day city. Gelonus is mentioned in the Sixth Book of the Histories of Herodotus, according to which the city was burnt to the ground by the The Persian Emperor Darius in 512 B.C. Ukek, a medieval outpost of the Golden Horde is considered a more likely ancestor to today's Saratov.
The modern city traces its history to the reign of Tsar Feodor Ivanovich, who constructed several settlements along the Volga river in order to secure the southeastern boundary of his state. During the summer of 1586 the fortress of Samara was founded, followed by Tsaritsyn in 1589 and finally Saratov, located midway between Samara and Tsaritsyn, in 1590. Saratov was built at the insistence of count Grigory Zasekin. All three forts were located in a region where the Volga and the Don flow nearest one another, which allowed the Duchy of Moscovy to secure both rivers and to insure control over the recently annexed khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan in the years following the Livonian War.
The future town's buildings were constructed in the upper reaches of the Volga a full year prior to the in situ foundation of Saratov. In the spring of 1590 the constructions were disassembled, each log was marked, and the entire town was delivered to its destination via the river. This method allowed the town to be built in its entirety in just a few weeks.
The name Saratov may derive from the Turkic words Saryk Atov which means ‘hawks' island’. Another version of the name origin is "Sary Tau" (Сары Тау) meaning Yellow Mountain in the Tatar language, a theory supported by the presence of sandy hills around the city.
By the 1800s Saratov had grown to become an important shipping port on the Volga. The Ryazan-Ural Railroad reached Saratov in 1870. In 1896 (26 years later) the line crossed the Volga and continued its eastward expansion. A unique train-ferry, owned by the Ryazan-Ural railroad, provided the connection between the two parts of this railroad on opposite banks of the river for 39 years before the construction of a railway bridge, in 1935.
Until the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Saratov was designated a "closed city", that is, strictly off limits to all foreigners due to its military importance. This was due to the presence of a vital military aircraft manufacturing facility in the city.
Saratov is an important city in the history of the Volga Germans. Until 1941, the town of Pokrovsk, today Engels, located just across the Volga from Saratov, served as the capital of the Volga German Republic. The German population of the region numbered 800,000 in the early 20th century.
The Volga German community included industrialists, scientists, musicians and architects, including those who built Saratov's universities and conservatories. At the outbreak of World War II, roughly half of all Volga Germans were expelled to Siberia and Kazakhstan, with few returning to the region after rehabilitation. Beginning in the 1980s, a large portion of the community emigrated to Germany, but several reminders of the once prominent place of Germans in the city remains, with the Roman Catholic St. Klementy Cathedral (seat of the Diocese of Tiraspol) on Nemetskaya Street , being the most notable.
The Saratov region is highly indutrialized, due in part to the rich in natural and industrial resources of the area. The region is also one of the more important and largest cultural and scientific centres in Russia. Saratov possesses six institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 21 research institutes, 19 project institutes, as well as the Saratov State University, theSaratov State Socio-Economic University and many scientific and technological laboratories attached to some of the city's large industrial enterprises.
One of the city's most prominent landmarks is the 19th century neo-Gothic Conservatory. When it was built in 1912, the Conservatory was Russia's third such institution (after Moscow and St. Petersburg). At the time, Saratov, with a population of 240,000, was the third-largest city in Russia.
The Saratov Dramatic Theatre was founded in 1802, making it one of Russia's oldest. It is ranked as one of Russia's National Theatres. In Soviet times, the theatre was renamed in honour of Karl Marx, but now carries the name of Ivan Slonov (1882-1945), an actor, theatre director and educator, born in the city. The full name in Russian is The I.A.Slonov Saratov State Academic Theatre (Саратовский государственный академический театр драмы имени И. А. Слонова).
Saratov is noted for several art museums, including the Radischev Art Museum, named for Alexander Radishchev. It contains more than 20,000 exhibits, including ancient Russian icons, as well as works by some of the finest Russian painters (e.g. Aleksandra Ekster, Pavel Kuznetsov, Aristarkh Lentulov, Robert Falk, Pyotr Konchalovsky, Martiros Saryan, Fyodor Rokotov).
FC Sokol-Saratov is based in the city and plays in the Russian Second Division. Saratov also fields a basketball team, Avtodor, and an ice hockey team Kristall Saratov, who play in the Russian Major League. The Saratov bandy club Universal plays in the 2nd highest division.
The Saratov region was the birthplace or at some point hometown of:
The only way to fly to Saratov is from Domodedevo Airport in Moscow with Saravia. The flight takes about an hour and a half and can cost approximately 5.100 RUB. They fly Yak40 and Yak42 aircraft which have been made in Saratov. Saravia also operates summer seasonal flights from Frankfurt and Hanover. Flights must usually be booked and paid same day at the airport in cash. Optionally flights can be purchased at TK Primavera, the only DMC in Saratov. Pickup of the tickets is then available at the airport before departure.
Otherwise the best way to get there is by Saratov Rail from Moscow's Pavletsky Station, which takes approximately 15-16 hours. The trains operate overnight, departing in the afternoon/evening, arriving in the morning. Saratov is also accessible via rail from Samara to the north (train 10 hours, 400 km) and Volgograd and Astrakhan to the south.
There are also buses between Saratov and many other cities, including Moscow. However, the comfort and value of the rail system over the vast distances involved makes the bus service a comparatively unattractive option.
Saratov, like most provincial Russian towns, is served by a network of trams, buses and marshrutkas (set-route minibuses). The main terminus for most forms of transport is the area around the Kritiy Rynok (market) at the top of Prospekt Kirova. There are also taxis, both official and non-official. As with all non-official taxis in Russia, agree a price with the driver before setting off.
Getting around Saratov generally requires cash since credit cards are not widely accepted in many non-hotel or non-retail shopping endeavors including travel. It is important to have roubles or an ATM card with which to get roubles because US dollars are not widely accepted and banks, even with proper identification, typically only convert one hundred dollars at a time and even then only accept certain series of US bills. During the Christmas period banks have a very limited schedule of hours. Be aware that after January 1, 2008, Western Union transfers are very difficult if they are made to a foreigner since new rules require not just a passport but that the passport be notarized by a Russian notary. There is a translation service on Bolshaia Kazakshia near the junction with Astrakhan street on the right when facing back towards the town centre.
Saravia tickets require cash and can be purchased at DME, the Saratov airport, and the Saratov train station, near the Technical University on Bolshaia Sadovaia and at the Saravia offices near the main open mearket. There is a small booking charge at most places in Saratov. It is anticipated that in the not too distant future Saravia will follow Russian air carriers like S-7 in utilizing online booking. Since Saravia does not have international partners, if you miss a Saravia flight because of a late flight to DME wou will not receive a refund or ticket on another flight.
Since overweight baggage incurs charges which may approach the cost of the ticket, be careful about baggage weight. Because overweight charges are paid at a different counter in DME, allow yourself extra time for the check-in process in case it turns out you are overweight. British Airways gives a baggage allowance of 25 kg but Saravia's limit is 20 kg. If you can possibly manage it, arrive in Moscow at Domodedovo airport. Sheremetyevo (SVO) is a 2500 Rouble taxi fare away, more by Gypsy cab. Delays are long at SVO and on the orbital motorway connecting the two (an hour and a half journey). You can easily miss a connection.
While there are money exchanges at both the Saratov airport and train station, the hours of operation are limited. Usually there are men in the train station who will exchange US dollars but at bad rates and with the risk of getting counterfeited roubles. In the present currency market situation Euros are probably easier to work with in Saratov. ATM's give good rates but the payouts are limited. NEVER take travellers cheques. Only Sberbank and then only the main branch will deal with them and it takes 6-8 hours to go through the process.
See the magnificent Volga river - the longest river in Europe. At the most popular spot (Naberezhnaya Kosmonavtov, the Cosmonauts Embankment) the Volga is 3km wide, whereas at some other spots nearby Saratov its width reaches as much as 11km. The Embankment also features the beautiful "Old Bridge", built in mid-20th century. The bridge was the longest in Europe until the 1980's.
Gagarin trained in Saratov and he landed near by. There is a museum and a momument.
Despite its provincial setting, Saratov has much to offer by way of culture. Enjoy a classical concert in the pseudo-gothic Conservatory on Prospekt Kirova, or an opera or ballet in the nearby Bolshoy Teatr. Tickets are very reasonably priced and available from the box offices of both venues. In January of 2008 ticket prices were less than four dollars US and represent an incredible bargain.
Visit the circus, one of the first in Russia to be established in its own dedicated building.
Go to the Radischev art gallery - the first public art gallery opened in Russia (19th century). Some fine European, as well as Russian pieces of art are gathered here. The gallery also features a computer room where visitors can access various art-related programmes, including one showing scenes of architectural gems lost under Communism and their modern replacements.
Support the local soccer team - Sokol - and attend a match in the stadium beside the train station.
Take a stroll in Gorodskii Park and try out the bumper cars, ferris wheel and waltzers in its fairground. Most of the rides are open even on the coldest days of winter. Victory Park is another great place to visit. Before Christmas the area around Lenin's statue in the central part of the city is a fun place for kids with sleigh rides and photo opportunities with Russian version of Santa Claus. There is also an inexpensive large public outdoor ice skating rink a few blocks from Lenin's statue but although they rent skates be prepared for a long wait to rent them. There are also large beautiful forests in and around Saratov.
There are several beaches on the Volga river including some on an island.
The usual Russian souvenirs such as matryoshkas are available in Saratov, although if travelling through Moscow it is probably best to wait to get them there as they will be cheaper.
The markets in Saratov are useful spots to pick up winter clothes if necessary, including coats, boots, leather gloves and of course hats. Haggling is indulged.
Prospekt Kirova is the most upmarket shopping area in the city, with fancy boutiques selling expensive shoes, bags and jewellery. There is also a branch of Zara. Also on Prospekt Kirova is an excellent tobacconist, selling all kinds of pipes and tobacco including hookah pipes, as well as a speciality tea shop.
Barrikada, on Ulitsa Gorkogo, is an excellent alternative music store that sells legitimate (i.e. non-pirate) albums and music DVDs at prices much cheaper than in Western Europe, and stocks a diversity of artists unparalleled by even Moscow's gargantuan Gorbushka market.
Electronics can be purchased from one of the city's branches of El Dorado (one particularly large one is located on the embankment near the river station).
Dom Knigi, the book shop on the corner of Ulitsa Volskaya and Prospekt Kirova, has an English language section and is also a good spot to pick up postcards, maps and souvenirs such as books of old postcard views of Saratov.
Despite its name, Detsky Mir ('Children's World') at the top of Prospekt Kirova near McDonalds, stocks all kinds of everything (clothes, accessories, stationery, hipflasks, penknives...) in cabinets, behind counters, and at individually manned stalls. TsUM (Tsentralniy Universalniy Magazin, 'Central Universal Store') across the way is a similar sort of operation.
Cafe Fortuna, above an internet cafe on Prospekt Kirova, is reliable for good Russian food like blini, borshch and solyanka, as well as omelettes and chips and the like.
Papa's Irish Bar, also on the Prospekt, serves a decent menu including a fry and Irish stew, as well as other slightly Russified Western pub food.
There are a number of passable sushi restaurants around, while street food like shwarma and hot pirogi are readily available.
For those unwilling to spread their wings, there is a McDonalds on Prospekt Kirova. There is also an ice-cream parlour called Pingvin on the Prospekt and a Baskin Robbins by the multi-coloured church off the end of the Prospekt.
Saratov is also home to a locally-owned chain of overpriced coffee shops called Vostok-Zapad ('East-West'), where no two cappuccinos are ever the same (or, indeed, ever much like a cappuccino). They are, however, a pleasant place to hang out and the coffee is decent enough, if not exactly what you may have in mind but the quality is consistently better than the used dishwater served in most US and UK randed coffee chains. Another café is Café et Chocolat which, as the name suggests, is a French-style establishment, serving crepes and pastries. They have several branches.
Bars along the main pedestrian street, Prospekt Kirova, include Pivnoy Zavod (Beer Factory, a microbrewery); Papa's Irish Pub; Pivnoy Bul'var (with American pool tables as well as Russian billiards); and Grand Michel (with bowling).
There are also numerous wine bars around the city where wine can be sampled by the cup.
Saratov's main nightclubs include Jumanji and Ars. Both operate rigorous security checks (metal detectors and body searches are par for the course) and face control policies (non-white ethnic minorities may be refused point blank).
In summer, barges along the naberezhnaya (embankment) become floating bars and clubs.
Saratov does not offer much choice in terms of accommodation. Visitors on tourist visas are mainly confined to one of the following four hotels:
Hotel Volga - located in the centre of the city, in a turn of the century (19th/20th) building on Prospekt Kirova. This is a small hotel; comfortable, but probably in need of some modernisation.
Hotel Slovakia - a large, purpose-built, more modern hotel located further from the centre, on the river embankment. Seems popular with business types.
The other two hotels are Hotel Olympia and Hotel Zagreb.
If you have a business visa then you are confined to the Slovakia and the Volga. However, the Bohemia, a very comfortable and modern hotel has an arrangement for registration with the Volga and will sometimes accept business travellers.
The Hotel Bohemia (there are three) is the choice for Saratov and can also be booked in advance via the only incoming tour operator in Saratov TK Primavera (they do speak English). The rates have been in fact cheaper than the other four hotels.
Alternatively, if you have local contacts, it is possible to book a furnished appartment in Saratov at a rate of 600-900 Roubles a night. As with the taxis, these rates explode if you are identified as a non-Russian. If you decide to do this, it is strongly recommended only with an advance stay of two nights at one of the hotels handling then the necessary registration with OWIR, the office of migration where all visitors (business or leisure) must register within three days upon arrival in Russia!
Just opposite Saratov, on the other side of the Volga, is the smaller town of Engels, accessible via a quick bus journey across the bridge. Catch the bus on Ulitsa Moskovskaya.
Other towns in the Saratovskaya Oblast', accessible via marshrutka, include Marks and Balakovo.
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