Merchants of Nizhny Novgorod

This walking route begins in the historical centre of the town and includes the principal landmarks connected with Nizhny Novgorod's heyday as Russia's commercial capital. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the city was known as "Russia's pocket" because it was home to a trade fair that was not only the largest in Russia, but the largest in the world. The merchants who traded at the fair left a deep imprint on the city: their money was used to build entire residential quarters that still retain the feel of that time, the deliberateness and hospitality of provincial Russian towns.

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The starting point for tours of the city is the Rukavishnikovs Estate at Verkhne-Volzhskaya Naberezhnaya (Verkhne-Volzhskaya Embankment). This city mansion, styled after an Italian palazzo, was built at the end of the nineteenth century by the owner of city's first steel plant, the important moneylender Mikhail Rukavishnikov. At that time, the house was the richest and most notable building in all of Nizhny Novgorod. Today it houses a local history museum with a permanent exhibit, while its ornate halls are used for grand ceremonies, including those at state level. In 2011, Nizhny Novgorod hosted the Russia-EU Summit and the Rukavishnikovs Estate was used for meetings of the world leaders attending the conference.

The embankment, also known as Volzhsky Otkos (Volga Slope), presents an excellent view of the Volga River. Just as it was several centuries ago, the slope remains a favourite spot for locals to take a walk. There are many landmarks here, as the richest townspeople of previous generations built their homes here.

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Venturing down the slope, you will eventually reach the city's oldest park, Alexandrovsky Garden. In the summer, the park hosts open-air movies and city festivals. One of the most popular is the global Restaurant Day, which takes place several times a year, and draws in visitors for tastings of homemade desserts, sandwiches and lemonades.
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Next, follow the Alexandrovsky Garden trails down to the river, to the Nizhne-Volzhskaya Naberezhnaya (Lower Volga Embankment), where you will find a sculpture of a giant deer, the symbol of the city. The Tale of the Furious Deer, written by Nizhny Novgorod writer Sergey Afonshin, reads, "During the march of Ivan the Terrible against the opposing Kazan, the wild beasts – elk and deer – helped the soldiers to feed themselves. The soldiers all gained much strength from this meat and became twice as brave, and so it did not take them long to take Kazan." As legend has it, Ivan the Terrible was taught to hunt deer by a local youth, Kholoday-Goloday. After sacking Kazan in 1552, Tsar Ivan ordered a deer to be painted on the city's coat of arms, and to this day the deer is a symbol of Nizhny Novgorod.
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The best way to observe this winding 8-shaped stairway is from a boat on the Volga. Its 560 plus stairs, tracing two humongous circumferences, link the city’s two main embankments: Verkhnevolzhskaya and Nizhnevolzhskaya. This stairway was the idea of Aleksander Shulpin, who was mayor of Nizhny Novgorod during the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War. Moscow gave the project its go-ahead and earmarked a budget in 1943. The same year, marking the victorious Battle of Stalingrad, ground was broken for the stairway. It was named in honour of Valery Chkalov, the legendary Soviet pilot who was first to fly from Moscow to Vancouver nonstop across the North Pole. Chkalov, a native of Nizhny Novgorod, is commemorated with a monument in Minin and Pozharsky Square, to which the stairway exits. The Hero combat boat, placed at the foot of the staircase in 1985, used to be part of the Volga Navy fleet. Manned by a crew of three and armed with a surface-to-air machine gun, the Hero fought in the Civil War and the Great Patriotic War, including the Battle of Stalingrad. These days the Hero sees a lot of music gigs, played on the floating Fish stage, when the Chkalov Stairway becomes one enormous auditorium. The boat also witnesses the annual upstairs running races. 

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The Kremlin, the cradle of Nizhny Novgorod, is the single most important and biggest landmark in the city. Some local historians have a simple explanation for why the founder of Nizhny Novgorod Yury (or Georgy) Vsevolodovich, the grandson of the founder of Moscow, Yury Dolgorukiy, built the Kremlin on the high bank of the Volga: he was enchanted by the view of the Strelka and beyond, opening up from the hills. The view is indeed tantalizing, but security must have been his other consideration. Even when the fortress was all wooden, it offered solid protection from the enemies, while the river on the other side served as a natural barrier. The Kremlin was rebuilt in stone in the 16th century. The tea.m. of architects and builders from Pskov was joined by the Italian architect Pietro Francesco, who was known in Russia as Piotr Fryazin.  

The Kremlin has 13 towers. Some of them have survived intact, others have been restored. No two towers are alike architecturally and each has its own cache of legends.  

Now, as centuries ago, the main entrance to the Kremlin is through St. Demetrios Tower, the largest Kremlin tower. It was named in honour of the Church of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki, which had once stood in front of it. That church was later replaced by the Church of the Annunciation, which, similarly to three other churches on Kremlin grounds, would not survive the years of Soviet rule.  

The 18th-century buildings inside the Kremlin currently house the Legislative Assembly, the Philharmonic and the Arbitration Court. The Soviet-era architectural landmarks next door are home to the regional government, the office of the envoy plenipotentiary of the President of Russia in the Volga Federal District, the city Mayor’s Office and the local Duma. The Modern Art Museum occupies the Czarist-era military arsenal building. The Art Museum is based in the former Governor’s Mansion, and the Military Technology Museum is deployed outdoors. All the military equipment on display was manufactured in Nizhny Novgorod, and all is in good working order. Perhaps the most monumental piece of machinery on show is the T-34 tank, manufactured by Krasnoe Sormovo Factory, standing next to the Eternal Flame and the sculptural memorial commemorating the soldiers of the Great Patriotic War.   

Apart from its incontestable historical value, the Kremlin is dear to every Nizhny Novgorod resident on a personal level. Prom parties and lovers hang out on the sloping edge of Kremlin Boulevard till dawn, newlyweds bring flowers to the Eternal Flame on their wedding day, and parents bring their children here for New Year’s Eve parties at the Philharmonic inside the Kremlin walls. 

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The Kremlin houses an exhibit of military hardware manufactured by Nizhny Novgorod factories during World War II, as well as several museums, the newest of which is the Volgo-Vyatsky branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts. It is called the Arsenal, because the museum occupies the former armoury space restored by well-known Russian architect Evgeny Asse. All of the city's principal exhibits, lectures, concerts and film screenings take place here.
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Leaving the Kremlin, make your way down to Rozhdestvenskaya Ulitsa (Rozhdestvenskaya Street). At the beginning of the street, at Ploschad Narodnogo Jedinstva (Narodnogo Jedinstva Square), stands a monument to Minin and Pozharsky – a smaller copy of the Moscow statue erected in Red Square. Next to the monument is a night shelter for 840 people that was built in 1885 by notable breadmaker and merchant Nikolay Bugrov, and which was described in Russian revolutionary writer Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths play. The "bread king" spent almost half of his income on charity.

Rozhdestvenskaya Ulitsa has been called an open-air museum: it is full of merchant estates and mansions, and each has its own historical or cultural value. The houses stand close together, forming solid motley walls. The ground floors are now restaurants, cafés and stores. As time goes by, Rozhdestvenskaya Ulitsa is becoming the centre of life in the city, surpassing Nizhny Novgorod's main pedestrian thoroughfare, Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Ulitsa (Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street), in popularity. Rain or shine, the street is home to modern-day trade fairs where local merchants and craftsmen sell their wares.

On weekends and holidays a retro tramline runs along Rozhdestvenskaya Ulitsa in memory of Russia's first electric tram, which appeared in Nizhny Novgorod in 1896.
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The route ends near a magnificent Baroque church, which was financed by Peter the Great's supporter, the merchant Grigory Stroganov.
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Rozhdestvenskaya Ulitsa (Rozhdestvenskaya Street) leads to Kanavinsky Bridge, which will take you over to Strelka District where the Oka and Volga rivers merge together. At the end of the 19th century this was a city within a city, and home of the largest fair anywhere in the country or the world: the Nizhny Novgorod Fair. It was so important to Russia that Tsar Alexander I delayed reconstruction of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg in order to send the money to Nizhny Novgorod. The trade fair was called "the exchange of Europe and Asia." Prices for the principal goods – tea, salt, grain, furs and metals – were set here. Back then, people used to say that "Saint Petersburg is Russia's head, Moscow is its heart and Nizhny [Novgorod] is its pocket." The trade fair was where the first Russian-made automobile and the world's first radio set were presented. The radio's inventor, Alexander Popov, managed the power station at the Nizhny Novgorod Fair.

Today the only reminder of its former architectural glory is the Main Exhibition Hall, which hosts modern-day shows and forums.

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Minin and Pozharsky Square is the city's central square, named in honour of Kozma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky who led the people’s militia that liberated Moscow from the Polish-Lithuanian invasion during the Time of Troubles at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In the square, you will see a monument to Valery Chkalov, a native of Nizhny Novgorod, who completed the first non-stop flight from Moscow to Vancouver.