Shiryaevo, “the Zhiguli pearl”, a picturesque village in Samara Region on the right bank of the River Volga, is part of the Samarskaya Luka National Park. This is the place where you can hear the echoing silence of giant limestone caves, see Ilya Repin's famous realist paining Barge Haulers of the Volga with your own eyes, and drink water from the Stone Chalice springs.
There are several ways to get here. One is to drive from Samara through Togliatti across the dam of the Zhiguli Hydroelectric Power Station, through the town of Zhigulevsk, and then through the villages of Aleksandrovka, Bakhilovo, Zolnoe, Solnechnaya Poliana and Bogatyr. Shiryaevo can also be reached from Samara by river ferry or hydrofoil.
The approach to Shiryaevo has a view of Popova Mountain, home to Shiryaevo’s famous artificial cave-mines. They consist of seven separate labyrinths of criss-crossing galleries, up to 300 metres long each. Today, it is truly an underground city with tunnel galleries big enough to fit a double-decker bus in. Make sure you go with an experienced guide and carry a torch with you as it is quite easy to get lost.
In the 19th century, limestone and building-stone began to be mined at Shiryaevo. The first limestone factory was built here by a merchant named Georgy Vanushin in 1897. All that is left of the factory today is the remains of a lime kiln by Popova Mountain.
The mines have remained largely unchanged since 1950–1957, when the Zhiguli hydroelectric power station was built.
The limestone mined at Shiryaevo was composed of nearly 100% calcium carbonate, making it the best limestone mined in the USSR. Nowadays, however, limestone is not mined by the trenchless method and Shiryaevo’s mines have been quiet and chilly for many years.
In the summer of 1870, a group of young people, the painter Ilya Repin among them, visited Shiryaevo. It was here that the young painter made the first few sketches for what would eventually become Burlaki na Volge (Barge Haulers on the Volga). Repin could not persuade any of the local people to pose for him, even for the 40 kopecks that he offered to pay – a lot of money at a time when you could buy a horse for a rouble and 50 kopecks! In the end a peasant named Kanin said, “To hell with you. I'll take the 40 kopecks and pose.”
In 1976, Samara Art Museum purchased the house where Repin lived while he was painting the famous Burlaki. The painting itself is in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, while Repin's memorial house in Shiryaevo (opened in 1990) is home to the sketches he made prior to undertaking the painting itself.
Further in, at the very heart of the Zhiguli Mountains, lies the Stone Chalice – a wider part of Shiryaevo Gorge at the point where it meets Stone Gorge. A dirt road leads here, so it is best to visit the Stone Chalice in an off-road vehicle. You can also get here on foot, but it is a long trip of almost 10 km (although a walk will allow you to appreciate all the beauty of the Volga Region). By Green Mountain there are three springs that merge into one brook and which, according to legend, are the tears of the Mistress of the Zhiguli Mountains. This is the only spot at the top of the mountains that has spring water. One of the springs, located 175 m above the Volga, is named after St. Nicholas the Miracleworker, and the water in the spring is freezing cold even on the hottest summer day. Locals believe that bathing in this spring will bring you good health and a long life.
Camel Mountain is located 4 km from Shiryaevo. The contours of its eastern section really do look like a resting camel. The mountain is about 4 km in length and the highest peak is 326 m. It is a great place for sightseeing because of the incredible view of the Volga that opens from its viewing point. Today, Camel Mountain is a favourite training spot for mountain climbers from all over Russia.