History and Business Traditions
Since ancient times the Volga River has been a major transportation throughway, connecting the Scandinavian North and the Byzantine South (the famous “trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks”). In addition, the great river played a very important role as a natural barrier between Christian Russia and the Islamic and pagan East.
That is why a majority of the cities that emerged here acted as points of transshipment or trade (Kazan, for example), or fortresses designed to protect the eastern borders of Russian from nomadic invasions (Samara, Orenburg). It is interesting that over time, these fortress cities also became market places—the absence of a military threat and a good geographical location had a lasting impact on the regional lifestyle.
An example of this is Nizhniy Novgorod: a city that had the role of outpost, containing the invasions of Mordovian tribes and Mongol Tartars, but over time became a large river port and industrial city specializing in flour production and shipbuilding. The city also became very famous for its Fair, which established the prices of flour, grain, salt, and furs for all of Europe. Thus, one could say that the Volga and Western Ural region, due its geographical location, was simply destined for economic growth.
By the middle of the 19th century, Nizhniy Novgorod and several other cities in the Volga region had acquired the status of the major industrial centers of Russia, a title that came during the heyday of “Russian capitalism”—a period that lasted until the Revolution of 1917. This period of time was marked by the creation of large industrial enterprises, rapid construction of railroads, and was also famous for the “golden age” of science and art, as reflected in the outstanding works of Russian writers, especially A. Ostrovsky and M. Gorky.
The lifestyle of the newly affluent classes, which were giving birth to the famous merchant dynasties—the Bugrovs from Nizhniy Novgorod, for example—became the stuff of legend. However, while they were famous for their revelries in expensive restaurants, they also became famous for their philanthropy, and their “merchant word of honor” was more highly valued than agreements and obligations fixed with seals.
The rapid growth of heavy industry, mechanic engineering, and applied science during Soviet times mainly relied on this infrastructure that was set up in the 19th century.
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