THE FORTRESS OF THE VOLGA
There could not fail to be a city here. The fringe of Russian land.
The lower reaches. The two rivers, the Oka and Volga, merged and outlined the
lands of the Muscovite princes.
Beyond the rivers strange peoples lived Vicious ones, too, preying on Russia
in their raids, robbing the trading caravans that headed up to Muscovy. An outpost
was needed A Volga picket. That is how the great prince Yun Vsevolodovich perceived
the high mountains along the banks of both the Oka and Volga. There could not
be a better place for d burg fortress But a burg was always considered an unsafe
fortress, only useful for intimidation It was usually put on a border line and
designed to face peoples poorly skilled in military science. The prince must have
seen into the future of the Russian land a burg is not enough, a city must be
founded and "let it be called Nizhni Novgorod". A mountain was chosen
in a meander of the river, allowing observation to the heart's content It was
surrounded by a wall and palisaded in two rows.
make it clear that the city had been erected to last, the prince ordered cathedrals
of stone to be built. When they were completed, he sent "exceedingly richly
decorated icons" there from Moscow How fond he had become of this city?
Traders were the first to notice the city, and boats with cargos of merchandise
began mooring on the bank. A city is not a city without merchants. The bank stirred
up A small bazaar emerged Handicrafts started to gleam. Right by the water, smithies
smoked and blacksmiths hammered. A rumour spread about a new city across the Russian
land. Whoever sailed along the Volga or Oka at that time knew that there would
be d shelter from the wicked. The burg towers kept lights burning through the
night. A night watch guarded the Russian land.
great prince Yun Vsevolodovich was a seer. This bone of a city stuck in the enemy's
throat. Time and again it was burned, and forayed, with its dwellers taken away
prisoners... No respite was granted. And, unluckily, the Tartars there matured
and picked up their ideas about Russia.
It was becoming harder for Nove Grad to keep back the foes. It was then that
the prince of Nizhni Novgorod, Dmitry Konstantinovich, decided that it was time
for a stone fortress to be built.
In 1372. the construction began, but did not last long. No masons could be
found in the forested country. Raising walls on a mountain is not like building
boyars' mansions on Hat ground The mountain oozed with springs. They could wash
away any of the walls, and all the work would end up in the river. Connoisseurs
were needed, but where could they be found? The prince succeeded in building
only one tower. It is still standing. This is the main entrance to the kremlin.
That tower is called Dmitnyevskaya, named after Saint Dmitry Solunskiy, whose
small church took shelter alongside. The work of the elder brother was picked
up by the younger one, Boris. He "ordered a ditch to be dug where the stone
municipal wall and towers were to be." But the boyars betrayed him, and deserted
him for the Muscovite prince. The princes' internecine feuds impeded the fortification
ot Nizhni. The way into the Russian land was forced open.
is no good keeping the gates open wide. The princes who gave thought to the strength
of the land had been sending master builders to Nizhni. Among them was the famous
engineer and architect Aristotle Fioravanti. He built the Uspensky cathedral in
the Moscow kremlin. A pearl in the necklace of the kremlin Fioravanti was an expert
in fortification. The chronicles are silent about how his voyage to Nizhni ended.
But it did leave a trace. A chronicler wrote down that, in the year when "a
tailed star appeared in the sky and was visible during 33 days.'' the construction
of a stone kremlin began How could a far-flung scribe have known about the comet
which was only seen in China and over the Atlantic?
It was in 1500.
III send a proficient architect, the Italian Pietro Francesco. He was specially
brought from Venice to build fortresses in Russia. He did a good job ot fortifying
the kremlin in Moscow He was worthy of respect Soon, they started to call him
Pyetr Fryazm. In a Russian way It is under this name that he appears in the chronicles
At the very start of the new year, which used to begin on 1st September in Russia,
the church bells rang in the city Folk gathered in the square It is not known
whether there were speeches, but the moment was solemn Stones were laid for the
foundations of the first tower, and construction continued. Preparations involved
baking bricks, fetching white stone, making lime in barrels, and piling up sand
It took the Italian architect Pietro Francesco just under three years to build
the kremlin of Nizhni Novgoiod, and in so doing he earned the eternal lemembiance
of the citizens. having taken his place in the history ot Russian city planning
under the name ot Pyetr Fryazin. The history of the city has known 17 enemy incursions
More than once it was burnt and ravaged. But, as the walls rose, the city became
a stronghold. The Kazan Khan Sein Girey was the first to burn his fingers on it.
Having raided through Muscovite and Vladimir lands, he came close to Nizhni. He
burnt everything in front of the kremlin walls, crossed the deep ditch and halted.
Loopholes in the fortress were designed so that arrows would reach the enemy wherever
he was. Girey stayed three days. then. left. A chronicler hastened to record this
fact: "retreated, having done little".
kremlin stands austere and silent, each of its thirteen towers legendary. The
Ivanovskaya tower, the lower gates of the city, rooted into a slope of the mountain,
right by the River Volga. Once it bristled with cannon. Tradesmen set up a market
under its protection. and, at every trifle they would go behind the gates, whilst
the tower fired a volley. If the enemy was not strong, he retreated.
Legend says that, once upon a time, another Kazan Khan, Mohammed Rmin, approached
the city with his troops. Nogays, who smelled easy pickings, joined the Tartars.
The Khan set up his tent beyond the river Pochaynaya, as if to show that he
was not going to leave until he had seized the city.
Then there were Lithuanian captives in the fortress. One of them, named Fyodor
Litvich, suggested aiming a shot at the tent. The military chief of Nizhni Novgorod
first hesitated, then gave his approval: it could do no harm. Fyodor measured
off the powder, rammed in a cannon-ball, lit the fuse and... fired the ball right
into the tent.
something happened that historians have not been able to explain until now. The
Tartars and Nogays began fighting each other. Evidently, while the Khan was alive,
he had managed to control them. As soon as he passed away, they drew their sabres.
A chronicler noted this, too: "... and fighting broke out among the Nogays
and Tartars... and many fell near to the city on both sides."
That was how a smart Lithuanian boy saved the city.
Kremlins remained in many Russian cities, but Nizhni Novgorod's kremlin
is second only to the one in Moscow. Official documents have the word 'Kremlin'
on their back addresses only in these two cities. The administrative apparatus
is too big for the krem-lins in other cities', but in Nizhni it has always been
It is hard to believe it, but Russia's unassailable stone shield might have
been destroyed by an unexpected and unknown enemy. A bitter betrayal was in the
words of a brochure "The city of Gorky" published in 1934. It described
the newly-erected buildings and sights of the city. The kremlin was described
there as: "guarding the welfare of the ruling classes, on the bones... of
its Russian Christian' slaves, the stone kremlin rises on a high bank of the Volga,
with tall indented walls, menacing battle towers and numerous artillery pieces."
And further: "Up to now... this memorial to greedy feudalism and Tsarist
autocracy remains, a witness of the eerie pages of the bloody past."
simple as that. The history of the persistence of Nizhni Novgoroders became the
"bloody past". The verdict for the kremlin was severe: to be demolished.
Thank God, they thought again and brought the matter up for public consideration.
Indeed, they could have torn it down if they had wanted to: who took any interest
in public opinion at that time? They did execute the verdict for the kremlin cathedrals.
They were blown up. The ashes of Nizhni Novgorod's princes were mixed with the
earth. Dionysius frescos were torn apart by explosions. The work of ages was turned
into ruins. The kremlin was saved by mathematical calculations. It was reckoned
that the cost of the explosives would be too high.
The time-stained walls and towers of the kremlin were left to themselves.
They have come to their senses, the time has come for prudence. Reconstruction
of the kremlin has been in progress for fifteen years. Sviatoslav Leonidovich
Agafonov, a Ni/hni Novgorod architect, led the reconstruction. One more name in
the history of the kremlin. It is him to whom we owe the present sight of the
Volga fortress. He was awarded the State Prize for this work, and the people
of Nizhni Novgorod made him an honorary citizen.
who comes to Ni/hni Novgorod tries to visit the kremlin first. All comers unanimously
consider it the most beautiful site along the Volga. In his "Course of Russian
History", the historian Vasily Osipovich Klyuchevsky wrote some words that
stand out from the context of the dry scientific account, "Recalling how
we feasted our eyes on the powerful stream moving in front of us, and the prospect
of the lowland expanses beyond the Volga, we are ready to believe that the ancient
founders of Nizhni, the Russians of the 13th century, ... spared themselves the
time to stand in front of this landscape, and, incidentally, enchanted by it,
decided to found a fortified city at the confluence of the Oka and Volga."
Everything is so simple: beauty gave rise to the city. If only...
Photo: Vladimir Andrianov