1, 2, 3
 
 

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.

To 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.

The 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.

It 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.

John 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".

The 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.

Later, 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 Just fine.

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."

As 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.

Everybody 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...

 

Vyacheslav Fedorov

Leonid Krainov-Rytov

Photo: Vladimir Andrianov

 

 
 
1, 2, 3
 
     
   
 
    ! .