Astrakhan is an ancient city on the Volga, which is called South Venice and the Caspian capital. It had been accepting and preserving the national traditions of the most diverse peoples for centuries and still remains a multicultural city. Representatives of more than 100 nationalities live here! People visit the city to wander around the old Kremlin, get to know the fascinating history of the Astrakhan Khanate, view ancient mosques and Orthodox churches, stroll along the embankment of the great Russian Volga River, taste the magnificent Astrakhan sturgeon and delicious threefold ukha and enjoy the famous Astrakhan watermelons.
Astrakhan was first mentioned in 1333 as Xacitarxan or Hajji Tarkhan. This name comes from the word "tarkhan", that is, "a duty-free place" which the sultan bestowed upon a pious pilgrim "haji". Gradually this name was transformed to Astrakhan. Successfully built on the bank of the Volga River, the city immediately turned into a brisk trading place. Later it became the capital of Astrakhan Khanate. Under Ivan the Terrible, Astrakhan was conquered, the Khanate was destroyed and its lands formed part of Russia. The city became military and commercial at a time: it started to be filled in with caravans of merchants and built-up with various small shops and inns.
A white-stone Astrakhan Kremlin was built in the late XVI-early XVII centuries to protect against enemies, and it still rises above the great Volga spaces. Almost near the Kremlin walls there is a White City, the former trading quarter where people of different level of prosperity lived. Today you can see here the former houses of eastern merchants, mosques, the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption of Mary and Shatrovaya Tower, the only reminder of the monastery that once stood here.
In 1717, Astrakhan became a principal town of a province, where a regular town plan with a quadrate main square appeared. The center was built up with manors of the nobility and merchant mansions. Residential, banking and commercial art nouveau buildings emerged in the city in the 19th century. They are still eye-catching and excite admiration of those visiting Astrakhan.
In addition to its rich history, Astrakhan is proud of its diverse cuisine, which is a combination of culinary traditions of different nations. Fish plays a key role here, since the city and its surroundings have always been famous for their excellent fishing. Astrakhan sturgeon, living up to 50 years and sometimes growing to three or more meters, breeds here. This unique and delicious fish is sold in salty, dried and smoked states. Balyk is also worth tasting. Once only salted sturgeon with an air-dried back was called so, and now all species of fish, cooked according to the classic recipe, are called balyk. Connoisseurs also advise to taste an exotic Kazakh dish "Khe": this is a raw fish, pickled in wine or apple cider vinegar. Smoked sterlet, sturgeon "noodles", pike and carp caviar and, of course, the famous Russian threefold ukha are in favor in Astrakhan. Ukha (fish broth) is prepared here according to ancient Slavic recipes: several species of fish, harmoniously chosen to taste, are cooked separately. A few minutes before the end of cooking, the most refined fish from less elite species is added to the broth. It is believed that just this way of cooking allows creating an earthy taste of real Russian ukha. Among the strange dishes in Astrakhan you can taste unusual homemade jam from vegetables and walnuts.
You can taste the most diverse dishes of local cuisine at the Gastronomic Festivals "Vobla" and "Watermelon Day", which are held in Astrakhan every year. Here you can provide yourself with gifts and souvenirs: buy the famous fish vobla, balyk or a jar of caviar, as well as original handicrafts from fish scale or bulrush, which the local craftsmen are famous for.
Astrakhan is an amazing city that stretches along the Volga for 45 kilometers and occupies 11 islands! This is why the city is sometimes called South Venice. Its ancient architecture, the old Kremlin, preserved mansions, mosques and Orthodox churches make an exceptional impression. The purest Volga air will make your head dizzy, and the flavour of local cuisine with fish dishes will make you arrive here time and time again!
Direct flights to Astrakhan are performed from Moscow (the travel time is just over two hours) or St. Petersburg with a transfer in Moscow (the travel time is 4.5 hours). There are also trains running here from Moscow, St. Petersburg and several other cities of Russia. However, you can choose the most romantic way to get to Astrakhan, that is, by a cruise ship, sailing along the great Russian Volga River from its beginning to the end. One way travel will take 10 days.