Nizhny Novgorod (Russian: Нижний Новгород), colloquially shortened to Nizhny, is, with a population of 1,250,615, the fifth largest city in Russia and the administrative center of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. From 1932 to 1990, it was known as Gorky (Горький,), after the writer Maxim Gorky who was born there. The city is an important economic, transportation and cultural center of Russia and the vast Volga-Vyatka economic region.
After the destruction of the Mordvin Inäzor Obram, a hillfort named Obran Osh (Ashli) on the site of the future stone Kremlin, in 1221 a small Russian wooden hillfort was founded by Grand Duke Yury II. Located at the confluence of two of the most important rivers in his principality, the Volga (Mordvin “Rav” or “Rava”) and the Oka, Obran Osh was renamed Nizhny Novgorod. Its name literally means Lower Newtown to distinguish it from the older Veliky Novgorod. Its independent existence was threatened by the continuous Mordvin attacks against it. The major attempt made by Inäzor Purgaz from Arzamas in January 1229 was repulsed, but after the death of Yury II on March 4, 1238 at the Battle of Sit River the Mongols occupied the fortress and the remnants of small Nizhny Novgorod settlement which surrendered without any resistance in order to preserve what had been developed since Purgaz’s attack nine years earlier. Later a major stronghold for border protection, Nizhny Novgorod fortress took advantage of a natural moat formed by the two rivers.
Along with Moscow and Tver, Nizhny Novgorod was among several newly founded towns that escaped Mongol devastation on account of their insignificance, but grew into (great) centers in vassalic Russian political life during the period of the Tatar Yoke. With the agreement of the Mongol Khan, Nizhny Novgorod was incorporated into the Vladimir – Suzdal Principality in 1264. After 86 years its importance further increased when the seat of the powerful Suzdal Principality was moved here from Gorodets in 1350. Grand Duke Dmitry Konstantinovich (1323–1383) sought to make his capital a rival worthy of Moscow; he built a stone citadel and several churches and was a patron of historians. The earliest extant manuscript of the Russian Primary Chronicle, the Laurentian Codex, was written for him by the local monk Laurentius in 1377.
After the city’s incorporation into the Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1392, the local princes took the name Shuisky and settled in Moscow, where they were prominent at the court and briefly ascended the throne in the person of Vasily IV. After being burnt by the powerful Crimean Tatar chief Edigu in 1408, Nizhny Novgorod was restored and regarded by the Muscovites primarily as a great stronghold in their wars against the Tatars of Kazan. The enormous red-brick kremlin, one of the strongest and earliest preserved citadels in Russia, was built in 1508–1511 under the supervision of Peter the Italian. The fortress was strong enough to withstand Tatar sieges in 1520 and 1536.
In 1612, the so-called national militia, gathered by a local merchant, Kuzma Minin, and commanded by Knyaz Dmitry Pozharsky expelled the Polish troops from Moscow, thus putting an end to the “Time of Troubles” and establishing the rule of the Romanov dynasty. The main square before the kremlin is named after Minin and Pozharsky, although it is locally known simply as “Minin Square.” Minin’s remains are buried in the citadel. (In commemoration of these events, on October 21, 2005, an exact copy of the Red Square statue of Minin and Pozharsky was placed in front of St John the Baptist Church, which is believed to be the place from where the call to the people had been proclaimed.)
In the course of the following century, the city prospered commercially and was chosen by the Stroganovs (the wealthiest merchant family of Russia) as a base for their operations. A particular style of architecture and icon painting, known as the Stroganov style, developed there at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The historical coat of arms of Nizhny Novgorod in 1981 was a red deer with black horns and hooves on a white field. The modern coat of arms circa 1992 is the same, but the shield can be adorned with golden oak leaves tied with a ribbon with colours of the Russian national flag.