Samara (Russian: Самара, IPA: [sɐˈmarə]), known from 1935 to 1991 as Kuybyshev (Куйбышев), is the sixth largest city in Russia and the administrative center of Samara Oblast. It is situated in the southeastern part of European Russia at the confluence of the Volga and Samara Rivers on the east bank of the Volga. The Volga acts as the city’s western boundary; across the river are the Zhiguli Mountains, after which the local beer (Zhigulyovskoye) is named. The northern boundary is formed by the Sokolyi Hills and by the steppes in the south and east. The land within the city boundaries covers 46,597 hectares (115,140 acres). Population: 1,164,685 (2010 Census); 1,157,880 (2002 Census); 1,254,460 (1989 Census).
The metropolitan area of Samara-Tolyatti-Syzran within Samara Oblast constitutes the population of more than three million people. Formerly a closed city, Samara is now a large and important social, political, economic, industrial, and cultural center of European Russia, which in May 2007 hosted the European Union—Russia Summit. Samara has a continental climate characterized by hot summers and cold winters.
The life of Samara’s citizens has always been intrinsically linked to the Volga River, which has not only served as the main commercial thoroughfare of Russia throughout several centuries, but also has great visual appeal. Samara’s river-front is one of the favorite recreation places for local citizens and tourists. After the Soviet novelist Vasily Aksyonov visited Samara, he remarked: “I am not sure where in the West one can find such a long and beautiful embankment. Possibly only around Lake Geneva”.
Legend has it that Alexius, Metropolitan of Moscow, later Patron Saint of Samara, visited the site of the city in 1357 and predicted that a great town would be erected there, and that the town would never be ravaged. The Volga port of Samara appears on Italian maps of the 14th century. Before 1586, the Samara Bend was a pirate nest. Lookouts would spot an oncoming boat and quickly cross to the other side of the peninsula where the pirates would organize an attack. Officially, Samara started with a fortress built in 1586 at the confluence of the Volga and Samara Rivers. This fortress was a frontier post protecting the then easternmost boundaries of Russia from forays of nomads. A local customs office was established in 1600.
As more and more ships pulled into Samara’s port, the town turned into the center for diplomatic and economic links between Russia and the East. Samara also opened its gates to peasant war rebels headed by Stepan Razin and Yemelyan Pugachyov, welcoming them with traditional bread and salt. The town was visited by Peter the Great and later Tsars.
In 1780, Samara was turned into an uyezd town of Simbirsk Governorate overseen by the local Governor-General, and Uyezd and Zemstvo Courts of Justice and a Board of Treasury were established. On January 1, 1851, Samara became the center of Samara Governorate with an estimated population of 20,000. This gave a stimulus to the development of the economic, political and cultural life of the community. In 1877, during the Russian-Turkish War, a mission from the Samara city government Duma led by Pyotr V. Alabin, as a symbol of spiritual solidarity, brought a banner tailored in Samara pierced with bullets and saturated with the blood of both Russians and Bulgarians, to Bulgaria, which has become a symbol of Russian-Bulgarian friendship.
The quick growth of Samara’s economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was determined by the scope of the bread trade and flour milling business. The Samara Brewery came into being in the 1880s, as well as the Kenitser Macaroni Factory, an ironworks, a confectionery factory, and a factory producing matches. The town acquired a number of magnificent private residences and administrative buildings. The Trading Houses of the Subbotins, Kurlins, Shikhobalovs, and Smirnovs—founders of the flour milling industry, who contributed a lot to the development of the city—were widely known not only across Russia, but also internationally wherever Samara’s wheat was exported. In its rapid growth Samara resembled many young North American cities, and contemporaries coined the names “Russian New Orleans” and “Russian Chicago” for the city.
By the start of the 20th century, the population exceeded 100,000, and the city was the major trading and industrial center of the Volga region. During the October Revolution of 1917, Samara was seized by the Bolsheviks. However, on June 8, 1918, with the armed support of the Czechoslovak Legions, the city was taken by the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly, or Komuch, who organized a “democratic counter-revolution”, which at its height encompassed twelve million people. They fought under the Red flag against the Bolsheviks. On October 7, 1918, Samara fell to the Fourth Army of the Red Army.1921 was a year of severe hunger in Samara. To provide support to the people, Fridtjof Nansen (the famous polar explorer), Martin Andersen Nexø (a Danish writer), the Swedish Red Cross Mission, and officers of the American Relief Administration from the United States came to Samara. In 1935, Samara was renamed Kuybyshev in honor of the Bolshevik leader Valerian Kuybyshev.
During World War II, Kuybyshev was chosen to be the capital of the Soviet Union should Moscow fall to the invading Germans. In October 1941, the Communist Party and governmental organizations, diplomatic missions of foreign countries, leading cultural establishments and their staff were evacuated to the city. A dug-out for Joseph Stalin known as “Stalin’s Bunker” was constructed but never used.
As a leading industrial center, Kuybyshev played a major role in arming the country. From the very first months of World War II the city supplied the front with aircraft, firearms, and ammunition. The famous military parade of November 7, 1941 was held on the central square of the city. On March 5, 1942, Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was first performed in the city’s Opera and Ballet House by the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra conducted by S. A. Samosud. The symphony was broadcast all over the world. Health centers and most of the city’s hospital facilities were turned into base hospitals. Polish and Czechoslovakian military units were formed on the territory of the Volga Military District. Samara’s citizens also fought at the front, many of them volunteers.
Kuybyshev remained the alternative capital of the Soviet Union until the summer of 1943, when everything was moved back to Moscow.
During World War II, most of the area’s 1.5 million Germans were dispersed into exile or to forced-labor camps.
After the war the defense industry developed rapidly in Kuybyshev; existing facilities changed their profile and new factories were built, leading to Kuybyshev becoming a closed city. In 1960, Kuybyshev became the missile shield center for the country. The launch vehicle Vostok, which delivered the first manned spaceship to orbit, was built at the Samara Progress Plant. Yury Gagarin, the first man to travel in space on April 12, 1961, took a rest in Kuybyshev after returning to Earth. While there, he spoke to an improvised meeting of Progress workers. Kuybyshev enterprises played a leading role in the development of Soviet domestic aviation and the implementation of the Soviet space program. There is also an unusual monument situated in Samara commemorating an Ilyushin Il-2 ground-attack aircraft assembled by Kuybyshev workers in late 1942. This particular plane was shot down in 1943 over Karelia, but the heavily wounded pilot, K. Kotlyarovsky, managed to crash-land the plane near Lake Oriyarvi. The aircraft was returned to Kuybyshev in 1975, and was placed on display at the intersection of two major roads as a symbol of the deeds of home front servicemen and air-force pilots during the Great Patriotic War.
In January 1991, the historical name of Samara was given back to the city. At the dawn of the 21st century Samara became one of the major industrial cities of Russia with a powerful cultural heritage, multi-ethnic population, and esteemed history.