Yekaterinburg (Russian: Екатеринбург), alternatively romanized as Ekaterinburg, is the fourth-largest city in Russia and the administrative center of Sverdlovsk Oblast, located in the middle of the Eurasian continent, on the border of Europe and Asia. Population: 1,349,772 (2010 Census).
Yekaterinburg is the main industrial and cultural center of the Ural Federal District. Between 1924 and 1991, the city was named Sverdlovsk (Свердло́вск) after the Communist party leader Yakov Sverdlov.
Yekaterinburg was founded in 1723 by Vasily Tatishchev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin and named after Tsar Peter the Great’s wife Catherine I (Yekaterina). The official date of the city’s foundation is November 18, 1723. It was granted town status in 1796.
The city was one of Russia’s first industrial cities, prompted at the start of the eighteenth century by decrees from the Tsar requiring the development in Yekaterinburg of metal-working businesses. The city was built, with extensive use of iron, to a regular square plan with iron works and residential buildings at the centre. These were surrounded by fortified walls, so that Yekaterinburg was at the same time both a manufacturing centre and a fortress at the frontier between Europe and Asia. It therefore found itself at the heart of Russia’s strategy for further development of the entire Ural region. The so-called Siberian highway became operational in 1763 and placed the city on an increasingly important transit route, which led to its development as a focus of trade and commerce between east and west, and gave rise to the description of the city as the “window on Asia”. With the growth in trade and the city’s administrative importance, the ironworks became less critical, and the more important buildings were increasingly built using expensive stone. There was a proliferation of small manufacturing and trading businesses. In 1781 Russia’s empress Catherine the Great nominated the city as the administrative centre for the wider region, which led to a further increase in the numbers of military and administrative personnel in the city. In the early hours of the morning of July 17, 1918, deposed Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their children Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia, and Tsarevich Alexey were murdered by the Bolsheviks at the Ipatiev House in this city. Other members of the Romanov family were killed at Alapayevsk later the same day. On July 16, 1918 the Czechoslovak legions were closing on Yekaterinburg. The Bolsheviks executed the deposed imperial family, believing that the Czechoslovaks were on a mission to rescue them. Legions came less than a week after and captured the city.
In 1977, the Ipatiev House was demolished by order of Boris Yeltsin, to prevent it from being used as a rallying location for monarchists. He later became the first President of Russia and represented the people at the funeral of the former Tsar in
1998. On August 24, 2007, the BBC reported that Russian archaeologists had found the remains of two children of Russia’s last Tsar. The remains were discovered in the ground close to the site in Yekaterinburg where the former Tsar, his wife, and their three other daughters were found in 1991 along with the remains of four servants. The 2007 discoveries are thought to be those of Tsarevich Alexei and Maria. Archaeologist Sergei Pogorelov said bullets found at the burial site indicate the children had been shot. He told Russian television the newly unearthed bones belonged to two young people: a young male aged roughly 10–13 and a young woman about 18–23. Ceramic vessels found nearby appear to have contained sulfuric acid, consistent with an account by one of the Bolshevik firing squad, who said that after shooting the family they doused the bodies in acid to destroy the flesh and prevent them becoming objects of veneration. The Tsar’s remains were given a state funeral in July 1998.
During the 1930s, Yekaterinburg was one of several places developed by the Soviet government as a center of heavy industry, during which time the famous Uralmash was built. Then, during World War II, many state technical institutions and whole factories were relocated to Yekaterinburg away from war-affected areas (mostly Moscow), with many of them staying in Yekaterinburg after the victory. The Hermitage Museum collections were also partly evacuated from Leningrad to Yekaterinburg (known as Sverdlovsk during Soviet times) in July 1941 and remained there until October 1945.
The lookalike five-story apartment blocks that remain today in Kirovsky, Chkalovsky, and other residential areas of Yekaterinburg sprang up in the 1960s, under the direction of Khrushchev’s government.
On May 1, 1960, an American U-2 spy plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers while under the employ of the CIA, was shot down over Sverdlovsk Oblast. He was captured, put on trial, found guilty of espionage and sentenced to seven years of hard labour. He served only about a year before being exchanged for Rudolph Abel, a high-ranking KGB spy, who had been apprehended in the United States in 1957. There was an anthrax outbreak in Yekaterinburg (then called Sverdlovsk) in April and May 1979, which was attributed to a release from the Sverdlovsk-19 military facility.
During the 1991 coup d’état attempt, Sverdlovsk, the home city of President Boris Yeltsin, was selected by him as a reserve capital for the Russian Federation, in the event that Moscow became too dangerous for the Russian government. A reserve cabinet headed by Oleg Lobov was sent to the city, where Yeltsin enjoyed strong popular support at that time. Shortly after the failure of the coup and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, the city regained its historical name Yekaterinburg. However, Sverdlovsk Oblast, of which Yekaterinburg is the administrative center, kept its name.