Astrakhan (Russian: Астрахань; IPA: [ˈastrəxənʲ]) is a major city in southern European Russia and the administrative center of Astrakhan Oblast. The city lies on the left bank of the Volga River, close to where it discharges into the Caspian Sea at an altitude of 28 meters (92 ft) below sea level. Population: 520,339 (2010 Census); 504,501 (2002 Census); 509,210 (1989 Census).
Astrakhan is situated in the Volga Delta, rich in sturgeon and exotic plants. The fertile area formerly contained the capitals of Khazaria and the Golden Horde. Astrakhan itself was first mentioned by travelers in the early 13th century as Xacitarxan. Tamerlane burnt it to the ground in 1395. From 1459 to 1556, Xacitarxan was the capital of Astrakhan Khanate. The ruins of this medieval settlement were found by archaeologists 12 km upstream from the modern-day city.
In 1556, the khanate was conquered by Ivan the Terrible, who had a new fortress, or kremlin, built on a steep hill overlooking the Volga. In 1569, Astrakhan was besieged by the Cossack Ottoman army, which had to retreat in disarray. A year later, the Sultan renounced his claims to Astrakhan, thus opening the entire Volga River to Russian traffic. In the 17th century, the city was developed as a Russian gate to the Orient. Many merchants from Armenia, Persia, India and Khiva settled in the town, giving it a multinational and variegated character.
For seventeen months in 1670–1671 Astrakhan was held by Stenka Razin and his Cossacks. Early in the following century, Peter the Great constructed a shipyard here and made Astrakhan the base for his hostilities against Persia, and later in the same century Catherine the Great accorded the city important industrial privileges.
The city rebelled against the Tsar once again in 1705, when it was held by the Cossacks under Kondraty Bulavin. A Kalmuck khan laid an abortive siege to the kremlin several years prior to that.
In 1711, it became the seat of a governorate, whose first governors included Artemy Petrovich Volynsky and Vasily Nikitich Tatishchev. Six years later, Astrakhan served as a base for the first Russian venture into Central Asia. It was granted town status in 1717. In 1702, 1718, and 1767, it suffered severely from fires; in 1719 it was plundered by the Persians; and in 1830 the cholera swept away a large number of its people.
Astrakhan’s kremlin was built from the 1580s to the 1620s from bricks pillaged at the site of Sarai Berke. Its two impressive cathedrals were consecrated in 1700 and 1710, respectively. Built by masters from Yaroslavl, they retain many traditional features of Russian church architecture, while their exterior decoration is definitely baroque.
In March 1919 after a failed workers revolt against Bolshevik rule thousands of people were executed by the Cheka under orders from Sergey Kirov. Some victims had stones tied around their necks and were thrown into the Volga.
During Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Astrakhan was one of two cities (the other being Arkhangelsk) selected to mark the envisaged eastern limit of German control. The military operation was to be halted at this A-A line, but never reached it in reality as the German forces failed to capture either of the two cities as well as Moscow. In the autumn of 1942, the region to the west of Astrakhan became one of the easternmost points in the Soviet Union reached by the invading German Wehrmacht, during Case Blue, the offensive which led to the Battle of Stalingrad. Light armored forces of German Army Group A made brief scouting missions as close as 100 km to the city before withdrawing. In the same period, the Luftwaffe flew several air raids on the oil terminals and harbor installations of the city.
Our Lady of Assumption (Notre-Dame de L’Assomption) is a Roman Catholic church located in the city (1778)
After fraud was alleged in the mayoral election of 2012 and the United Russia candidate was declared the winner, organizers of the 2011–2012 Russian protests supported the defeated candidate, Oleg V. Shein of Just Russia, in a hunger strike. Substantial evidence of fraud was cited by the protesters but an official investigation failed to find significant violations. The activists from Moscow found it difficult to gain traction over the issue with local residents who, like most Russians, accept political corruption as a given that is useless to protest. The emissaries from Moscow persisted, buoyed by celebrities who support the reform movement, drawing 5,000 to a rally on April 14.