Saratov (Russian: Саратов; IPA: [sɐˈratəf] ( listen)) is a city and the administrative center of Saratov Oblast, Russia, and a major port on the Volga River. Population: 837,900 (2010 Census); 873,055 (2002 Census); 904,643 (1989 Census).
Ukek, a city of the Golden Horde, was situated near the site of the modern city of Saratov from the mid-13th century until its destruction in 1395. The modern city was founded in 1590.
It traces its history to the reign of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich, who constructed several settlements along the Volga River in order to secure the southeastern boundary of his state. During the summer of 1586, the fortress of Samara was founded, followed by Tsaritsyn in 1589 and finally Saratov, located midway between Samara and Tsaritsyn, in 1590.
Saratov was built at the insistence of count Grigory Zasekin. All three forts were located in a region where the Volga and the Don flow nearest one another, which allowed the Duchy of Moscovy to secure both rivers and to ensure control over the recently annexed khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan in the years following the Livonian War.
The future town’s buildings were first constructed in the upper reaches of the Volga, a full year prior to the in situ foundation of Saratov. In the spring of 1590, workers disassembled the constructions, marked each log, and delivered the «town» to its destination via the river. This method allowed the buildings to be rapidly erected in just a few weeks.
The name Saratov may derive from the Turkic words Saryk Atov, which mean «hawks’ island». Another version of the name origin is Sary Tau (Сары Тау), meaning «yellow mountain» in the Tatar language.
By the 1800s, Saratov had grown to be an important shipping port on the Volga. The Ryazan-Ural Railroad reached Saratov in 1870. In 1896 (26 years later), the line crossed the Volga and continued its eastward expansion. A unique train-ferry, owned by the Ryazan-Ural railroad, provided the connection across the river between the two parts of the railroad for 39 years, before the construction of a railway bridge in 1935.
During World War II, Saratov was a station on the North-South Volzhskaya Rokada, a specially designated military railroad providing troops, ammunition and supplies to Stalingrad.
Until the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Saratov was designated a «closed city», that is, strictly off limits to all foreigners due to its military importance. This was due to the presence of a vital military aircraft manufacturing facility in the city.
Saratov is an important city in the history of the Volga Germans. Until 1941, the town of Pokrovsk, today Engels, located just across the Volga from Saratov, served as the capital of the Volga German Republic. The ethnic German population of the region numbered 800,000 in the early 20th century, with some people whose families had been there for generations. The Russian Tsars had invited German immigration in the 18th and 19th centuries to encourage agricultural development in the area.
The Volga German community came to include industrialists, scientists, musicians and architects, including those who built Saratov’s universities and conservatories. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, the government forcibly expelled more than half of all Volga Germans to Uzbekistan, Siberia and Kazakhstan; few ever returned to the Volga region, even after rehabilitation. Others were expelled to western Europe after the end of the war.
Beginning in the 1980s, a large portion of the surviving members of the ethnic Germans emigrated from the Soviet Union to Germany. Reminders of the once prominent place of Germans in the city remain, with the Roman Catholic St. Klementy Cathedral (seat of the historic Diocese of Tiraspol) on Nemetskaya Street the most notable. The building was converted into the children’s cinema «Pioneer» during the Soviet period.