Astrakhan, where East meets West and both get confused

Astrakhan is a province city in the south-western outskirts of Russia, located a few miles away from the Russian-Kazakstanian frontier. Oriental presence was always strong here: the capitals of Khazaria and the Golden Horde established in the area, made it particularly important for merchandise. Burnt by Tamerlan to the ground in 1395, the capital of Astrakhan Khanate was rebuilt 12km upstream from the modern-day city. Fertile soils of the Volga delta, rich in sturgeon and exotic plants, were of interest to Ottomans. In 1556 Ivan the Terrible joined Astrakhan Khanate to Russia, but the spirit of Astrakhan was shaping under the influence of many merchants from Armenia, Persia and India, settled in the town. To a certain extent, Astrakhan had some impact on the history of the 20th century: father of Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionist, was born and grew up here.

It is truly a land of contrasts: fertile soils neighbour steppes and sand dunes, Caspian seals can be found not far from Astrakhan camels; Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic and Buddhist religions are all present here, giving the place a multinational and variegated character. Slavs mixed well with Mongolian tribes and the integration resulted in a variety of face types, high cheek bones, eyes of all colours and shapes.

What is written above is true, but do not be mistaken imagining an exotic paradise, perfect for tourists. The reality is not as bright-coloured as the info in a tourist flyer. The city, slowly but surely, is sinking into alcoholism and drug addiction. Doom and frustration on people’s faces, their clenched fists would convince even deliberate positive thinkers that existence effects conscience and not the contrary.

The historical city centre is packed with old architecture: 18th and 19th century houses of merchants are falling apart without a touch of restoration.

Old merchant house (late 18th - early 19th century)
Old merchant house (late 18th – early 19th century)
Post arrived (inside the old merchant's house)
Post arrived (inside the old merchant’s house)
Backyards in the old city
Backyards in the old city
Backyards in the old city
Backyards in the old city
Often melancholy is the only hobby
Often melancholy is the only hobby

Astrakhan Kremlin built in mid-16th century is under UNESCO protection, and one of few well-maintained historical objects.

St. Nocolai Church within Astrakhan Kremlin
St. Nocolai Church within Astrakhan Kremlin
Children playing next to the Cathedral and the Bell Tower
Children playing next to the Cathedral and the Bell Tower

Oriental feel is especially strong at open markets …

Bolshye Isady open market - traditional residence of Muslim merchants
Bolshye Isady open market – traditional residence of Muslim merchants
Southern sun made Astrakhan rich in fruits and vegetables
Southern sun made Astrakhan rich in fruits and vegetables

… and in the traditions of different ethnicities.

Tatar man playing harmonica
Tatar man playing harmonica
Muslim girls playing basketball
Muslim girl playing basketball
Russian and Dagestanian boys posing together
Russian and Dagestanian boys posing together

Life is life, with all its attributes: children do not look forward to the new school year, …

First year school boy is hiding behind a balloon
First year school boy is hiding behind a balloon

… or rather play outside instead of listening to teacher’s explanations.

Children playing in the school yard
Children playing in the school yard
Children playing in the school yard
Children playing in the school yard

Not easy to get back to lessons and homework after summer fun by the river.

Summer fun by the river in one of suburbs
Summer fun by the river in one of suburbs

Here, as everywhere else, people fall in love and get married.

Newly married couple waving to passers-by from a wedding limousine
Newly married couple waving to passers-by from a wedding limousine
Wedding photo session on Lover's bridge
Wedding photo session on Lover’s bridge
Awkward wedding photo session: the bride surrounded with friends holding a gun and a champagne bottle
Awkward wedding photo session: the bride surrounded with friends holding a gun and a champagne bottle

As in any other Russian city, there is a memorial to Anonymous Soldiers.

Memorial to Anonymous Soldiers
Memorial to Anonymous Soldiers

… and fun mixes with fatalism.

Celebrating Day of Pensioner despite low pensions and lack of healthcare
Celebrating Day of Pensioner despite low pensions and lack of healthcare
Roof maintenance Russian way
Roof maintenance Russian way

I think, I know where the famous Russian fatalism comes from. When life is so unstable or stably hopeless, hardly it is worth to cling to.

Even a week spent here might be quite depressive. In such moments I take my Maltese residence permit out of a file and look at it as at a bridge to a fairy better world. Or, perhaps, same world, just with little more hope in it.

Read more: https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/born-in-ussr/

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One thought on “Astrakhan, where East meets West and both get confused

  1. It just occurred to me that although I’m ‘following’ you … nothing much for ages? A real pity, I miss the Russian touch …

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