If Siberia has a capital city then Novosibirsk could well be it. In size it competes with the big guns, being the third largest Russian city after St. Petersburg and Moscow, and the largest within Siberia itself, home to a population approaching 1.5 million.
Descriptions of the region in which it is situated lend it a primeval aspect: the flat, vast and unbroken lowlands (ostensibly, the world’s largest) are home to copious flood plains and swamps. This poorly-drained landscape ranges in style from tundra and forest to sprawling Steppe. … And beneath: vast oil and natural gas reserves.
It was founded in 1893 as Novonikolayevsk: a settlement on the river Ob in the West Siberian Plain, pocketed by the Urals in the West, the South-Eastern Altai mountains and the Yenisei river in the East. The name honours both Saint Nicholas and the ill-fated Tsar Nicholas 2nd … though if you can’t translate Russian; you probably wouldn’t know …
As an aside: I’m still not used to so much relative “newness” in the architecture (even origins) of major Russian cities. This has to be a British perspective … Even centres of population that are considered classically Russian may only date back to the post-renaissance era … and much is Victorian. Also, in such places as St. Petersburg for instance: European in aspect too.
It seems that Russia has a habit of destroying and rebuilding itself, with Moscow … and others, most recently throwing off the old skin with the rise of Communism … certainly Stalinism.
It’s all too easy perhaps with wood as the main historical building material, and it brings home just how old Britain is … Or rather, like a compulsive hoarder: just how much of the old-stuff we’ve actually kept.
Anyway, Novosibirsk … with the opening of a new, Trans-Siberian rail bridge across the Ob in 1897, the city became a significant transport hub and a gateway to the Siberian interior and beyond.
Always a serious kick-start to growth: being the centre of something important … It was inevitable then that the settlement would grow into the major city that it is today.
Even so, it experienced some major childhood trauma during the Russian civil war with some to-ing and fro-ing between the Reds and the Whites, resulting in the destruction of the critical Trans-Siberian rail bridge itself. An action that indeed revealed this edifice’s role as the central beating heart of this developing urban centre. With the death of the bridge, the population too started to decline, a possibly terminal bleed-out only staunched by Soviet intervention as reconstruction started in 1921 under Lenin’s New Economic Policy.
Reborn in 1926 it was re-christened Novosibirsk … translating as “New Siberian City”, which is pretty much … what it is, really. OK, perhaps the Soviets weren’t given to romantic flights of fancy when it came to naming concrete and stone, but the translation in its simplicity does have a certain bold, Utopian and forward-looking feel to it. And that is what Soviet idealism was all about when you think about it. Once upon a time they were building the future…
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 45) Barnaul and the “Mountains of Gold”