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Volga Ulyanovsk-oliv.jpg
The Volga at Ulyanovsk
Map of the Volga drainage basin
Native nameВолга
Country Russia
Cities Tver, Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod, Cheboksary, Kazan, Ulyanovsk, Samara, Saratov, Volgograd, Astrakhan
Physical characteristics
  location Valdai Hills, Tver Oblast
  coordinates 57°9′N32°36′E / 57.150°N 32.600°E / 57.150; 32.600
  elevation228 [1]  m (748 ft)
Mouth Caspian Sea
Astrakhan Oblast
45°50′N47°58′E / 45.833°N 47.967°E / 45.833; 47.967 Coordinates: 45°50′N47°58′E / 45.833°N 47.967°E / 45.833; 47.967 [2]
−28 [1]  m (−92 ft)
Length3,531 km (2,194 mi) [3]
Basin size1,360,000 km2 (530,000 sq mi) [3]
  location Astrakhan
  average8,060 m3/s (285,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
  left Kama
  right Oka

The Volga ( /ˈvɒlɡə,ˈvlɡə/ ; Russian :Во́лга,IPA:  [ˈvoɫɡə] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ), Mari : Юл, Chuvash : Атӑл, Tatar :Идел, Nogai : Эдил, Oirat : Иҗил-һол, Kazakh : Еділ, Erzya : Рав) is the longest river in Europe with 3,531 km (2,194 mi) length and a catchment area of 1,360,000 km2 (530,000 sq mi). [3] It is also Europe's largest river in terms of discharge and drainage basin. The river flows through Central Russia and into the Caspian Sea, and is widely regarded as the national river of Russia. Due to its geographical situation the Volga played an important role in the movement of people between east and west (from Asia to Europe) as well as south and north. [4] Historically, it was an important meeting place of Eurasian civilizations. [5] [6] [7]


The river flows in Russia through forests, forest-steppes and steppes. Eleven of the twenty largest cities of Russia, including the capital, Moscow, are located in the Volga's drainage basin.

Some of the largest reservoirs in the world are located along the Volga. The river has a symbolic meaning in Russian culture and is often referred to as Волга-матушка Volga-Matushka (Mother Volga) in Russian literature and folklore.


Cruise ship on the Volga. Volga River. River cruise ship Valeriy Chkalov P5171824 2200.jpg
Cruise ship on the Volga.
Satellite view of the Volga Delta ISS-60 Volga River flowing into the Caspian Sea.jpg
Satellite view of the Volga Delta

The Russian hydronym Volga (Волга) derives from Proto-Slavic *vòlga "wetness, moisture", which is preserved in many Slavic languages, including Ukrainian volóha (воло́га) "moisture", Russian vlaga (влага) "moisture", Bulgarian vlaga (влага) "moisture", Czech vláha "dampness", Serbian vlaga (влага) "moisture", Croatian vlaga "moisture" and Slovene vlaga "moisture" among others. [8]

The Slavic name is a loan translation of earlier Scythian (Ῥᾶ) "Volga", [9] literally "wetness", cognate with Avestan Raŋhā "mythical stream" (also compare the derivation Sogdian r’k "vein, blood vessel" (*raha-ka), [10] Persian رگ rag "vein" [11] ) and Vedic Sanskrit rasā́ (रसा) "dew, liquid, juice; mythical river". [12] The Scythian name survives in modern Mordvin Rav (Рав) "Volga".

The Turkic peoples living along the river formerly referred to it as Itil or Atil . In modern Turkic languages, the Volga is known as İdel (Идел) in Tatar, Атăл (Atăl) in Chuvash, Idhel in Bashkir, Edil in Kazakh, and İdil in Turkish. The Turkic names go back to the ancient Turkic form “Etil/ Ertil”, the origin and meaning of which are not clear. Perhaps this form has a connection with the hydronym Irtesh. [13]

The Turkic peoples associated the Itil's origin with the Kama. Thus, a left tributary to the Kama was named the Aq Itil "White Itil" which unites with the Kara Itil "Black Itil" at the modern city of Ufa. The name Indyl (Indɨl) is used in Adyge (Cherkess) language.

Among Asians,[ clarification needed ] the river was known by its other Turkic name Sarı-su "yellow water", but the Oirats also used their own name, Ijil mörön or "adaptation river". Presently the Mari, another Uralic group, call the river Jul (Юл), meaning "way" in Tatar. Formerly, they called the river Volgydo, a borrowing from Old East Slavic.


The Volga is the longest river in Europe, and its catchment area is almost entirely inside Russia, though the longest river in Russia is the ObIrtysh river system. [1] It belongs to the closed basin of the Caspian Sea, being the longest river to flow into a closed basin. Rising in the Valdai Hills 225 meters (738 ft) above sea level northwest of Moscow and about 320 kilometers (200 mi) southeast of Saint Petersburg, the Volga heads east past Lake Sterzh, Tver, Dubna, Rybinsk, Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod, and Kazan. From there it turns south, flows past Ulyanovsk, Tolyatti, Samara, Saratov and Volgograd, and discharges into the Caspian Sea below Astrakhan at 28 meters (92 ft) below sea level. [1] At its most strategic point, it bends toward the Don ("the big bend"). Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, is located there.

The Saratov Bridge by night, Saratov Oblast Saratovskii most.jpeg
The Saratov Bridge by night, Saratov Oblast
The upper Volga in the vicinity of Staritsa The Volga River (Tver oblast).jpg
The upper Volga in the vicinity of Staritsa

The Volga has many tributaries, most importantly the rivers Kama, the Oka, the Vetluga, and the Sura. The Volga and its tributaries form the Volga river system, which flows through an area of about 1,350,000 square kilometres (521,238 square miles) in the most heavily populated part of Russia. [1] The Volga Delta has a length of about 160 kilometres (99 miles) and includes as many as 500 channels and smaller rivers. The largest estuary in Europe, it is the only place in Russia where pelicans, flamingos, and lotuses may be found.[ citation needed ] The Volga freezes for most of its length for three months each year. [1]

The Volga drains most of Western Russia. Its many large reservoirs provide irrigation and hydroelectric power. The Moscow Canal, the Volga–Don Canal, and the Volga–Baltic Waterway form navigable waterways connecting Moscow to the White Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. High levels of chemical pollution have adversely affected the river and its habitats.

The fertile river valley provides large quantities of wheat, and also has many mineral riches. A substantial petroleum industry centers on the Volga valley. Other resources include natural gas, salt, and potash. The Volga Delta and the Caspian Sea are fishing grounds. Astrakhan, at the delta, is the center of the caviar industry.

Confluences (downstream to upstream)

The Starovolzhsky Bridge in Tver Tver dusk 3.jpg
The Starovolzhsky Bridge in Tver
Volga near Nizhny Novgorod, 2010 Smoke over the river Volga.jpg
Volga near Nizhny Novgorod, 2010

Reservoirs (downstream to upstream)

A number of large hydroelectric reservoirs were constructed on the Volga during the Soviet era. They are:

Biggest cities on the shores of the Volga

Human history

Many Orthodox shrines and monasteries are located along the banks of the Volga Volga tolga.jpg
Many Orthodox shrines and monasteries are located along the banks of the Volga

The area downstream of the Volga is widely believed to have been a cradle of the Proto-Indo-European civilization.[ citation needed ] The river ranges from the Caspian Sea, where especially Asian-Oriental cultures (Turkic, Caucasian and Persian) at that time were already widespread in steppe regions, to the northern lands in western Russia where in the East European Plain Slavic culture existed with Germanic and Finno-Ugric tribes. More precisely, the area around the Volga was inhabited by the Slavic tribes of Vyatichs and Buzhans, by Finno-Ugrics, Scandinavians and Balts, by Huns and Turkic peoples (Tatars, Kipchaks) in the first millennium AD, replacing the Scythians. [14] Furthermore, the river played a vital role in the commerce of the Byzantine people. The ancient scholar Ptolemy of Alexandria mentions the lower Volga in his Geography (Book 5, Chapter 8, 2nd Map of Asia). He calls it the Rha, which was the Scythian name for the river. Ptolemy believed the Don and the Volga shared the same upper branch, which flowed from the Hyperborean Mountains. Between 2nd and 5th centuries Baltic people were very widespread in today's European Russia. Baltic people were widespread from Sozh River till today's Moscow and covered much of today's Central Russia and intermingled with the East Slavs. [15] The Russian ethnicity in Western Russia and around the Volga river evolved to a very large extent, next to other tribes, out of the East Slavic tribe of the Buzhans and Vyatichis. The Vyatichis were originally concentrated on the Oka river. [16] Furthermore, several localities in Russia are connected to the Slavic Buzhan tribe, like for example Sredniy Buzhan in the Orenburg Oblast, Buzan and the Buzan river in the Astrakhan Oblast. [17] [18] Buzhan (Persian: بوژان‎, also Romanized as Būzhān; also known as Būzān) is also a village in Nishapur, Iran.

Subsequently, the river basin played an important role in the movements of peoples from Asia to Europe. A powerful polity of Volga Bulgaria once flourished where the Kama joins the Volga, while Khazaria controlled the lower stretches of the river. Such Volga cities as Atil, Saqsin, or Sarai were among the largest in the medieval world. The river served as an important trade route connecting Scandinavia, Finno-Ugric areas with the various Slavic tribes and Turkic, Germanic, Finnic and other people in Old Rus', and Volga Bulgaria with Khazaria, Persia and the Arab world.

Ilya Yefimovich Repin's painting Barge Haulers on the Volga Ilia Efimovich Repin (1844-1930) - Volga Boatmen (1870-1873).jpg
Ilya Yefimovich Repin's painting Barge Haulers on the Volga

From 6th till 8th century the Alans settled in the Middle Volga region and in the steppes of Russias southern region in the Pontic–Caspian steppe. [19]

Khazars were replaced by Kipchaks, Kimeks and Mongols, who founded the Golden Horde in the lower reaches of the Volga. Later their empire divided into the Khanate of Kazan and Khanate of Astrakhan, both of which were conquered by the Russians in the course of the 16th century Russo-Kazan Wars. The Russian people's deep feeling for the Volga echoes in national culture and literature, starting from the 12th-century Lay of Igor's Campaign. [20] The Volga Boatman's Song is one of many songs devoted to the national river of Russia.

Construction of Soviet Union-era dams often involved enforced resettlement of huge numbers of people, as well as destruction of their historical heritage. For instance, the town of Mologa was flooded for the purpose of constructing the Rybinsk Reservoir (then the largest artificial lake in the world). The construction of the Uglich Reservoir caused the flooding of several monasteries with buildings dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. In such cases the ecological and cultural damage often outbalanced any economic advantage. [21]

20th-century conflicts

Soviet Marines charge the Volga river bank. Soviet marines-in the battle of stalingrad volga banks.jpg
Soviet Marines charge the Volga river bank.

During the Russian Civil War, both sides fielded warships on the Volga. In 1918, the Red Volga Flotilla participated in driving the Whites eastward, from the Middle Volga at Kazan to the Kama and eventually to Ufa on the Belaya. [22]

In modern times, the city on the big bend of the Volga, currently known as Volgograd, witnessed the Battle of Stalingrad, possibly the bloodiest battle in human history, in which the Soviet Union and the German forces were deadlocked in a stalemate battle for access to the river. The Volga was (and still is) a vital transport route between central Russia and the Caspian Sea, which provides access to the oil fields of the Apsheron Peninsula. Hitler planned to use access to the oil fields of Azerbaijan to fuel future German conquests. Apart from that, whoever held both sides of the river could move forces across the river, to defeat the enemy's fortifications beyond the river. [23] By taking the river, Hitler's Germany would have been able to move supplies, guns, and men into the northern part of Russia. At the same time, Germany could permanently deny this transport route by the Soviet Union, hampering its access to oil and to supplies via the Persian Corridor.

For this reason, many amphibious military assaults were brought about in an attempt to remove the other side from the banks of the river. In these battles, the Soviet Union was the main offensive side, while the German troops used a more defensive stance, though much of the fighting was close quarters combat, with no clear offensive or defensive side.

Ethnic groups

The Volga in the Zhiguli Mountains. Volga u Zhigulei osen'iu.jpg
The Volga in the Zhiguli Mountains.

Many different ethnicities lived on the Volga river. Numerous were the Eastern Slavic Vyatchi tribes which took a decisive role in the development of modern Russians. [24] [25] Among the first recorded people along the upper Volga were also the Finno-Ugric people Mari (Мари) and their west ethnic group named Merya (Мäрӹ). Where the Volga flows through the steppes the area was also inhabited by the Iranian people of the Sarmatians from 200 BC. [26] [27] Since ancient times, even before Rus' states developed, the Volga river was an important trade route where not only Slavic, Turkic and Finno-Ugric people lived, but also Arab world of the Middle East met the Varangian people of the Nordic countries through trading. [28] [29] In the 8th and 9th centuries colonization also began from Kievan Rus'. Slavs from Kievan Rus' brought Christianity to the upper Volga, and a portion of non-Slavic local people adopted Christianity and gradually became East Slavs. The remainder of the Mari people migrated to the east far inland. In the course of several centuries the Slavs assimilated the indigenous Finnic populations, such as the Merya and Meshchera peoples. The surviving peoples of Volga Finnic ethnicity include the Maris and Mordvins of the middle Volga. Also Khazar and Bulgar peoples inhabited the upper, middle and lower of the Volga River basin. [30]

Apart from the Huns, the earliest Turkic tribes arrived in the 7th century and assimilated some Finnic and Indo-European population on the middle and lower Volga. The Muslim Tatars are descendants of the population of medieval Volga Bulgaria. Another Turkic group, the Nogais, formerly inhabited the lower Volga steppes.

The Volga region is home to a German minority group, the Volga Germans. Catherine the Great had issued a Manifesto in 1763 inviting all foreigners to come and populate the region, offering them numerous incentives to do so. This was partly to develop the region but also to provide a buffer zone between the Russians and the Mongols to the East. Because of conditions in German territories, Germans responded in the largest numbers. Under the Soviet Union a slice of the region was turned into the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Volga at Volgograd Sild Volgogradis ule Volga joe.jpg
The Volga at Volgograd
In some locations, the Volga has a rocky west bank. Utes step raz2.jpg
In some locations, the Volga has a rocky west bank.

The Volga, widened for navigation purposes with construction of huge dams during the years of Joseph Stalin's industrialization, is of great importance to inland shipping and transport in Russia: all the dams in the river have been equipped with large (double) ship locks, so that vessels of considerable dimensions can travel from the Caspian Sea almost to the upstream end of the river.

Connections with the river Don and the Black Sea are possible through the Volga–Don Canal. Connections with the lakes of the North (Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega), Saint Petersburg and the Baltic Sea are possible through the Volga–Baltic Waterway; and commerce with Moscow has been realised by the Moscow Canal connecting the Volga and the Moskva River.

This infrastructure has been designed for vessels of a relatively large scale (lock dimensions of 290 by 30 metres (951 ft × 98 ft) on the Volga, slightly smaller on some of the other rivers and canals) and it spans many thousands of kilometers. A number of formerly state-run, now mostly privatized, companies operate passenger and cargo vessels on the river; Volgotanker, with over 200 petroleum tankers, is one of them.

In the later Soviet era, up to the modern times, grain and oil have been among the largest cargo exports transported on the Volga. [31] Until recently access to the Russian waterways was granted to foreign vessels on a very limited scale. The increasing contacts between the European Union and Russia have led to new policies with regard to the access to the Russian inland waterways. It is expected that vessels of other nations will be allowed on Russian rivers soon. [32]

Satellite imagery

Cultural significance



See also

Related Research Articles

Bulgars Extinct Turkic tribal confederation

The Bulgars were Turkic semi-nomadic warrior tribes that flourished in the Pontic–Caspian steppe and the Volga region during the 7th century. They became known as nomadic equestrians in the Volga-Ural region, but some researchers say that their ethnic roots can be traced to Central Asia. During their westward migration across the Eurasian steppe, the Bulgar tribes absorbed other ethnic groups and cultural influences in a process of ethnogenesis, including Indo-European, Finno-Ugric and Hunnic tribes. Modern genetic research on Central Asian Turkic people and ethnic groups related to the Bulgars points to an affiliation with Western Eurasian populations. The Bulgars spoke a Turkic language, i.e. Bulgar language of Oghuric branch. They preserved the military titles, organization and customs of Eurasian steppes, as well as pagan shamanism and belief in the sky deity Tangra.

The Tatars is an umbrella term for different Turkic ethnic groups bearing the name "Tatar".

Tatarstan First-level administrative division of Russia

The Republic of Tatarstan, or simply Tatarstan, also called Tatariya, is a federal subject of the Russian Federation, located in the Volga Federal District. Its capital is the city of Kazan.

Volga Bulgaria Former country

Volga Bulgaria or Volga–Kama Bulghar, was a historic Bulgar state that existed between the 7th and 13th centuries around the confluence of the Volga and Kama River, in what is now European Russia. Volga Bulgaria was a multi-ethnic state with large numbers of Turkic Bulgars, a variety of Finnic and Ugric peoples, and many East Slavs. The very strategic position of Volga Bulgaria allowed it to create a monopoly between the trade of Arabs, Norse and Avars.

Chuvash people ethnic group

The Chuvash people are a Turkic ethnic group, native to an area stretching from the Volga Region to Siberia. Most of them live in the Republic of Chuvashia and surrounding areas, although Chuvash communities may be found throughout the Russian Federation.

Mari people ethnic group

The Mari are a Finno-Ugric ethnic group, who have traditionally lived along the Volga and Kama rivers in Russia. Almost half of Maris today live in the Mari El republic, with significant populations in the Bashkortostan and Tatarstan republics. In the past, the Mari have also been known as the Cheremisa or the Cheremis people in Russian and the Çirmeş in Tatar.

Mordvins Finno-Ugric ethnic group

The Mordvins, also Mordva, Mordvinians, Mordovians, are a people who speak the Mordvinic languages of the Uralic language family and live mainly in the Republic of Mordovia and other parts of the middle Volga River region of Russia.

Astrakhan Khanate Medieval Tatar khanate

The Khanate of Astrakhan, also referred to as the Xacitarxan Khanate, was a Tatar state that arose during the break-up of the Golden Horde. The Khanate existed in the 15th and 16th centuries in the area adjacent to the mouth of the Volga river, around the modern city of Astrakhan. Its khans claimed patrilineal descent from Toqa Temür, the thirteenth son of Jochi and grandson of Genghis Khan.

European Russia Part of Russia in Europe

European Russia is the western and the historical part of the Russian Federation, which is located in Eastern Europe. It covers up to 39% of Europe's total land area, and comprises 15% of Europe's total population. Although European Russia covers less than 25% of Russia's territory, it has a population of 110 million people, housing 78% of Russia's population, making Russia the most populous European nation. All three federal cities of Russia lie within European Russia, namely Moscow, the capital and the most populous city of the Russian Federation, which is the most populous city entirely within Europe; Saint Petersburg, the cultural capital and the second-most populous city in the country; and Sevastopol, located within the disputed territory of Crimea.

The Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria lasted from 1223 to 1236. The Bulgar state, centered in lower Volga and Kama, was the center of the fur trade in Eurasia throughout most of its history. Before the Mongol conquest, Russians of Novgorod and Vladimir repeatedly looted and attacked the area, thereby weakening the Bulgar state's economy and military power. The latter ambushed the Mongols in the later 1223 or in 1224. Several clashes occurred between 1229–1234, and the Mongol Empire conquered the Bulgars in 1236.

Nogai Horde former country

Nogay Horde, Nohai Horde or Nogay Yortu was a confederation of about eighteen Turkic and Mongol tribes that occupied the Pontic-Caspian steppe from about 1500 until they were pushed west by the Kalmyks and south by the Russians in the 17th century. The Mongol tribe called the Manghits constituted a core of the Nogay Horde.

The region of Tatarstan, now within the Russian Federation, was inhabited by different groups during prehistory. The state of Volga Bulgaria grew up during the Middle Ages and for a time was subject to the Khazars. The Volga Bulgars became Muslim and incorporated various Turkic peoples to form the modern Volga Tatar ethnic group.

Nağaybäks are an indigenous Turkic people in Russia recognized as a separate people under Russian legislation. The majority of the Nağaybäks live in the Nagaybaksky and Chebarkulsky Districts of the Chelyabinsk Oblast. They speak a sub-dialect of the Tatar language's Middle dialect. Russian and Tatar historians usually treat the Nağaybäks as an integral part of Volga Tatars; a minority considers Nağaybäks a separate ethnicity in their own right. In the 1989 Russian census, 11,200 people identified themselves as Nağaybäks, falling to 9,600 in 2002.

The Volga Tatars are a Turkic ethnic group native to the Volga-Ural region of Russia. They are subdivided into various subgroups. Volga Tatars are Russia's second-largest ethnicity after the Russians. They compose 53% of the population of Tatarstan and 25% of the population of Bashkortostan.

Volga region geographic region

The Volga Region is a historical region in Russia that encompasses the drainage basin of the Volga River, the longest river in Europe, in central and southern European Russia.

Volga Finns

The Volga Finns are a historical group of indigenous peoples of Russia living in the vicinity of the Volga, who speak Uralic languages. Their modern representatives are the Mari people, the Erzya and the Moksha Mordvins, as well as extinct Merya, Muromian and Meshchera people. The Permians are sometimes also grouped as Volga Finns.

The Kulyagash is the biggest wetland in Tatarstan, Russian Federation. It consists of Kulyagash swamp and several lakes. It is situated in Belaya and Ik Rivers interfluvial, Aktanyshsky District, at the east of Tatarstan, near the border with Bashkortostan. The area of the wetland is estimated as 22,000 ha. Kulyagash stretches from west to east 17.5 kilometers (10.9 mi), from north to south 10 kilometers (6.2 mi). The most notable lakes in the wetland are Atyr, Kinder-Kul, Azybeyevskoye, Syulyale-Kul, the biggest being, however elongate Kulyagash Lake. There are forests at the several islands in the swamp.

The Mishar Tatars are a subgroup of the Volga Tatars of Tatars and the indigenous people of the Mordovia, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Chuvashia of Russian Federation, Penza, Ulyanovsk, Orenburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Volgograd, Saratov Oblasts of Russia and immigrant minority of Finland. Mishar Tatars are the majority of Finnish Tatars. The Mishar Tatar dialect is one of the two Volga Tatar dialects.

Black Sea–Caspian Steppe steppe

The Black Sea–Caspian Steppe is an informal name for that part of the Eurasian Steppe that extends south between the Black and Caspian Seas. It is usually treated as part of the Pontic–Caspian steppe which includes the area north of the Black and Caspian Seas, but there is some reason to treat it as a distinct place. Its natural boundaries are the Sea of Azov and Black Sea on the west, the Caucasus Mountains on the south and the Caspian Sea on the east. Its northern boundary may be taken as the triangle formed by the lower Don River and Volga River which are about 60 km apart to the west of Volgograd. This article excludes the north slope of the Caucasus which is not steppe and has a distinct geography and history.

History of the western steppe aspect of history

This article summarizes the History of the western steppe, which is the western third of the Eurasian steppe, that is, the grasslands of Ukraine and southern Russia. It is intended as a summary and an index to the more-detailed linked articles. It is a companion to History of the central steppe and History of the eastern steppe. All dates are approximate since there are few exact starting and ending dates. This summary article does not list the uncertainties, which are many. For these, see the linked articles.


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