Nizhny Novgorod: From postcards to the real life

Nizhny Novgorod has been a trading hub since ancient times. The oldest trade route linking Europe and Asia ran straight through the city. Without doubt, the symbol of the city’s trade is the building of the Nizhny Novgorod Fair, constructed in 1896 for the opening of the All-Russian Art and Trade Fair. Learn more: How the first Russian car was presented in archival photographs

Nizhny Novgorod has been a trading hub since ancient times. The oldest trade route linking Europe and Asia ran straight through the city. Without doubt, the symbol of the city’s trade is the building of the Nizhny Novgorod Fair, constructed in 1896 for the opening of the All-Russian Art and Trade Fair. Learn more: How the first Russian car was presented in archival photographs

Alexey Mosko, Ilaria Kantorova
Nizhny attracts tourists from across the globe. And for good reason, since it packs in a host of sights, including the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, plus churches and shrines of various eras and architectural styles. But that’s the postcard image. What lies at the heart of the real Nizhny?
Nizhny Novgorod (420 km from Moscow) is the fifth most populous city in Russia, and (not surprisingly) the capital of Nizhny Novgorod region. Known affectionately as “Nizhny” by inhabitants, it is not to be confused with Veliky (Great) Novgorod.
Nizhny attracts tourists from across the globe. And for good reason, since it packs in a host of sights, including the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, plus churches and shrines of various eras and architectural styles. There’s also the amazing Gosbank building, which housed the central bank of the Soviet Union. Our video roundup contains some the finest views the city has to offer. But that’s the postcard image.
Is this the “ceremonial” Nizhny? In the foreground we see a stately monument to local heroes Minin and Pozharsky (similar to the one in Moscow in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral), a church, and... Bugrov House, the very same shelter that inspired writer Maxim Gorky to pen the play The Lower Depths at the turn of the 20th century. That's the underside of Nizhny life.
Living urban culture is what Nizhny Novgorod is really about. Along the main thoroughfare, Bolshaya Pokrovskaya street, you can’t walk 10 meters without bumping into street musicians aged from 15 to infinity – armed with accordions, guitars, saxophones, and harmonicas. There are more of them than on Moscow’s Old Arbat.
Nizhny is also about bustling trade – be it flowers, Khokhloma tableware, Belarusian knitwear, or Chinese sunglasses. Where there’s trade, there’s life.
But the city would hardly have gained such importance had it not been at the confluence of two rivers, the Oka and the Volga. Nizhny “Novgoroders” are very fond of water, and many have their own means of water transport, including boats and cutters. Sometimes you can see them parked in the yard of an apartment building in the city center.
Preserved wooden houses are as much a symbol of Nizhny Novgorod as the “courtyard wells” (yards surrounded entirely by buildings) are a symbol of St Petersburg. Young graffiti artists try to draw attention to the city’s wooden structures by painting them, at the same time highlighting the fact that most require renovation.
Nizhny Novgorod’s unique rhythm comes from its students (the city is home to a large number of higher education institutions), modern enterprises (Red Sormovo, GAZ, the aircraft plant Sokol, etc.), research institutions, numerous theater and music festivals, and concerts in the Conservatory and Philharmonic halls.
During World War 2, the city was an important weapons manufacturing center: every second vehicle, every third tank, and every fourth artillery unit was produced here.
Over the years, the city’s defense industry has attracted the attention of foreign intelligence services. After a spike in espionage incidents, on August 4, 1959, the USSR Council of Ministers issued the resolution “On the Closure of the City of Gorky [Nizhny Novgorod] to Foreigners.” The city remained closed until 1991.
The Nizhny Novgorod region is home to a good half of all the crafts associated with the image of Mother Russia in the public mind: Matryoshka dolls, Khokhloma tableware, Gorodets painting, filigree ornaments. No wonder that local pride is on display at every turn: everything is decorated with Khokhloma, from napkins to trams. Learn more about russian handicrafts
Riding the trams in Nizhny Novgorod is not your average tourist trip. It’s the oldest tram system in Russia, no less. Built to coincide with the opening of the above-mentioned 1896 exhibition, it was unusual in that it originally consisted of four different tram systems with three different owners, each with its own track gauge. Thankfully, today everything is standardized.
However, the local youth often prefer bicycles to public transport. At least, those not indifferent to sport and healthy lifestyle are eyeing the FIFA World Cup. Four group matches, one second round, and one quarter final will be held in Nizhny Novgorod in 2018, when Russia hosts the tournament. Learn more about 2018 World Cup
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