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Founding of Nizhny Novgorod
Russia in Early 13th Century
The beginning of the 13th century, the time Nizhny Novgorod was founded,
concurs to another landmark of growth in the history of Russia.
Although in whole the 13th century for Russia is said “a dark epoch” its start was bright and calm.
In the beginning of the 13th century Rus was growing intensively, new towns appeared.
Rus was one of the most noticeable countries in Europe then.
The feudal division
that started in the thirties of the 12th century did not cause disintegration of the Old Russian nation.
It was just a new political structure that ethnic and cultural solidarity were remaining invariable at.
Russian grand dukes gave no one Russian territory up to the enemies for the first hundred years of the division time.
Their power and wealth were known all over Europe.
With that in the beginning of the 13th century expansionist policy prevailed in Rus
and so the new nearby lands got conquered.
Aggressive journeys in the north-eastern direction, to the lands occupied by the Volga Bulgars,
the Maris (the Cheremis), and the Mordvinians, got frequent...
Volga River — Great Symbol of Russia
The Volga River is a great symbol of Russia. Along the Volga the economic ties
and cultural relations of Rus have been carried out from time immemorial and
the Russian statehood got strengthened. For many centuries the struggle for
the Volga River was a major task for the eastern policy of Russia. The mouth of
the Oka River (the largest right side tributary of the Volga) played an important
role in that task implementation. Two most important ancient river paths crossed
at the mouth of the Oka, the eastern border of the Old Russian nation population
settling was there.
Vladimir-Suzdal Rus, at its first steps of strengthening,
initiated the struggle for the Volga River. In the direction of the mouth of the Oka River
along the Klyazma River the fortress towns appeared – Bogolyubovo, Starodub, Yaropolch, Gorokhovets.
At a rather short distance from the mouth of the Oka River the Russian fortress town Gorodets-Radilov
(Gorodets at the present time) was founded in the middle of the same century.
Since long ago the gates of the ancient fortress Vladimir fronting to
the Klyazma River has been naming “Volzhskiye”.
The next step of Rus in the struggle for the Volga River was the founding of Nizhny Novgorod.
That step turned out rather difficult. The Volga Bulgars state became a competitor for
Rus in the struggle for the mouth of the Oka River. Having conquered the Volga River nations
(mainly the Mordvinians and the Maris that settled those lands in the beginning of the 13th century),
the Bulgars occupied the mouth of the Oka River and made an advance against the central
Russian lands from there (the occupation of Murom in 1088, Suzdal siege in 1107).
Founding of Nizhny Novgorod at Mouth of Oka River
With strengthening of the Vladimir-Suzdal Principality the situation about the fighting sides
cardinally changed. And already in 1164 Andrey Bogolyubsky took a victorious journey onto the
Bulgars lands. After that the mouth of the Oka River got the regular place that the Russian
forces were mustered being prepared to the further campaigns against the Bulgars at.
Having occupied such a key point a few other successful journeys onto the Volga Bulgars
taken by Russian grand dukes followed. And finally in 1220 Vladimir Grand Duke Yury Vsevolodovich
had a successful campaign against the Bulgars and in a year after that decided to occupy that
important place for Rus and founded a town at the mouth of the Oka River.
So under 1221 the Russian Chronicles reported about founding of Nizhny Novgorod:
Grand Duke Yury Vsevolodovich laid a town at the mouth of the Oka River and named it Nizhny Novgorod.
Nizhny Novgorod — New Town in Lower Lands
The city name Novgorod that in Russian means “a new town” gave the historians the idea about existence of some earlier settlement. There have been a lot of hypotheses about “an old small town” but the archaeological data does not support anyone of them showing absence of any earlier structures in the territory and the surroundings of Nizhny Novgorod. Regarding appearance of the first part of the city name “nizhny” meaning in Russian “lower” added to the city name in the later annalistic sources, there are a few suggestions:
1) it was added to the name to differ it from Veliky Novgorod (Novgorod the Great, one of most ancient Russian cities) and the other cities with Novgorod name as Nizhny Novgorod was located in the lower lands;
2) the adjective “nizhny” (“lower”) was added to the name as the city was located lower comparing to “the old small town” being up-stream the Oka River;
3) “nizhny” appeared in the city name as Nizhny Novgorod was located down-stream the Volga River comparing to Gorodets town (the fortress town originated earlier not far from the mouth of the Oka River).
Stone Building and High Importance of Nizhny Novgorod for Russia State Progress
The importance of the newly occupied position was highly appreciated in Vladimir
(the capital of Russia at that time). So the large defenses were erected in Nizhny Novgorod
(including the first wooden and earth fortress, the predecessor of the Kremlin of Nizhny Novgorod,
raised in the extremely advantageous military and strategic place,
on the hill dominating over the point of confluence of the Volga and Oka Rivers).
Right then two stone cathedrals were built in Nizhny Novgorod (Spassky Cathedral
in 1225 and Arkhangelsky Cathedral in 1227). Stone building was rather rare occurrence
in the central Rus at that time. It was in use only in most significant cities:
the first stone church in Moscow was built only in 1336.
So the stone building at the newly erected fortress town Nizhny Novgorod says about
great attention to it from the Grand Duke of Vladimir.
Eventually Nizhny Novgorod was founded at the crossing of the Volga and Oka Rivers trade routes.
The nation that dominated there got into its hands the control under the major connections of
Rus with Volga Region and Eastern countries. That made the city of Nizhny Novgorod a significant
economical and political centre in Rus as well as an important military and strategic point in the region.
Having the city under the control meant for the enemies of Rus the possibility to hover over
the central Russia lands masking under the lee of powerful water boundaries. And in the Rus’
hands Nizhny Novgorod played the role of a springboard for the further attacks onto the east.
At the same time it was a covering force for the Russia lands from the enemy attacks from the east and southeast.
The aim of the stone building put on a wide scale in Nizhny Novgorod from the first years
of its founding was to show greatness and strength of Russian grand dukes and Orthodoxy in Russia.
Founding of Nizhny Novgorod went a long way for the native population of the region lands –
the Mordvinians and the Maris – meaning their familiarization with the higher Russian culture.
It also favored the development of the region productive forces. Hereon the fighting cooperation
of the Russian and Mordvinian nations against the common external enemies gradually formed
in the future.
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