- By Rachel Nielsen
- Feb. 10 2013 17:09
Main industries: Machine tool manufacturing, diesel engine manufacturing, food production, petrochemical products.
Mayor: Igor Savintsev
Founded in 1730
Interesting fact: Barnaul is one of the first cities founded in Siberia, which the Russian Empire began to settle only about 500 years ago.
Sister cities: Flagstaff, United States; Zaragoza, Spain; Baicheng, China.
Helpful contacts: Igor Savintsev, Barnaul mayor (head of administration for Barnaul); +7-385-229-1100,
BARNAUL — If you ask the classic question "chem dyshat mestnye? — "what makes the locals tick?" or literally "what do they breathe?" — a native of Barnaul might give you a literal answer: silver.
The metal is so intrinsic to the birth and growth of this venerable Siberian city that some Barnaultsy, as they call themselves, maintain that they suffer medical problems when removed from their natural environment, where elements of the precious metal are said to be found in high concentration in the air, earth and water.
Even though silver mining and processing ceased more than 100 years ago, the city owes its fortune to pioneers who came to exploit the natural resource.
In 1730, the scion of a family producing iron and steel for the Russian Empire, Akinfy Demidov, picked the Barnaul area as the site for a new factory. It was an ideal location, with the waterways and forests fueling the processing of copper, silver and other metals extracted from the Altai region, the southwestern corner of Siberia where Barnaul is located.
Altai Motor Factory (8 Prospekt Kosmonavtov, +7-385-275-1746,
Barnaul Machine Tool Factory (28 Ulitsa Kulagina, reception +7-385-277-0678 or general director Viktor Yashkin +7-385-277-9200,
SibEnergoMash makes furnaces and steam-power components for the petrochemical, metal and power generating sectors (26 Prospekt Kalinina, +7-385-277-7520, +7-385-277-8177,
Based on finds of silver in ancient Altai burial mounds, Demidov's teams looked for the precious element and struck it big. The area become a major extraction and manufacturing center for silver, leading to the development of the city on the banks of the Ob River.
When a noted geographer visited Barnaul in the late 1850s, he discovered a city that had built up cultural wealth on the foundation of its metals and manufacturing might. "Barnaul was ... unquestionably the most cultured corner of Siberia, and I have nicknamed it the Siberian Athens," wrote Pyotr Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky, who resided in this city for a spell.
After the veins of metals petered out and the processing factory shut down in the 1890s, the entrepreneurial character of this city, located 3,400 kilometers from Moscow, transformed into a major center for other industries.
Today, Barnaul's old-time wealth and prestige live on in the buildings preserved amid shopping centers and apartment blocks and, in particular, on Prospekt Lenina. As that name suggests, vestiges of Soviet times abound as well, from the multiple statues of Vladimir Lenin on the boulevard, to the well kept stolovaya or cafeteria-style restaurants, to the interiors of hotels and other buildings.
For decades, the city has been the administrative center of the Altai region, and it marked the 75th anniversary of the creation of the region with an official celebration in the fall that included schoolchildren dancing with colorful scarves to songs extolling the region and Barnaul.
Barnaul suffered in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Soviet Union, as its planned industrial economy imploded on the disappearance of planned demand. But some factories survived and now thrive, including those making diesel engines and food processing equipment.
The relative economic stability is evidenced by the plethora of shopping malls in town, while electronics and sporting goods chains line the roads into the city center. The city also acts as a gateway to the natural wonders of the Altai Republic directly to its south, an area of mountain gorges, snaking rivers and waterfalls that attracts Russian nature-lovers and adventure-seekers summer after summer.
A: One problem is road related. We don't have Moscow-style traffic jams, but we have a similar problem. It has to do with construction of major new thoroughfares, availability of parking, especially in newly built neighborhoods, and road quality. There is a Russian saying about fools and roads — "Russia has two troubles: fools and roads." The safety of our city's roads is one of the leading problems for residents.
Other issues include the quality and cost of utilities and other services for apartment buildings, with housing, especially for young families, and with the number of spaces in preschools and kindergartens. Sometimes, parents get in line right after a child is born in order to stake out a spot in a preschool. The city's ecological condition is also problem — the creation of landfills and the absence of garbage processing plants — and there is a pretty high level of corruption among our bureaucrats.
As for economic development, Barnaul is a manufacturing city, and in large part, its businesses are closed elements of the military-industrial complex.
Q: What are the city's strengths?
A: It is an industrial city. There are many enterprises in Barnaul. It is also not just the administrative center of the Altai region, but also its cultural center. There are quite a large number of universities and institutes, from traditional universities to pedagogical, technical, medical and agricultural universities.
Barnaul is located on one of the longest rivers in the world, and there are slivers of pine forest in Barnaul. It is beautiful forest. Near the river, we have wonderful walks and excursions. And there are major theaters, operatic theaters and attractive, interesting museums.
Q: How do you see the local political landscape evolving?
A: The current situation in Barnaul is generally in line with the situation in Russia overall. Today there is serious pressure on the opposition. Last year I was penalized under the Administrative Code for having an unsanctioned protest.
And the Barnaul summer is one of the warmest of any Siberian city — watermelons grow fast and furious in the short but intense season — thanks to the microclimate created by the nearby mountains. Locals believe that the warmth has rubbed off, giving them an unreserved temperament atypical for Siberian citizens.
Thanks to a large concentration of post-secondary educational institutions that also survived the transition to capitalism, and the natural beauty of the Altai republic immediately south of the region, the city still lives up to the reputation for culture and learning that Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky praised so long ago.
What to see if you have two hours
Prospekt Lenina runs down to the Ob River and offers a picturesque stroll from the northern to southern part of the city's center. Starting at the stylish Gastronom Pod Shpilki building, you can follow the birch-tree lined park in the middle of the avenue, passing the main Ploshchad Sovetov, the ubiquitous Lenin statue and the local government's headquarters.
Behind that building on the right is the drama theater, located on Sotsialtichesky Prospekt, where you can enjoy a street fair in the summer. You'll also pass the traditional TsUM department store and some newer shopping options. On the left you can see the Polytechnical University, with a statue to steam energy pioneer Polzunov right before it. After that comes the medical institute and then one of the more famous places of higher learning, the former pilots' school that was famous throughout the U.S.S.R. but failed to survive the post Soviet crash and for the last several years has served as a police academy.
Soon the main cathedral, Nikolsky Sobor, comes into view, as well as the city's finest example of Stalinist architecture, the KraiSovProf building, on the right. Approaching the river, you'll see the city's own Dinamo stadium and the famous Soviet-era Krasny Magazin store, be in range of the Stary Bazar open-air market and at last come to the river station, which is unfortunately modern, as are many of the town's buildings after a 1917 fire destroyed much of Barnaul.
At the river station, you can take in the Hollywood copycat sign spelling out "BARNAUL" in giant letters impaled on the riverbank on the other side of the bridge, or just do as the locals do in the late spring and gaze at the ice floes that have broken apart and are floating northward with the current of the Ob River.
What to do if you have two days
If you need another church, go to the "tough neighborhood" called Prudski, and visit the Pokrovski Sobor — the only church in town not closed by the Soviets. It's surrounded by wooden houses that survived the natural and economic turmoil of time.
But the best thing to do is get out of town. Get your hotel or friends to find you a competent driver, and leave early in the morning. Take the new road toward Mongolia that has been brought up to modern standards thanks to some attention from the Kremlin, and head to Gorno Altai. Once you cross the Ob River on the double-decker bridge you are in the genuine steppe. Briefly stop in the settlement of Polkovnikova, which is the birthplace of second-most famous Soviet cosmonaut, German Titov. The museum in his honor is worth 20 minutes of your time.
Then drive another two to three hours to have lunch in the town of Biisk, which did not suffer the same fiery fate as turn-of-the-century Barnaul did and has preserved its Siberian merchant-era architecture quite well.
Exiting that town, you cross the Biya River and drive along the banks of the Katun River, which combine to form the Ob. You'll notice the scenery change from steppe to foothills, and you'll learn from your driver that you are now cruising part of the ancient Silk Road. Soon you'll enter the legendary Gorno Altai region that belongs to the Altai republic, filed with mountains, streams, gorges, natural springs and lakes, as well as an ever-growing pool of decent tourist resorts and rest houses. If you choose to stay overnight in the area, you can make arrangements before departing Barnaul. Try Altai Info at +7-388-222-6864. They can help you book a proper program to enjoy the natural beauty. Try to make it to the pristine lakes Manzherok or Aya, where you can take a shot at finding a "water devil," a nut that grows below the surface and is the Siberian equivalent of a four-leaf clover, bringing good luck to whomever can pluck one from its vine in the shallows.
What to do with the family
Families entertain the kids at the shopping center called Citi Tsentr Barnaul (47A Krasnoarmeisky Prospekt, +7-385-268-0786,
A: The Barnaul retail business climate is brisk and growing, perhaps too quickly. New shopping malls are popping up everywhere. I did start up a consultancy in the tourism sphere years ago. The travel industry here is looking to improve and grow, but there is a reluctance to seek outside help. I did some good work with the builder of Birusovaya Katun resort in the Altai Mountains, Yevgeny Vostrikov. He is a smart and understanding businessman.
Q: What's the attitude of Barnaul officials toward business?
A: I think Barnaul officials are open to new business concepts and entrepreneurs. Like every Siberian city, the officials and entrepreneurs want to catch a wave of the capitalist tsunami. There are even a number of traditional American enterprises opening here: Subway, KFC, Cinnabon. The question that remains is: How real is that wave, how sustainable the opportunities, and at what cost to the environment and population?
Q: What are some sectors in Barnaul where it makes sense for foreign investors to get involved?
A: The federal government has seen Barnaul and the Altai region as a center for tourism, so perhaps that is the right place to invest. But the world is changing, and all investments now may be purely speculative. Also, I am not sure of the appetite of local entrepreneurs for foreign partners.
There is also a romper room and children's eating area, but beware of the staffer in charge, a humorless Elvira look-alike who doesn't speak English. There is also an amusement park called Barnaulskaya Krepost or Barnaul Fortress that boasts a Ferris wheel park. The park is at the corner of Sotsialistichesky Prospekt and Ulitsa Molodozhnaya, with the entrance on the latter street. The telephone is +7-385-236-3156. Tickets begin at just 40 rubles, and the hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Find a listing for this park and others at the web page
Groups of 30-something men and women, young women out on the town, guys in t-shirts catching up with their buddies, older men in suit jackets sharing a medusa hookah at a table: Everyone can be found at Kefir, a trendy spot with a calm atmosphere (39 Prospekt Lenina, +7-385-220-2020). The menu includes an array of sushi choices, pasta entrees and desserts, plus a long beverage list. A full meal without drinks will cost about 800 rubles ($27). Doors open at 6 p.m. and close at 8 a.m. The restaurant seating is colorful and cushy, while the bar uses white backlighting for a space-age effect.
Where to eat
A stylish and quiet place for a business meal or a date is Iyeroglif, or Hieroglyph (109 Sotsialistichesky Prospekt, +7-385-262-8277,
Across the street, two restaurants flank each side of the entrance to the Siberia Hotel (116 Sotsialistichesky Prospekt). For smoking, drinking and shooting the breeze with the locals as Russian pop music plays, stop by Siberskaya Korona (+7-385-262-9625,
A beautiful bar, good restaurant and gathering place for large groups is Krem Kofe Kholl (+7-385-262-9612,
For cheaper eats, go to one of the cafeteria-style, or stolovaya, restaurants dotting the city, which offer tasty and healthy fare and desserts. There is one across Krasnoarmeisky Prospekt from Hotel Barnaul and another on Molodozhnaya Ulitsa.
If you are in the mood for inexpensive fun, you might join the office workers, elderly women and schoolchildren in a line at one of the many Russky Kholod ice cream kiosks dotted all over the city. The frozen dessert company has a production plant in the city, and its products are sold for about 30 rubles each at kiosks year round.
Where to stay
Hotel Sibir (see address above; +7-385-262-4200,
When other hotels are booked, the gigantic Hotel Barnaul (135 Krasnoarmeisky Prospekt at the corner of Ploshchad Pobedy, +7-385-220-1600,
Barnaultsy will be pleased and impressed if you tell them you have caught a glimpse of their beloved home town on the popular television series, "While the Fern is Blooming," which was filmed partially in town and in the country side.
Another cultural icon worthy of mention is larger-than-life Soviet director, actor and writer Vasily Shukshin, who was born in the Srostki village southeast of Barnaul and is associated with the area. He wrote short stories and acted in, directed and wrote films that venerated the village life that he knew in the Altai region, though he shot to fame through Moscow's film studios before his premature death in his 40s in the 1970s. "There Is Such a Lad" or Zhivyot Takoi Paren, was one of his most-loved films.
You can also tell natives that you enjoy the music of Barnaul native and internationally acclaimed classical pianist Konstantin Scherbakov.
How to get there
Several flights a day depart Moscow for Barnaul. Tickets on Aeroflot, S7 and other domestic airlines typically cost about 14,000 rubles for a round trip. The flight is four hours.
You also can arrive in Barnaul from other Siberian cities by bus or train.
Located about 20 kilometers from the city's center, the airport's official name is the German Stepanovich Titov Barnaul Airport and is on Pavlovsky Trakt. An official cab ordered from the tiny taxi counter in the airport costs 400 rubles for the ride to central Barnaul, which can take up to 50 minutes if you hit rush hour. Make sure you order a taxi by the time the baggage carousel has finished spitting out suitcases, because the staffer at the taxi counter might leave at that point. There are gypsy cabs for hire in the parking lot and on Pavlosky Trakt.
You also can take shuttle bus No. 144 or city bus No. 110 to the airport from Barnaul.