- By Svetlana Zernes
- Dec. 08 2013 16:35
Mayor: Oleg Grishchenko
Main industries: Electrical energy, mining industry, chemicals and petrochemicals, machine building, food production.
Founded in 1590
Interesting fact ¹1: The first cosmonaut, Yury Gagarin, graduated from the Saratov Industrial College with merits. His historic 1961 flight ended in the Saratov region, with Gagarin landing near Engels, a town on the left bank of the Volga.
Interesting fact ¹2: "Kalinka," the world-famous Russian song, was written by composer and folklorist Ivan Larionov while he lived in Saratov in 1860.
Sister cities: Dobrich, Bulgaria; Taiyuan and Shaoyang, China; Neuville-de-Poitou, France; Kecskemet, Hungary; Lodz, Poland; Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia; Tskhinvali, South Ossetia; the U.S. cities of Dallas, Texas, Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Carrboro, North Carolina.
Helpful contacts: Saratov Mayor and legislative Speaker Oleg Grishchenko (+7 8452-23-77-78; saratovduma.ru); Saratov city manager Alexei Prokopenko (+7 8452-26-24-57; saratovmer.ru); Saratov Governor Valery Radaev (+7 8452-27-37-30; saratov.gov.ru); Maxim Fateyev, head of the Saratov region chamber of commerce (+7 8452-39-03-50; sartpp.ru).
SARATOV — Nineteenth-century writer Alexander Griboedov immortalized Saratov with a single line in his comedy, "The Woes of Wit."
One of the main characters, the Muscovite Famusov, pronounced this curse on his daughter — and Saratov — when he decided to send her packing there: "To the village, to your auntie, to the backwater, to Saratov!" (V derevnyu, k tetke, v glush, v Saratov).
Even now as a modern and industrial city, Saratov has failed to disassociate itself from this label — or the feeling of being "provincial" or "a big village."
Saratov waxes nostalgic for its days of wealthy merchants and manufacturers, and manages to hang onto its 19th-century charm with its pompous mansions, outstanding theaters and museums and numerous churches on the banks of the expansive Volga River. Even many locals aspire to dress up especially elegantly — and to look at least as good as Moscow residents.
No one is really sure about the origin of the name Saratov. According to one version, the name is connected with the Turkic phrase "Saryk Atov," which means, "Hawks Island." Another version says that it came from the Tatar phrase "Sary Tau," or "Yellow Mountain," because Saratov is surrounded by several hills.
But civilization is as old as the hills here. About 10 kilometers downstream from Saratov stands the ancient ruins of Uvek, a thriving city of the Golden Horde. The city was destroyed by troops fighting under Turko-Mongol ruler Tamerlan in 1395, but a village next to the ruins still bears the name Uvek. Legend has it that part of the Horde treasure, including Uvek money, sank into the Volga's silt and remains buried here to this day.
The main feature of Saratov has always been the Volga, the longest river in Europe. Saratov stretches along its right bank.
Saratovneftegaz (21 Ulitsa Sakko i Vantsetti; +7 8452-39-35-55; sng.ru) is one of the largest mining companies in the RussNeft group.
Saratovorgsintez (Ploshchad Sovetsko-Chekhoslovatskoy Druzhby; +7 8452-98-50-04; saratov.lukoil.com), a part of the LUKoil group and a producer of chemical products.
Zhirovoi Kombinat (112A Prospekt 50 Let Oktyabrya; +7 8452-45-90-00; solpro.ru) is a fat and butter maker and a subsidiary of the Solnechnye Produkty Holding.
Every night the water's smooth surface reflects hundreds of street lights. Locals and Russian visitors often associate the pretty scene with a line in a song by Kirill Molchanov that goes, "There are plenty of golden lights on the Saratov streets" (Ogney tak mnogo zolotykh na ulitsakh Saratova) — never mind the fact that the song is about love, not Saratov. The golden lights, lit by local energy companies, gives a festive feel to the city center.
While the river is impressive, it is not as flush with fish as it was when the city adopted its emblem of three sturgeons on a blue background in 1781. The Volga's sturgeon population has fallen sharply, and hunting of the "tsar fish" is now prohibited.
In the Soviet Union, Saratov had the status of a closed city because it was a major Soviet aircraft-producing center. During the past two decades, a number of industrial enterprises have closed, and their complexes have been transformed into areas for trading and warehousing. The aircraft plant is among them. Nevertheless, the city still keeps its position as an industrial center, accounting for more than a third of the Saratov region's industrial production.
Notably, former Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov once proclaimed the city of Saratov as the capital of the Volga region. Other Volga cities, including Nizhny Novgorod, Samara and Kazan, disagreed and have claimed the title as their own.
What to see if you have two hours
Start your tour from the building of Kryty Rynok, an early 20th-century bazaar located beside the Oduvanchik (Dandelion) fountain, and then head down the pedestrian street Prospekt Kirova, where you can admire the architecture of old merchant houses.
At the end of the street you will see the entrance to Lipki Park, a favorite leisure spot for locals that stretches between Ulitsa Radishcheva and Volzhskaya Ulitsa. Despite being named for the linden tree, the park is planted with many different kinds of trees and bushes. In May, the blossoming chestnuts are truly impressive.
A: Our city has all the necessary advantages for the implementation of investment projects — a favorable geographic location, scientific and technical potential, qualified professionals, a developed transportation infrastructure, and its own oil and gas mining. Additionally, the region is politically stable.
Q: How do you reach out to foreign investors?
A: We have implemented land-tax breaks for investors. Also, we have sent offers of investment opportunities to about 100 large Russian companies, including several with foreign participation.
We are open about our local government activities. To this end, we created an investors page on City Hall's official website.
Q: How do you see as Saratov's priorities?
A: The most important strategy today is to find ways to promote economic growth and a better standard of living in the city.
Many Orthodox churches are scattered around Saratov, but the small church Utoli Moya Pechali (38 Volzhskaya Ulitsa; +7 8452-23-03-75; utoli-hram.ru) seems to touch everyone's hearts. Its architecture and bright paint make it a mini-copy of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. The church is named after the icon "Utoli Moya Pechali" (Ease My Sorrows) that, according to legend, has the power to cure mental and physical diseases.
End your stroll on the banks of the magnificent Volga. At the most popular spot, Naberezhnaya Kosmonavtov, the embankments stand about 3 kilometers apart, making the connecting Saratov Bridge one of the longest in Europe.
What to do if you have two days
The Park Pobedy memorial (Sokolovaya Gora; +7 8452-75-11-50; sargmbs.ru) is worth seeing because of its large exposition of military vehicles and the notable monument "Zhuravli" (Cranes) dedicated to those killed in World War II. About 25 years ago, Saratov children felt special pride in joining the Pioneer organization because their induction ceremony was held here on Sokolovaya Gora.
Visit the Radishchev Art Gallery (75 Pervomaiskaya Ulitsa; +7 8452-26-16-06; radmuseumart.ru), the first public art gallery to open in Russia in the 19th century. It contains more then 30,000 artworks, sculptures and even old household items. The gallery also features a computer room where visitors can access various art-related programs, including one showing lost architectural gems.
The Saratov Museum of Local History (34 Ulitsa Lermontova; +7 8452-28-24-96; comk.ru) offers 30 rooms of artifacts exploring the origins of the city, while those interested in literature should stop by the Museum of Nikolai Chernyshevsky (142 Ulitsa Chernyshevskogo; +7 8452-26-15-95; sarusadba.seun.ru), the Russian publicist, literary critic and author of the famous novel "What Is to Be Done?" Chernyshevsky was born in Saratov, and you can see his monument near the entrance to Lipki Park.
Gorodskoi Park (81 Ulitsa Chernyshevskogo) is a good place to walk around, feed squirrels and meditate. The leafy retreat resembles a museum of unique dendrology; some of the trees were planted more than 180 years ago.
What to do with the family
Everyone loves the circus, and the Saratov Circus (61 Ulitsa Chapaeva; +7 8452-26-09-70; sarcircus.ru) holds the distinction of being the first Russian circus to have its own dedicated building. Many prominent Russian circus performers began their artistic careers in its arena, which opened in 1876.
The Yunogo Zritelya Theater (74 Ulitsa Chapaeva; +7 8452-24-23-63; tuz-saratov.ru) features a rotating list of light-hearted plays. Although described as a "children's theater," it is mostly visited by adults.
The Saratov Conservatory (1 Prospekt Kirova; +7 8452-27-26-53; sarcons.ru) is a major city landmark. You can listen to orchestra music within the walls of this pseudo-Gothic-style building.
If you want to buy something, Prospekt Kirova is the most upmarket shopping area in the city, with boutiques selling clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry. Russian souvenirs are also sold on this street. Besides matryoshka dolls, you can find a unique musical instrument, the garmoshka, or Russian accordion. The local garmoshka with bells is compact and plays with an especially clear sound. You can see a monument of a Saratov garmoshka player in the middle of Prospekt Kirova.
A: The exhibition business is a dynamic and developing market that reflects, like a mirror, all the new trends that are appearing in the economy. The main difficulty is figuring out how to implement these innovations in exhibitions.
Q: How can companies be persuaded to participate in regional trade shows?
A: The best way to fuel the growth of the regional exhibition market is for the government to get involved by providing support and assistance programs that would encourage businesses to participate in the shows.
Q: What are Saratov residents most proud of?
A: Saratov is a city with history, tradition and culture. But our main pride is giving the world great minds such as Alexander Radishchev, Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Pyotr Stolypin and great actors like Oleg Tabakov and Oleg Yankovsky. We are truly proud of them.
On a summer day, sail along the Volga on a river-cruise ship. At New Year's, the area around Lenin's statue on the central Teatralnaya Ploshchad is a fun place to visit, with sleigh rides and photo opportunities with Grandfather Frost.
Saratov is one of the most "theaterized" cities in Russia. Enjoy a performance of the Saratov Opera and Ballet (1 Teatralnaya Ploshchad; +7 8452-27-84-21; operabalet.ru) or, if you are in a more serious mood, go to Saratov Academic Drama Theater, one of the oldest theaters in Russia (116 Rabochaya Ulitsa; +7 8452-39-28-78; saratovdrama.com).
Saratov has a very extensive night life. If you are looking for a place to dance, one of the top-level clubs is Mandala Hall (196 Prospekt 50 Let Oktyabrya; +7 8452-53-88-53; mandalahall.com).
At the entertainment center Grand Michelle (22 Prospekt Kirova; +7 8452-26-36-40; grand-mishel.ru) you can play 10-pin bowling or billiards, as well as dance and have lunch.
The premium-class gentlemen's club Flight (24 Volskaya Ulitsa; +7 8452-21-44-66; club-flight.ru) offers dance shows for those who like something hot.
In the summer, some barges along the embankment turn into floating bars and clubs.
Where to eat
The classically designed Moskva (53 Ulitsa Gorkogo; +7 8452-27-34-02; restoran-moskva.ru) is located in one of the oldest city buildings and near the Saratov regional government offices, which means senior local officials can be spotted among the diners. The restaurant is open from noon until the last client and represents quality Russian cuisine with an air of experiment. For example, try the "Kuptsy v Kitae" (Merchants in China, mutton with nuts and cheese), or "Italyantsy na Kavkaze" (Italians in the Caucasus, pork in a sweet sauce). The average bill for one is 1,000 rubles ($30) without alcohol.
Dzhentlmeny Udachi (35 Ulitsa Radishcheva; +7 8452-23-09-00; djentlmeni.ru) is a conceptual place decorated in the style of the beloved Soviet comedy "Gentlemen of Fortune." The restaurant has three areas — romantic, banquet and karaoke — and serves fancy European, Russian and Caucasus dishes. The average bill for one comes to 2,000 rubles ($60). Guests may enjoy the live music or a thematic party listed on an events calendar published on the restaurant's website.
Mandarin (1/35 Ulitsa Yablochkova; +7 8452-27-50-68; mandarin-saratov.ru) is the first Saratov restaurant with Chinese cuisine but is especially popular for its Japanese sushi and sashimi. Like many other local restaurants, Mandarin is situated in a basement, but its exterior with an impressive pagoda and ethnic interior are remarkable and memorable. As for the menu, the management especially recommends the roast duck, seafood soup and Chinese caramel desserts. Expect to pay 1,500 rubles ($45) per person.
Where to stay
Hotel Slovakia (30 Ulitsa Lermontova; +7 8452-28-95-01; hotelslovakia.ru) is a large, purpose-built, modern hotel located on the river embankment. It is equipped with conference halls, a business center, secured parking, a beauty salon, a pool and a sauna. The rooms range from $80 to $300 per night, depending on the size. Breakfast is included in the price.
Hotel Volga (34 Prospekt Kirova; +7 8452-26-36-45; astoria-saratov.ru/rooms/volga) is located in the center of the city in a turn-of-the-century building. While small and comfortable with affordable rates ($30 to $160 per night), you will have to pay extra for breakfast.
The local Bohemia hotel chain (+7 8452-51-71-00; bohemiahotel.ru) has six locations in Saratov, including a business hotel on Ulitsa Yablochkova and luxury rooms in a historical mansion. Rooms cost from $65 to $250.
Ask locals whether local legend is correct in describing Saratov women as the most attractive in Russia. Or you can simply mention the beauty of Saratov women as a compliment to the city.
Saratov residents will be pleased to offer advice about best places for fishing or for relaxing on the river banks and islands while enjoying meals of ukha and shashlik. Many locals also have a dacha where they grow vegetables and fruit, so they will be happy to discuss how this year's urozhai (harvest) compared with previous years.
How to get there
The Saravia airline offers two to three daily flights between Moscow's Domodedovo Airport and Saratov. The 90-minute trip costs about 6,000 rubles ($180). The Saratov-Tsentralny Airport is located almost in the center of the city, but note that taxi drivers charge a high fare of 1,000 rubles ($30) for a ride to the nearest hotel.
Another way to get to Saratov is by train from Moscow's Paveletsky Station. The trip takes 15 hours, and economy tickets cost 3,000 to 4,500 rubles ($90 to $140). Try to get a seat on the No. 9 train or No. 17 train because they are the most rapid and comfortable.
Buses also travel the 850-kilometer distance between Saratov and Moscow. But the comfort of the rail system makes the bus service unattractive.