- By Howard Amos
- Apr. 01 2012 00:00
Main industries: Machine-building and chemicals
Mayor: Vladimir Babichev
Founded in 1135
Interesting fact: Empress Catherine the Great said Tver was Russia’s second most beautiful city after St. Petersburg.
Sister cities: Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria; Yingkou, China; Hämeenlinna, Finland; Besancon, France; Kaspovar, Hungary; Bergamo, Italy; Khmelnitsky, Ukraine.
TVER — Scattered across the world are three monuments to Afanasy Nikitin, one of the first-recorded Europeans to go to India — and a native of Tver.
There is a black obelisk to the south of Mumbai where he purportedly stepped ashore and a statue in Ukraine's Feodosiya where he documented his adventures. But the grandest memorial stands in his hometown.
The bronze figure shows the bearded explorer, who may have converted to Islam while in India, striding forward and full of purpose. It stands by the Volga River on the city's long embankment, which is fringed on both sides by churches and the pastel-colored facades of 18th-century houses.
Nikitin left the city known as the "gateway to Moscow" in the 15th century and traveled down the Volga, down to Baku and then across the Caspian Sea and through Persia to India.
Tver Wagon Factory (45B Peterburgskoye Shosse; +7 4822-55-91-00;
Tvershyolk (1 Dvor Proletarki; +7 4822-42-24-97). Built in 1954 on the ruins of a cotton factory destroyed during World War II, Tver’s silk factory actually works with a variety of fabrics, including flax, and fulfills uniform contracts for the Defense Ministry and other security agencies.
Tverstekloplastik (45 Ulitsa P. Savelevoi; +7 4822-55-33-11;
Though he never made it back alive, his book "Journey Across Three Seas" became a famous travelogue. A movie of Nikitin's life was made in both Hindi and Russian in 1958, and rock heartthrob Boris Grebenshchikov even wrote a song about the merchant with wanderlust.
But Tver's link with India is not just something that belongs to history. One of the city's poster boys today is Indian-born Harminder Chhatwal, owner of the region's most successful supermarket chain, Tverskoi Kupets. Chhatwal came to the city as a student in 1991 and has lived there ever since. Now a Russian citizen, he even entered local politics on the United Russia ticket.
Chhatwal is not the only foreign presence in town. Japan's Hitachi began the construction of a heavy-machinery factory with the support of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development last year. And there are joint ventures with Swedish and Swiss firms. Finnish coffee giant Paulig opened a roaster in 2011, which can process up to 6 million kilograms of coffee annually.
The older of the two bridges that straddle the Volga as it meanders through Tver is a formidable cast-iron structure built by a Czech engineer in 1898 and partly financed by a French-Belgian carriage-making company.
The Volga is the heart of the city, which grew from the point where the 3,530-kilometer waterway joins with its more diminutive partner, the Tvertsa River. The city is the first big urban center of note on the Volga, which arises from a spring nearby in the Tver region.
Q: What is the current state of small- and medium-sized businesses in Tver?
A: There has been a negative dynamic over the last few years — the number of small businesses is decreasing. The reasons are the usual ones, and they include the changes that have been made to the tax regime and a type of politics that is directed toward the squeezing of small businesses. And there is the old problem of administrative barriers and the politics of tariff monopolies. We have, for example, two big local power companies, but our small businesses pay electricity prices that are comparable with Europe.
Q: How would you characterize the investment climate?
A: The investment climate is not very good — and that’s connected with subjective reasons concerning the authorities. We came across this in joint research that we did with Delovaya Rossia, the national business-lobbying group.
Q: What is the most pressing political issue in town?
A: The most serious political problem is the complete absence of public politics — it just doesn’t exist. After the Dec. 4 [State Duma vote], this appeared in Moscow, but this has not yet appeared in Tver.
Q: What would you recommend a visitor see?
A: There is Marat Gelman’s Center of Modern Art, TverCA, which holds exhibitions in the old river station and tries to reanimate the area, but it doesn’t always have a 100 percent connection to art. It’s for curiosity. If you are interested in old architecture, then you should go to Torzhok.
— Howard Amos
Tver is also located on the main railway lines and roads between the country's two biggest cities — under the tsars the city was the 19th of 25 postal stations from the capital, St. Petersburg.
Though historians trace its origins back to the 12th century when Tver was founded by traders from Novgorod and recount its medieval struggle for supremacy with a young Moscow, there is little trace left of those times. A cataclysmic fire in 1763 means that the dominating architectural decor today is of Catherine the Great's 18th century.
Much, of course, was reconstructed after World War II and the Nazi occupation. About 20,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in the 1941 battle for the city. Then Tver was known as Kalinin, after the Bolshevik revolutionary and official head of the Soviet Union between 1919 and 1946.
In recent years, Tver has undergone a new cultural renaissance. As part of a state program called, Ver v Tver, or "Believe in Tver," Moscow art entrepreneur Marat Gelman has launched a modern art gallery, TverCA, in the run-down Soviet river station at the confluence of the Volga and the Tvertsa. Following a similar project in Perm, Gelman is looking to replicate his success.
But the well-maintained city center, redolent with neoclassical elegance, fades when you venture outside the city. The region as a whole has one of the highest levels of population decline in central Russia, losing 8 percent of its residents between 2002 and 2010, according to census figures.
More poetically, the region is also littered with the crumbling country estates of the imperial nobility that used to exit en masse from St. Petersburg in the summer months. A lack of funds and the sheer quantity of these sites mean that they are gradually being lost forever.
One modern son of Tver, the chanson superstar Mikhail Krug, had a particularly tragic end when he was killed by intruders in his city apartment in 2002 at the age of 50. His grave is still a point of pilgrimage for avid fans.
In a song about his home, "My Dear Town," Krug's opening verse goes: "My dear town of grief and tears/The trusty foundation of Old Russia/You fall asleep to the whispers of the Volga and the Tvertsa/You fall asleep to the whispers of birches/Sleep my dear Mother Tver."
What to see if you have two hours
Any visitor to Tver will be drawn inexorably to the city's riverfront. But, never fear, this is where you should be. The city's main sites, including onion-domed churches, monasteries, parks, monuments and the graceful 18th-century houses, line the flanks of the Volga. One can simply stroll up and down the two sides of the river, enjoying the view.
The most spectacular site to visit is Catherine the Great's Travel Palace (3-3a Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 4822-34-25-61;
What to do if you have two days
After seeing action as a parachutist during the Afghan war, Babichev returned to Tver, where he entered politics more than a decade ago. A member of United Russia, he became mayor in 2009.
Q: Why is Tver interesting for investors?
A: The most important factor in our town’s attractiveness for investors is its geographical position. Tver is situated between two megalopolises — Moscow and St. Petersburg. Tver is in a transport corridor along which cargo and passengers from Scandinavian and Baltic countries travel to the center of Russia and further toward the Urals and the country’s south.
We have a system of interaction with investors designed to create favorable conditions for foreign companies. We use the “one window” principle — providing financial, informational and administrative support.
We are not only realizing specific projects, but we are also developing whole industrial zones that are to be found in the city and its surrounding area. These industrial parks include Borovlyovo, Raslovo and Dve Bashni.
Q: What is Tver particularly proud of?
A: Our history, and history is people. The annals of Tver go back some nine centuries. The names of the people of Tver who lived in this city in different periods are the glory of our country. They are the merchant Afanasy Nikitin, the writer Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, the general Iosif Gurko, the pilot Mikhail Gromov, the champion Olympic cyclist Viktor Kapitonov and the hockey world champion Ilya Kovalchuk. Tver is the first capital of the Russian state and its citizens have played a huge role in its formation and preservation.
Q: What’s your favorite place in Tver?
A: I love quiet, green streets where — even today — you can find wooden houses built in the 19th century with mezzanines and hand-crafted fretwork. We have places like this practically in the very center of the city, next to old churches and chapels.
— Howard Amos
Those with more time on their hands can drop by some of the city's churches and museums, or even venture out into a hinterland famed for its thousands of freshwater lakes.
Some of the small museums worth a visit include the Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin House-Museum (11/37 Rybatskaya Ulitsa; +7 4822-34-34-96), where the famous satirist lived while he was serving as a deputy governor, and if peasant tools and merchant trinkets are your thing, the Museum of Tver's Way of Life (19/4 Ulitsa Gorkova; +7 4822-52-49-03) or the Tver Local History Museum (5 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 4822-34-47-15). Information about all of Tver's museums — and those in nearby towns — can be found here:
If you have time to leave the city, a pleasant day trip can be made 60 kilometers along the road to St. Petersburg to the old town of Torzhok that has its own Travel Palace built for Catherine the Great. Further to the east is the picturesque Seliger Lake — actually a system of lakes — set in the rolling Valdai Hills. In July, the area is inundated with tens of thousands of youthful supporters of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin taking part in their annual political forum.
If you have time to head westward, you could aim for the small town of Kalyazin — also within striking distance of Sergiyev Posad and some of the northernmost towns of Moscow's Golden Ring. On the Volga, Kalyazin is known for the haunting sight of the bell tower of the Makaryevsky Monastery that rises above the waters of the Uglich reservoir. The site was flooded during the construction of a hydroelectric station in 1940.
Classical music-lovers can visit the Tver Region Philharmonic (Teatralnaya Ploshad; +7 4822-34-64-34;
If you're looking to lengthen your evening, however, then the Sunrise Club (50 Ulitsa Zhigareva; +7 4822-34-96-55;
Where to eat
The pedestrian mall Tryokhsvyatskaya Ulitsa — Tver's version of Moscow's Arbat — that runs through the center, part way between the railway station and the Volga is packed with fast-food outlets, coffee houses and restaurants. Western chains like Baskin-Robbins compete with Russian chains. Andy Warhol mock-ups of Saddam Hussein and Colonel Moammar Gadhafi make the Kalinin Bar (25/29 Tryokhsvyatskaya Ulitsa; +7 4822-35-71-42) one of the most visible. It serves basic food as well as drinks. Another option is Fortuna (15 Tryokhsvyatskaya Ulitsa; +7 4822-33-09-49;
Many of Tver's pricier restaurants are to be found attached to its hotels. One is Birch Groves (14 Moskovskoye Shosse; +7 4822-49-77-80;
Where to stay
The 159-room Volga Hotel (1 Ulitsa Zhelyabova; +7 4822 34-81-23;
With a restaurant, spa room and conference facilities, the Osnabruk Hotel (20 Ulitsa Saltykova-Shchedrina; +7 4822-35-84-33;
If you want to get a reaction out of somebody from Tver — possibly a smile, possibly not — call them by their nickname — kozyol (for a man) or kozla (for a woman), which means goat. The apocryphal reason behind the (affectionate) term is that once, arriving in Tver after long delay, Catherine the Great found only a stray goat waiting where she was supposed to have been met by cheering crowds.
Or you could bring up former Tver Governor Dmitry Zelenin who stepped down in 2011, shortly after he used Twitter to post a photo of a worm he purportedly found in his food at a presidential reception. The Kremlin cast doubt on the veracity of his claim.
How to get there
The easiest way to reach Tver from Moscow is by train. Departing from Moscow's Leningradsky or Kursky stations, there are dozens of daily trains, which take up to three hours and cost from about 400 rubles ($13) each way.
On the main line between the capital and St. Petersburg, the express Sapsan service is the quickest option — it stops in Tver just an hour after leaving Moscow.
Buses to Tver depart from Kalancheskaya Ulitsa near Leningrad station in Moscow every two hours, or when the vehicle is full. The 160-kilometer journey by road takes about two hours depending on traffic.
Tver is not served by a civilian airport, although there are plans to build one.