Ekaterinburg is the historical and economic center of the Urals which forms a natural border between Europe and Asia. It is also the administrative center of the Sverdlovsk region and the Ural federal district. The city lies on Iset River.
Ekaterinburg (Yekaterinburg), the capital city of the Urals, was founded in 1723 by Tzar Peter the Great (and named after his wife, Catherine). The city witnessed the death of monarchy in Russia, as it was there that the last Russian czar Nicolas II with his family was assassinated, in Ipatiev house by the Bolsheviks on July 16, 1918. You can visit an excursion devoted to these dramatic events.
Another dramatic episode in the area took place on May 1, 1960 when American U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was hit by a missile launched from the local military base. The city was closed to the outside world until 1990 because of its strategic defense industries.
The city is associated with another famous political figure, Boris Yeltsin, who was born in the village of Butka not far from Ekaterinburg. Under Yeltsin's orders, the house where the Tzar and his family were killed was destroyed; a wooden cross and a chapel were been installed later. This place has been recognized by the Russian Orthodoxal church as a sacred and now Cathedral-on-the-Blood is constructed exactly on Ipatiev house once stood.
Ekaterinburg has played a notable role in the history of Russia. It was here that Russian industry was born. The products of Ural and Siberian iron mills were exhibited at local trade fairs. Iron and cast-iron from the Urals as well as masterpieces of Kasly casting (named after the town of Kasly) were delivered by merchants to various parts of the world. The town owes its origin to a metallurgical and metal-working plant which rose on the banks of the river Iset, and by the standards of those days was one of the best, not only in Russia but also in Europe.
Later, a mint and a lapidary factory were added to form one big enterprise. Peter the Great's comrades General Gennin and Captain Tatishchev, one a prominent statesman and the other a noted scientist, headed the construction project. Since the beginning of the 19th century Ekaterinburg came to play an increasingly important role as an administrative, mining and Ural-wide machine building center.
The first part of 19th century was also marked by the flourishing of the art of stone-cutting, for which the Ekaterinburg lapidary factory was largely responsible.
In 1924, Ekaterinburg was renamed Sverdlovsk, after the revolutionary leader Jakob M. Sverdlov. During the Soviet period Sverdlovsk grew up rapidly and became one of biggest industrial, cultural and scientific centers of Russia.
The present day Ekaterinburg is rich in sights - architectural monuments of Russian classicism of the 18-19th centuries including the estate of Rastorguev-Kharitonov; the house of the mining chief: the Mining Board; the Church of Alexander Nevsky, the Church of the of the Ascension and others; the Geological Museum which features a unique collection of minerals; the Fine Arts Museum which, along with a fine collection of paintings by Russian and foreign artists, displays Kasly castings; as also several museums dedicated to writers such as Mamin-Sihiriak and Bazhov. There is also an Opera House, a Musical Comedy theater, Childrens and Puppet theater, as well as a Philarmonic auditorium.
Currently the population of Ekaterinburg stands at 1.5 million. There are more than 100 research institutes headed by the Urals Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 15 higher educational establishments, 35 technical schools (colleges), 27 vocational schools, 5 theatres, a philharmonic concert hall, about 600 libraries, and 15 stadiums.
Ekaterinburg is a draw for geologists (fascinated by the mineral-rich Urals) and tourists who come for mystery and history of the Communist-era, and then discover a city surprisingly rich in pre-Soviet churches and other architecture of an earlier era. The Europe-Asia Obelisk which is a about 25 miles west of the city, marking the border between the two continents, is an especially interesting place to visit.
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