Penza is an administrative center of Penza Oblast, a region of Russian Federation located in the western part of the Volga Upland. Penza region has a population of 1,550,000 people. It occupies a territory of 16,680 square miles.
The city of Penza was founded as a fortress in 1666. The first document where the city was mentioned dates back to 1663.
The meaning of the word penza has been lost so there is a number of different hypotheses explaining it’s origin. According to one of them, it comes from the name Pianza of the man who owned the lands. The second says it was derived from the name of the Penza River, as initially the town was founded on it’s shore, but the main regional river Sura have changed its bed in 1945 and Penza is situated on the banks of Sura river now. The third supposes that the word penza means bird-cherry in the ancient Mordovian language.
From 1801 to 1928 Penza was the administrative center of the Penza region. The first stone houses were built at the town at that period. The Penza region was established within the present borders in 1939. The city grew considerably in the second half of the XIX century, as several railway lines were laid across the Penza region from 1874 to 1896. However, Penza remained a provincial town with little industry until the Great October Revolution. At present Penza is a town with a population of about 534,600 people.
There are a lot of higher educational institutions in Penza. Currently, the city of Penza is a regional center of higher education. It has five universities (The State Technical University, The Pedagogical University, The Academy of Agriculture, The Technology Institute and the Institute of Civil Building), 13 colleges and 70 public schools. The art college works in Penza since 1898.
Besides, Penza is home to three theatres and four museums. Penza have rich cultural traditions. The oldest in Russia Drama Theatre located in Penza was founded in 1793. The Penza State Circus is also one of the oldest in the country. There is also a Puppet Theatre called Little Eagle in the town.
There are several museums in Penza: the Museum of Local History, the Museum of One Picture, the Folk Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. There is also the Regional Picture Gallery named after K. Savitsky.