The Smolenskaya region is situated in the center of the East European plain, in the extreme west of the Russian Federation.
The area of the Smolenskaya region in its present-day boarders is 49.800 square kilometers, which takes about 0,3% of Russia’s total area. The length of the territory from west to east is 280 kilometres and it stretches 250 kilometres from the North to the South.
The administrative-territorial structure of the region consists of 25 administrative regions and 2 towns of region's subordination: Smolensk, the capital city of the region (350.600 people) and Desnogorsk (37.300 people). The largest towns of the Smolensk region are Vyazma (58.600 people), Gagarin (30.200 people), Roslavl (57.700 people), Safonovo (51.800 people), Yartsevo (55.600 people) and Dorogobuzh (12.600 people).
The first mentioning of Smolensk in the chronicles refers to 863. One of the largest tribal unions, the Krivichi, inhabited the territory of the present Smolensk region. The union of the lands with the centre in Smolensk had been already established by the time Oleg included the territory of the tribal union into Kievan Rus. Being situated on the intersection of the main roads of Old Russian World, the Smolensk land began to form as an important infrastructure centre of international trade. It acquired its specialization of constructing and arranging ways for transportation goods – portages, building of trade boats and other means of transport, maintenance of fortified customs, guarding of roads and convoying cargoes during navigation period, production of export goods and raw materials.
A special page of the history of Smolensk belongs to the War of 1812. The glorious victory of the Russian army over the French troops reminds about itself by the monuments and names of the streets.
The town continued developing after the October revolution of 1918. During this period in Smolensk and the oblast a great number of big industrial enterprises, such as, a flax mill, a machinery construction plant and many others were built.
But again the peaceful development was interrupted by war. In the summer of 1941 the Smolensk land became a battlefield and held up Hitler’s army offensive on Moscow for two months.
Smolensk was awarded the title of the Hero-city for the great services of its citizens to their hometown. It bears the title with dignity.
Smolensk land gave to the world the pleiade of outstanding people: the founder of Russian classic music – M.I. Glinka, outstanding travellers-researchers N.M. Przhevalsky and P.K. Kozlov, diplomat and writer A.S. Griboedov, famous scientists V.V. Dokuchaev, A.N. Engelgardt, poets A.T. Tvardovsky, M.V. Isakovsky, N.I. Rylenkov, the first astronaut – Y.A. Gagarin and many others.
In Smolensk 3 churches of the XII century, the Assumption cathedral and 4 monasteries have been well preserved. The Assumption Cathedral functions.
Smolensk region is attractive for tourists all year around because of its rich history, delightful nature and wonderful appearance of ancient towns.
Geographical position and climate
In the center and in the east hills prevail, they are divided by deep engraved river valleys. The average height of the surface is about 220 metres above sea-level. The hills are crossed by a great number of rivers and brooks (the total number of the latter is 1149). 60 per cent of the territory is washed by the rivers of the Dnieper system (the Dnieper originates in the district of Sichevka, its main influxes are the Sozh, the Desna), 25 per cent – by the basin of the Western Dvina. About 50 lakes in Smolensk region have glacial origin.
The Smolenskaya region borders on five Russian regions. They are the Pskovskaya and the Tverskaya regions in the North, the Moscow and Kaluga regions in the South-East and Bryanskaya region in the South. It borders on two Byelorussian regions – the Vitebskaya region in the North-West and the Mogilevskaya region in the South-West. Being historically a borderer between Byelorus and the Great Rus, the Smolenskaya region today has 1/3 of its perimeter as the state borders. It is crossed by more than one hundred and fifty road passages of all categories and road types (such as, highway M1 of federal significance Moscow – Western Europe and country roads used for transborder exchanges by the population living in boarding settlements).
The territory of the Smolenskaya region is crossed by the shortest routs, connecting different regions of Russia with each other and with countries abroad. Being located in middle latitudes noticeably influenced by the air masses of the Atlantic, its territory is a watershed of three large river systems in the European part of the country – the Volga, the Dnieper and the West Dvina. These peculiarities of geographical position define the main characteristics of the region’s nature – temperate continental climate, predominance of uplands and small rivers, large areas of forests and sod-podzolic soils.
Climate is temperate continental. Summer is warm (the average temperature in July is + 17-18°C. Winter is moderately cold (the average temperature in January is – 8,5°C). The annual average rainfall varies between 530 and 650 mm.
In the earlier times forests covered the whole territory of Smolensk region, presently they occupy about one fifth of its total area.
Forests intermitted by open spaces on the hills and in river valleys create charming landscapes.
In the lakes of the region there are considerable supplies of sparopels (more than 150 million cubic metres).
The region is situated in the zone of mixed forests. The total area of available land is 2093.9 thousand hectares, and 1000.2 thousand hectares are under the jurisdiction of state structures of forestry. The average age of plantations is 44.
Fauna of the region is remarkable for its variety. About 55 species of mammals, 260 species of birds, 40 species of fish inhabit the territory of the region. In the forest hares, squirrels, foxes, wild boars, elks, wolves are widespread. Sometimes you can see bears, trots, martens, weasels, ermines there.
The region is rich in historical and cultural monuments, which number about 400.000. Among the archeological monuments the most famous are the Gnezdovski Barrows, the monuments of architecture of pre-Mongol period – the churches of XII century of Michael the Archangel and of Saints Peter and Paul. One of the earliest and rear Russian architectural monuments, having the greatest value, is the church of St. John the Baptist.
The Smolensk fortress wall is the greatest achievement of Russian ancient architecture and military engineering art of the end of XVI century and the peak of the architectural art of the Russian architect Fyodor Kon. To the unique monuments of XVIII century belongs the Cathedral of the Assumption. There have been preserved some of the gentry’s country estates.
The Smolensk land is closely connected with Russian military history. Here a great number of monuments dedicated to the Great Patriotic War of 1812 has been preserved.
A cultural centre, created at the end of XIX and the beginning of XX century by a well-known public figure, collector and artist the Princess M.K.Tenisheva, is located in the village of Talashkino. At different time it was visited by I.Repin, A.Benois, M.Vrubel, N.Reorich, I. Stravinsky.
The region has a widely spread net of museums. One of them, is the unique museum-estate of A.S. Griboedov in the village of Khmelita, having one of the largest territories in Russia. Among the most valuable ones are the village of Gorodok – the birth place of Admiral P.S.Nakhimov, museum-estate of M.I.Glinka in the village of Novospasskoye,the memorial museum of Y.A.Gagarin, the memorial museum of M.V.Isakovsky in the town of Vskhody in Ugransky rayon.
There is a great number of old estates on the territory of the region. The family estates of M.V.Glinka and A.S.Griboedov have been restored, a lot of guests visit the historical-architectural complex “Teremok” (the estate of M.K.Tenisheva), the home-museum of N.M.Przhevalsky.
The Smolensk oblast owns a unique natural-recreational potential. On the territory of the region there have been created the national park “Smolenskoye poozerie”, which is notable for a large number of lakes and untouched areas of fir-and-deciduous forests. The creation of the park gave rise to the development of organized ecological tourism, enjoying popularity both with Russian and foreign guests.
Having visited Smolenskaya land once, you will never forget these places, you will be surprised by the creations of hand and mind of man, rich cultural heritage, hospitality and friendliness of the people of Smolensk region.