1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Astrakhan (town)

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ASTRAKHAN, a town of E. Russia, capital of the government of Astrakhan, on the left bank of the main channel of the Volga, 50 m. from the Caspian Sea, in 46° 21′ N. lat. and 48° 5′ E. long. Since the growth of the petroleum industry of Baku and the construction of the Transcaspian railway, Astrakhan has become an important commercial centre, exporting fish, caviare, sugar, metals, naphtha, cottons and woollens, and importing grain, cotton, fruit and timber, to the aggregate value of £8,250,000 with foreign countries and of £14,500,000 with the interior of Russia. The town gives its name to the “fur” called “astrakhan,” the skin of the new-born Persian lamb, and so to an imitation in rough woollen cloth. There is some tanning, shipbuilding and brewing, and making of soap, tar and machinery. Astrakhan is the chief port on the Caspian Sea and the headquarters of the Russian Caspian fleet. The city consists of (1) the kreml or citadel (1550), crowning a hill, on which stand also the spacious brick cathedral containing the tombs of two Georgian princes, the archbishop’s palace and the monastery of the Trinity; (2) the Byelogorod or White Town, containing the administrative offices and the bazaars; and (3) the suburbs, where most of the population resides. The buildings in the first two quarters are of stone, in the third of wood, irregularly arranged along unpaved, dirty streets. The city is the see of a Greek Catholic archbishop and of an Armenian archbishop, and contains a Lamaist monastery, as well as technical schools, an ichthyological museum, the Peter museum, with ethnographical, archaeological and natural history collections, a botanical garden, an ecclesiastical seminary, and good squares and public gardens, one of which is adorned with a statue (1884) of Alexander II. Vineyards surround the city. Astrakhan was anciently the capital of a Tatar state, and stood some 7 m. farther north. After this was destroyed by the Mongol prince Timur the Great in 1395, the existing city was built. The Tatars were expelled about 1554 by Ivan IV. of Russia. In 1569 the city was besieged by the Turks, but they were defeated with great slaughter by the Russians. In 1670 it was seized by the rebel Stenka Razin; early in the following century Peter the Great constructed here a shipbuilding yard and made Astrakhan the base for his hostilities against Persia, and later in the same century Catherine II. accorded the city important industrial privileges. In 1702, 1718 and 1767, it suffered severely from fires; in 1719 was plundered by the Persians; and in 1830 the cholera swept away a large number of its people. In the middle ages the city was known also as Jitarkhan and Ginterkhan. Pop. (1867) 47,839; (1900) 121,580. Eight miles above Astrakhan, on the right bank of the Volga, are the ruins of two ancient cities superimposed one upon the other. In the upper, which may represent the city of Balanjar (Balansar, Belenjer), have been found gold and silver coins struck by Mongol rulers, as well as ornaments in the same metals. The older and scantier underlying ruins are supposed to be those of the once large and prosperous city of Itil or Atel (Etel, Idl) of the Arab geographers, a residence of the khan of the Khazars, destroyed by the Russians in 969. (P. A. K.)