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Samara: Home of Pirates, Space Ships, and Friendship

Samara on the Volga
Samara on the Volga - Via our partners Gelio Vostok

Imagine, if you can, a sleepy medieval on a large river. The fog has just begun to lift from over the town, as the night breaks into day. The townsfolk begin to arise from their sleep and warily begin their day’s work. Just then, a trade ship comes into the harbor, but the people know it will never make it to their port. The Pirates will get to it first, they must have seen it coming from miles away. At that moment however, the crack of cannons from the newly built fortress, persuade the pirates to leave the ship in peace, allowing the traders to enter Samara in peace.

This was the beginnings of this wonderful city. Since then almost over 400 years of history has moved, and shaken the city, but never was it ravaged as was said about the place in its Legends. To explain the story of Samara you must start with its humble beginnings, and retell the tale of its rise to become the city it is today. This is Samara’s story:

Samara at the turn of the 20th Century
Samara at the turn of the 20th Century

Samara's Early History

Before 1586, the Samara Bend was a pirate's nest. Pirate lookouts would spot an oncoming boat and cross to the other side of the peninsula, where the other buccaneers would organize an attack on the ship. Samara built a fortress to protect against this in 1586, at the confluence of the Volga and Samara Rivers. This fortress was to serve also as a frontier out post, meant to protect the easternmost boundaries of Russia from forays of nomadic tribes. As more ships pulled into Samara's port, the result of having less pirate attacks and more trade instead, the town turned into a hub for diplomatic and economic links between Russia and the far East.

Samara Iver convent
The newly restored bell tower of Samara Iver convent - Via Gelio Vostok

Samara became known throughout Russia, and as its reputation grew it became more involved in the politics of the country too. Samara eventually opened the gates to rebels, lead by Stepan Razin and Yemelyan Pugachyov, accepting them in with traditional bread and salt. The city was visited by the Tsar, Peter the Great and latter rulers because of its importance to Russian culture, trade, and development.

However, Samara was converted into an uyezd city of Simbirsk Governorate overseen by the local Governor/General. Uyezd and Zemstvo Courts of Justice, and a Board of Treasury were also constructed in the year 1780.  Soon thereafter, the city of Samara ruled its own government, the Samara Governorate in 1851 with an estimated population of 20,000 citizens. This gave way to a rise in the development of the economic, political and cultural life of the community.

Samara Academic Opera and Ballet Theater
Samara Academic Opera and Ballet Theater and a monument Kubyshevu - Via Gelio Vostok Photography

During the Russian-Turkish War in 1877, a mission from the Samara city Duma headed by Pyotr V. Alabin, as a symbol of spiritual solidarity, brought a banner made in Samara, pierced with bullets and saturated with the blood of both Bulgarians and Russians, to Bulgaria, which has become a symbol of Russian-Bulgarian friendship even to this day. The rapid growth of Samara's economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was due to the scope of the bread trade and flour milling industries. The Samara Brewery (below) was founded in the 1880s, as well as the Kenitser Macaroni Factory, an ironworks, a confectionery factory, and a factory producing matches. The city built magnificent private residences and administrative buildings in this time.

The Trading Houses of the Subbotins, Kurlins, Shikhobalovs, and Smirnovs, who contributed to the development of the city, were recognized not only across Russia, but also internationally, wherever Samara's wheat was exported. In its growth Samara resembled many North American cities, and coined the names "Russian New Orleans" or "Russian Chicago" for the city.

Zhiguli Brewery
Zhiguli Brewery - one of the oldest breweries in Russia - Via Gelio Vostok

By the beginning of the 20th century, the population grew to 100,000, and the city was of the larger trading and industrial centers of the Volga region. During the October Revolution of 1917, Samara was occupied by the Bolsheviks. Yet, on June 8th 1918, with the support of the Czechoslovak Legions, the city was taken by the Komuch, who then organized a "democratic counter-revolution", which encompassed twelve million people. They fought under the Red flag against the Bolsheviks. On October 7, 1918, Samara fell to the Red Army.

Samara's Monument of Glory
One of Samara's most important attractions, the Monument of Glory dedicated to the aircraft factory workers who built the famous Il-2 'flying tank' during WW II - Gelio Vostok

The Soviet Era

After having become a Soviet city, In 1921, severe famine spread through Samara. To relieve the people of the city, Fridtjof Nansen (the famous polar explorer), Martin Andersen Nexø (a Danish writer), the Swedish Red Cross Mission, and officers of the American Relief Administration from the United States came to Samara to help resolve the famine issues.  Shortly after the famine was resolved, Samara was renamed Kuybyshev in honor of the Bolshevik leader Valerian Kuybyshev in 1935.

At the onset of World War II, Kuybyshev was chosen to be the capital of the Soviet Union, should Moscow fall to the invading Germans. In October 1941, the Communist Party and government organizations, diplomatic missions of foreign countries, leading cultural establishments and their staff were evacuated to Kuybyshev.

Final assembly workshop at JSC \"Kuznetsov\"
Final assembly workshop at JSC "Kuznetsov", a key aerospace manufacturing operation in Samara - Gelio Vostok

As a leading industrial center, Kuybyshev played a major role in arming the country. At the beginning of World War II, the city supplied the front with planes, weapons, and ammunition. Most of the city's hospital facilities were converted into military hospitals. Polish and Czechoslovakian conscript units were reformed in the Volga Military District. Droves of volunteers from Samara fought on the front against the German aggressors.

Government of Samara Oblast
The Government of Samara Oblast - Gelio Vostok Photography

Kuybyshev remained the alternative capital, until the summer of 1943 when the government was moved back to Moscow. Under Stalin’s personal supervision, most of the 1.5 million German inhabitants of the city were sent into exile across the tundra, or to forced-labor camps. Most died of hunger, or froze to death.


Once the war was over, Samara's weapons industry grew exponentially. Existing factories changed their product, and new factories were built, leading to Kuybyshev becoming a closed city. In 1960, Kuybyshev became the missile shield center for the country to counter the United States. The launch vehicle Vostok, which delivered the first manned spaceship to orbit, was built at the Samara Progress Plant. Yury Gagarin, the first man to travel in space in 1961, rested in Kuybyshev after returning to Earth. While there, he spoke in an improvised meeting of Progress workers.

JSC \"Kuznetsov\"
A critical section of the combustion chamber of a rocket engine being welded at JSC "Kuznetsov" is a leading engine-building company in Russia - Gelio Vostok


There is a monument situated in Samara commemorating an Ilyushin Il-2 plane assembled by Kuybyshev workers in 1942. The same plane was shot down in 1943 over Karelia, but the wounded pilot, K. Kotlyarovsky, crash-landed the plane near Lake Oriyarvi. The plane was given back to Kuybyshev in 1975, and was placed on display at a major intersection as a symbol of the deeds of servicemen and air-force pilots during WW II.

Samara industry
Samara industries employ hundreds of thousands of workers - Via our partners Gelio Vostok


In January 1991, the historical name of Samara was returned to the city. Samara is one of the largest industrial cities of Russia and continues to grow its multi-ethnic population, as well as its national and international industrial products.

Alongside its industry, Samara is home to a number of drama, ballet, and opera theatres. With a number of Museums including the Space Museum, dedicated to the city for its contribution to Russia’s space program. There is also a zoo and city circus, and other festive venues. Samara is known, for its 188 schools of general education as well as its Universities, in particular the SSAU or Samara State Aerospace University, specializing in aerospace technology.

Samara beach
Residents cool it at the beach - Via Gelio Vostok

And So.....

As you may now imagine, Samara is a vastly cultured city, with a vivid history of over 400 years of existence. Samara was built from the hands of the hard working townsfolk that inhabited it. Nurtured by the Russian empire and later on the Soviet Union. They built a city that will last the ages, and has withstood the test of time. If you ever find yourself on the Volga in Russia, you might want to give this beautiful, cultured city, a look see.