Volga River

Volga River

The Volga is of great importance to Russian culture and history. The river is mentioned in Russian folk songs, poetry and literature, and its banks are home to many historical and cultural monuments.

Europe’s longest river

The Volga is the largest and longest river in the Russian Plain and the longest river in Europe. The Volga River begins its long journey on the Valday Plateau, 256 meters above the Caspian Sea level.

A small, unremarkable stream flows out of a thickly grassed swamp surrounded by a dense mixed forest. This is the source of one of the greatest rivers in the world – the Volga. And that is why people come here by a continuous chain to take a sip of water at the birthplace of the great river to see with their own eyes a tiny spring, above which a modest wooden chapel is placed.

The Volga water, which came to the surface near the village of Volgoverkhovye, Ostashkov district of the Tver region, has a very long way to go to the mouth on the northern coast of the Caspian Sea.

As a small brook and small rivulet the Volga flows through several lakes: Malyi and Bolshoi Verkhit, Sterzh, Vetlug, Peno and Volgo, and only after taking the river Selizharovka, flowing from Lake Seliger, it becomes wider and fuller. But the Volga becomes a truly full-flowing river after the Oka flows into it near Nizhny Novgorod. Here the Upper Volga ends and the Middle Volga begins, which will flow and collect new tributaries until it joins the Kama, which flows into the Kama Bay of the Kuibyshev reservoir. Here begins the Lower Volga, not just a full-flowing river, but a mighty one.


Through the Volga River in the XIII-XVI centuries were coming to Russia Mongol and Tatar invaders, in 1552 the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible took Kazan and annexed it to the Moscow kingdom. During the Time of Troubles in Russia, in Nizhny Novgorod, in 1611, Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and merchant Kuzma Minin gathered the militia, to go to liberate Moscow from the Poles.

According to legend, on the Volga cliff, later named after him, the Cossack ataman Stepan Razin “thought” about how to give a will to the Russian people. Along the Volga in 1667 Stepan Razin “with comrades” went on a campaign “for zipunami” in Persia and, according to legend, drowned a Persian princess in the waters of the great river. Here, on the Volga, in 1670 near Simbirsk (today – Ulyanovsk) the regiments of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich defeated a motley army of Razin.

In the delta of the Volga, in Astrakhan, Emperor Peter I personally laid the port in 1722. The first Russian emperor also dreamed of connecting the Volga and the Don, but the canal was built much later, in 1952.

In 1774, under the town of Tsaritsyn (now – Volgograd, in 1925 to 1961 – Stalingrad) defeated by government forces ended the revolt of Yemelyan Pugachev. Here, in July 1918 – February 1919, the Red Army held the famous later “Tsaritsynsk defense” against the White Cossack army of General Krasnov. And from July 17, 1942 to February 2, 1943 in those places was the greatest battle in history, which broke the back of fascism and decided the outcome of the Second World War.

For centuries, the Volga has served people as a transportation artery, a source of water, fish, and energy. Today, the great river is in danger – its pollution from human activities threatens to be catastrophic.

Already in the 8th century the Volga was an important trading route between the East and the West. It is thanks to it that today archaeologists find Arab silver coins in Scandinavian tombs.

By the 10th century, the Khazar Khaganate, with its capital Itil at the mouth of the Volga, controlled trade in the south, in the lower reaches of the river. In the Middle Volga, such center was the Bulgar kingdom with its capital Bulgar (not far from modern Kazan). In the north, in the Upper Volga, the Russian cities of Rostov the Great, Suzdal, and Murom were rich and grew largely thanks to the Volga trade. Honey, wax, furs, fabrics, spices, metals, jewelry and many other goods floated up and down the Volga River, which was then more commonly called the Itil. The name “Volga” itself first appears in the “Tale of Bygone Years” at the beginning of the 11th century.

After the Mongol-Tatar invasion of Russia in the XIII century trade along the Volga river weakens and begins to recover only in the XV century. After Ivan the Terrible in the middle of the XVI century. conquered and joined to the Moscow kingdom of Kazan and Astrakhan Khanates, the Volga river system was in Russia. Trade flourished and the influence of the cities of Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod and Kostroma grew. On the Volga emerged new cities – Samara, Saratov, Tsaritsyn. In trade caravans on the river went hundreds of ships.

In 1709 began to operate Vyshnevolotskaya water system, built by order of Peter I, which delivered food and lumber from the Volga to the new Russian capital – St. Petersburg. By the beginning of the XIX century the Mariinskaya and Tikhvinskaya water systems were put into operation, they ensured communication with the Baltic, and in 1817 the first motor ship joined the Volga river fleet, barges were dragged along the river by teams of floaters, whose number reached a few hundred thousand people. The ships carry fish, salt, grain, and by the end of the century – oil and cotton.

Construction of the Moscow Canal (1932-1937), the Volga-Don Canal (1948-1952), the Volga-Baltic Canal (1940-1964), and the Volga-Kama Cascade, the largest complex of hydraulic structures (dams, locks, reservoirs, canals, and hydroelectric plants) helped solve many problems. The Volga River became a major transport artery, connected, in addition to the Caspian Sea, to four seas – the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, the Baltic Sea and the White Sea. Its waters helped to irrigate fields in the arid regions of the Volga region, and hydroelectric power plants provided energy to cities of millions of people and major enterprises.

However, intensive human use of the Volga also resulted in pollution of the river by industrial effluents and agricultural wastes. Millions of hectares of land and thousands of settlements were flooded, and the fishing resources of the river suffered great damage.

Today ecologists sound the alarm – the river’s capacity for self-purification is exhausted, it has become one of the dirtiest rivers in the world. Poisonous blue-green algae are taking over the Volga, and serious fish mutations are being observed.

General Information

  • A river in the European part of Russia, the largest river in Europe and one of the largest in the world. It flows into the Caspian Sea.
  • Official name: Volga River.
  • The river has its source in the village of Volgoverkhovye, Ostashkov district, Tver region.
  • The main tributaries are: Oka, Kama, Vetluga, Unzha, Vyatka, Sviyaga, Vazuza, Nerl, Sura, Bolshoy Irgiz, Akhtuba.
  • Reservoirs: Rybinskoye, Verkhnevolzhskoye, Ivankovskoye, Uglichskoye, Kostromskoye, Gorki, Cheboksarskoye, Kuibyshev, Saratovskoye, Volgogradskoye.
  • In the basin of the river are the regions: Vologda, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Tver, Tula, Moscow, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kirov, Ryazan, Kaluga, Orel, Smolensk, Penza, Tambov, Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk, Saratov, Samara, Astrakhan regions as well as the Perm region and the Republics of Udmurtia, Mari El, Chuvashia, Mordovia, Komi, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Kalmykia.
  • Languages spoken in the basin: Russian, Tatar, Udmurt, Mari, Chuvash, Mordovian, Bashkir, Kalmyk and some others.
  • Religion: Orthodoxy, Islam, paganism (Republic of Mari El, where the state is recognized Mari traditional religion), Buddhism (Kalmykia).
  • Biggest cities: Rybinsk, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Nizhni Novgorod, Cheboksary, Kazan, Ulyanovsk, Tolyatti, Samara, Syzran, Saratov, Volgograd, Astrakhan.
  • Main ports: Rybinsk, Yaroslavl, Nizhniy Novgorod, Cheboksary, Kazan, Ulyanovsk, Tolyatti, Samara, Saratov, Volgograd, Astrakhan, Moscow ports.
  • Ports on the Kama: Berezniki, Perm, Naberezhnye Chelny, Chistopol.
  • Major airports: international airport Strigino (Nizhny Novgorod), international airport Kazan (Kazan), international airport Kurumoch (Samara), international airport Volgograd (Gumrak).
  • Major lakes in the basin: Seliger, Elton, Baskunchak, Aralsor.
  • The area of the basin is 1,361,000 km2 .
  • Population: according to various estimates, from one third to two thirds of the population of Russia, that is, 45-90 million people.
  • Population density: 33-66 people/km2.
  • Ethnic composition: Russians, Tatars, Mordva, Udmurts, Mari, Chuvash, Bashkirs, Kalmyks, Komi.
  • Length of the river: 3530 km.
  • The highest point: Mount Bezymyannaya, 381.2 m (the Zhigulevskie Mountains).
  • The width of the river channel: up to 2,500 m.
  • The area of the delta: 19 000 km2.
  • Average annual discharge: 238 km3.


  • Transportation functions: The Volga is the central waterway of Russia. It is connected to the Baltic Sea by the Volga-Baltic Canal. Vyshnevolotskaya and Tikhvin water systems; the Volga is connected to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea by the Volga-Don Canal; the Severodvinskaya water system and the White Sea by the White Sea-Baltic Canal. More than 3,000 km of inland waterways. The Moscow Canal connects the Volga and Moscow, and is used for navigation, water supply to the capital and watering of the Moscow River.
  • Hydropower: Uglichskaya HPP, Rybinskaya GRES, Kostromskaya GRES, Cheboksarskaya HPP, Saratovskaya HPP, Volzhskaya HPP. 20% of all hydroelectric power in Russia. About 45% of industrial and about 50% of agricultural production of the Russian Federation is concentrated in the Volga basin.
  • Agriculture: grain and industrial crops, horticulture, melon growing, meat and milk cattle breeding, horse and sheep breeding.
  • Fishery: 40 kinds of commercial fish are produced. 20% of all fish harvested in the country.
  • Natural resources: oil and gas extraction, potash salt, table salt.

Climate and weather

  • The climate varies along the river from moderately continental (in the Tver Oblast) to sharply continental (in the Astrakhan Oblast).
  • In the upper reaches, the average January temperature varies from -9°C to -17°C, and in July, from +17°C to +18°C. Rainfall amounts to about 650 mm maximum.
  • Rainfall is about 650 mm per year.
  • Average temperatures in the lower Volga range from -5°C to -9°C in January and +24°С to +25°С in July.
  • The average annual rainfall is from 180 to 290 mm


  • Old Cities of Russia

    • Tver
    • Uglich
    • Myshkin
    • Rybinsk
    • Yaroslavl
    • Kostroma
    • Plyos
    • Kineshma
    • Yurievets
    • Gorodets
    • Nizhny Novgorod
    • Kazan
    • Kamyshin and others
  • Volga-Kama Nature Reserve
  • Bulgarskoe Gorodishche Historico-Archival Reserve
  • Samarskaya Luka National Park (the Zhigulevsky mountains)
  • The Stepan Razin Utes
  • The Stolbichi Mountains
  • Astrakhan Reserve

Fun Facts

  • The Volga basin is extremely diverse in its physical and geographical conditions: taiga and mixed forests in the North, forest-steppe and steppe in the center, semi-desert and desert in the South.
  • It has not yet been finally decided that the Kama flows into the Volga. According to the rules of hydrography, it should rather be considered that the Volga flows into the Kama. By origin, the Kama is older than the Volga, its basin is larger than the Volga, and it has more tributaries.
  • Often on the bank of the Volga you can see huge boulders as big as a man’s height, or even as big as an entire house. In some places, the boulders pile up in the riverbed itself. These are the witnesses of the last glaciation.
  • The lotus fields in the Volga delta occupy hundreds of hectares. This is the biggest lotus plantations on our planet. To see the blooming of the “Caspian rose”, as the lotuses are called here, a lot of tourists come here from July 10 to September 15. However, these excursions are only possible if accompanied by state inspectors and employees of the Astrakhan zapovednik – it is a strictly protected area.
  • 65 out of 100 cities in Russia with the most polluted atmosphere are in the Volga basin. More than a third of all Russian polluted runoff enters the basins of the Volga region. In this densely populated and industrially developed part of Russia, the average annual toxic load on ecosystems is several times higher than the national average.
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