Obdorsk burg (now Salekhard) is one of the first Russian settlements founded on the territory of Siberia. The burg was founded by the Cossacks of Berezovo voevode Nikita Trakhaniotov in the lower reaches of the Polouy River close to its junction with the Ob River. The opinions of historians regarding the exact date of Obdorsk burg foundation differ. In different sources it refers to 1593 or 1595. Most probably the first date means arrival of the Cossacks in the place of Obdorsk foundation and set up of a temporary winter hut, the second date means the start of wooden burg construction.
In 1635 the burg was renamed into Obdorsk gate, later called Obdorsk fortress. Famous researcher of Tobolsk land history A.A. Dunin-Gorkavich wrote: “Foundation of Obdorsk was caused by the necessity of protection from foreign raids and preclusion of duty free and forbidden exchanges between coast-dwellers and Samoyeds. “Annual oberezh” (a tax) was introduced in order to protect Yasak Ostyaks from Samoyeds. Initially up to 50 Cossacks were sent for tax collection from Berezovo, sometimes their number raised up to 100, later the number of Cossacks was gradually reduced to zero when the tax was cancelled”. Obdorsk fortress controlled movement of goods on the way to the biggest fair centre of that time located beyond Polar circle – Mangazeya.
The fortress was quadrangle-shaped with lath fence, two sight towers and two passage towers. Inside there was a typical set of administrative and residential buildings as well as Vasilyevsky church made of wood in 1602.
In the second half of the XVIII century Obdorsk fortress starts losing its military and defence meaning. In 1799 its military garrison was disbanded. The gate was transformed into the centre of Obdorsk volost of Berezovsky uyezd of Tobolsk province – Obdorsk settlement. In 1807 the walls and towers of wooden fortress were demolished by the order of Tobolsk Governor A.M. Kornilov due to their tumbledown state.
In the XIX century Obdorsk was more and more characterized as trade settlement. At the same time it continued to play an important role in Yasak collection from local aboriginals – Nenets and Khanty. Yasak included mainly valuable “soft stuffs”: furs of sable, polar fox, fox, ermine, squirrel, muskrat and other local animals. Fishery has always been well developed in Obdorsk thanks to richness of fish species of Polouy and Ob.
From the beginning of the XIX century Obdorsk was home to a big winter fair that took place from the 15th of December to the 25th of January. It was one of the most important fairs in Tobolsk province by the turnover. Traditionally Obdorsk fair welcomed merchants from many Russian and Siberian northern towns. They were bringing in flower and bread, metal goods, decorations, cloth, wine and tobacco, and they were taking away furs, walrus tusks, fish, bird feather and other local natural riches. According to the notes of contemporaries at the time there was a whole quarter of trade warehouses in Obdorsk. The number of storehouses exceeded residential houses by three times.
In the middle of the XIX century Obdorsk became the centre of Orthodox mission on Yamal. Christianisation, as a rule, met resistance of Nenets and Khanty, and it was of a superficial character. However, thanks to the activity of certain ascetics Christianisation had evident results in certain cases.
As long ago as in the XVIII century Siberian metropolitan Philophey Leschinsky made an important contribution into propagation of the Orthodoxy making frequent missions to the settlements of the Northern aboriginals located in the basins of the Irtysh and the Ob Rivers. However after his death in 1727 missionary activity on the territory of Yamal has not been systematic for a long time and often it did not have any visible response of the local aboriginals.
Obdorsk mission, founded in 1853, made big efforts to carry out enlightener activity among population. The priest Petr Popov who has been attending to Obdorsk mission for more than 20 years made a lot of trips to tundra and studied characters and customs of the Northern nationalities. He was the author of the first Ostyak-Samoyed-Russian dictionary. Father Superior Irinarkh (I.S. Shemanovsky) has also made a big contribution into development of Obdorsk mission. Under his attending the stone church of Peter and Paul, refuge and hospice were constructed. Obdorsk library and athenaeum were opened. These establishments as well as the ethnographic collection initiated the town museum.
Existing statistics shows that as of the beginning of the twentieth century annual export from Obdorsk made up to 200 thousand poods of fish and about 50 thousand furs mainly of polar fox, fox, squirrel and ermine.
In 1918 the Russian-Ostyak-Samoyed partnership of the Far North Fishermen was founded in Obdorsk by Nenets I. Nogo. The partnership united 100 artels and more than 1700 fishermen from North Yamal districts. In 1920 the fisheries of North near-Ob territories were nationalized.