By Lyubov Tsarevskaya
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Barnaul, an administrative center of the Altai Region, is one of the oldest cities in Western Siberia. It lies on the Ob River and is located in the very heart of Eurasia, a sort of crossroads through which pass the shortest land routes from Europe into Asia.
Barnaul grew into a city due to rich copper deposits discovered at the foothills of Altai. In 1727 an enterprising manufacturer, Akinfii Demidov built the first in Siberia copper smelting works in the estuary of the Barnaulka River, an Ob tributary. The facility was named Kolyvan-Voskresensk after the nearby Lake Kolyvan and Voskresensk mine.
The numerous silver decorations found in the ancient Chinese burial mounds suggested to Demidov’s ore miners that there was silver in the Altai Ridge. And indeed, soon afterwards silver ore was discovered near Snake’s Mount and a silver ore smelting facility was built next to the copper works. As the treasury needed silver, the Demidov silver mines along with the vast expanses of territory in Western Siberia were made royal property by Empress Elizabeth’s decree. In the 18th and the first half of the 19th century Altai smelted 90 % of Russian silver and the Barnaul silver smelting plant was the biggest in the region. It is no wonder then that over a short period of time the small village of Barnaul grew into one of the biggest cities in Siberia. The city’s coat of arms depicted a galloping horse and a silver smelting furnace. The furnace symbolized silver mining as the city’s major asset and the horse was on the emblem of the Tomsk Province, to which Barnaul belonged. In Russian history there are only two mining cities – Yekaterinburg and Barnaul.
Highly qualified mining engineers in Barnaul built houses of which the writer Ivan Kushchevsky wrote that many of the richest structures in Barnaul were painted black and designed in the style of English cottage, where the upper and lower floors make up one whole with the sauna, billiard room and the library. The dwellings seemed genuinely luxurious and comfortable and the big clean windows gazed with warmth against the black background. Never have I seen a comfy little town like that, the writer said, no old wooden structures were anywhere in sight and every house looked as good as new. Shining window glass, shining copper on window frames and door handles gave the streets a festive look.
A community of highly educated mining engineers and office workers, cultural establishments, an amateur theatre, a museum and the libraries flatteringly distinguished Barnaul from other Siberian cities. The city was known as the Siberian Eldorado, the Small Corner of Petersburg, the Siberian Athens.
In the second half of the 19th – early 20th century, after a decline in natural resources and of the mining industry, Barnaul abandoned the unhurried pace of an aristocrat for the lively vigour of a business person. Altai grew excellent wheat and Barnaul concentrated all bread business in its hands. Thirteen piers stretched along the Ob with ships and barges taking on bread to deliver it to areas across Siberia, to the Urals and further to the European part of Russia.
Along with bread Barnaul traded in butter, which was a popular brand far beyond the bounds of the Russian Empire for the smaller percentage of water and salt in it. There were times when transport failed to handle the haulage of such vast quantities of butter causing an overproduction crisis, so butter prices dropped so low that it was used as lubricant for wheel.
Trade enriched the city attracting substantial capitals. Barnaul was rapidly changing face and the streets flowered with luxury mansions and shops. There were plans to develop new territories and turn industrial Barnaul into a “garden city”.
On May 2nd 1917 the city lost a total of 60 residential areas as a result of a fire and more than 15 thousand people were left homeless. The fire marked a symbolic turning point in Barnaul’s history. Soviets came to Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution that same year and Barnaul faced a new chapter in its history.
From 1917 to 1920 Barnaul was the scene of a fratricidal Civil war that finished off its economy, already damaged by the fire. In the 1930s, after the commissioning of Turksib, a railway connecting Central Asia with Western Siberia, and the construction of the first in Siberia textile mill reprocessing cotton from Central Asia, Barnaul’s economy began to return back to life.
Now an administrative center of the Altai Region, rich in natural resources, agricultural lands with a powerful production potential, Barnaul has excellent prospects for further development.
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Source:The Voice of Russia