Brief history of Ekaterinburg

Ekaterinburg was a city closed for foreigners, only opening in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nowadays, tourism is just getting off the ground.

This secrecy was mainly due to the presence of much of the USSR’s defence industry.  As one of only a small number of pioneering foreign travellers to have visited this part of Russia you will experience a much more genuine side of Russia than you will find in cosmopolitan Moscow or St Petersburg.

Ekaterinburg – one of Russia’s secrets

So, a warm welcome to one of Russia’s secrets, one of its most important cities both historically and in the present, and a city with a multitude of surprising and interesting stories to tell.

The founding – 20th century to present

Ekaterinburg was founded by Peter the Great (who also founded St Petersburg) and named after his second wife, Catherine and not the Empress Catherine the Great as many assume.

It was envisioned that St Petersburg would be the centre of Russian art and culture, while Ekaterinburg would be it’s industrial centre – a base from which Russia could expand and develop into the vast areas of Siberia to the east. Peter the Great brought in a Dutch administrator and used Swedish prisoners of war to build the factories.

The ‘Golden Age’

Real wealth and development came with the discovery of gold in 1814 and Urals’ emeralds in 1831.

A building boom ensued with golden domed churches and the opulent mansions of the “Golden Merchants”, some of which you can still see today. Even in modern times gold is still being discovered.

When the metro line running across the city was being built gold was found – enough to pay for two of the stations and the line in-between!

20th century to present

The good times didn’t last though and in 1918 first the abdication and later the murder of the Russian royal family headed by Nickolay Romanov, put Ekaterinburg on the world map of infamy and heralded the start of a new era for the country and the city.

By the 1930’s Stalin had turned the city into a huge shipment point for prisoners of the GULAG.

In the Second World War Ekaterinburg shone as the city which produced the weapons that saved Russia from Hitler. Ironically, after the war Russia’s most famous military leader Marshal Georgy Zhoukov spent his exile in the late 40’s and 50’s there before returning to Moscow to play a deciding role in the succession to Stalin.

More military controversy came in 1960 when the US pilot Gary Powers was shot down in his U-2 spy plane just a few kilometres outside of the city.

The most recent contribution to Russian history by Ekaterinburg was Russia’s president, Boris Yeltsin, who was the city’s governor until he was summoned to Moscow, a move which eventually resulted in the dismantling of the Communist Party structure and the shattering of the Soviet myth.

Since 1991 the city and region have shared the same shock treatment that the rest of Russia has suffered at its introduction to democracy and western style capitalism.

The future looks bright

However, the future is looking bright due to the large number of high technology industries in the region and the vast mineral resources that can be found under the forested hills of the Urals.

Indeed, in the year 2000 the economy of the city grew by 25%, the highest growth rate for any Russian city. Since then the meteoric growth has continued transforming this city as well as making it one of the most expensive in Russia.