The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Route 45. Voyage down the Volga from Tver to Suizran

The Volga River.

Centuries ago it was the Atel. Or Etel. Or Itel. (Those pesky ambiguous primary vowels.)
Centuries before that it was the Rha.
The Oaros.
It probably still is all those things. Names piling in its throat like silt at its mouth.

Baedeker babbles on and on about the river. About the way it rises in the Valdai Hills. About its length. Its fall. Its entry into the Caspian Sea. The diluvial deposits that muddy its water. The traces of its ancient bed visible in the hardened, grassy surface of the steppe. About hills of clay and loam. The low marshes and forests that line its upper reaches. Then the right bank's steep slopes and eminences.

A highway for thousands of steamships freighting grain and petroleum and salt.
A thoroughfare for rafts floating timber.
A fishing ground rich with sturgeon and sterlet.

"The scenery is nowhere of an imposing character," warns Baedeker, and the voyage is "very fatiguing." But the journey will "recall the peculiar and intense colouring of evening scenes on the Nile."

So we shall see how the ancient Oaros - the Russian Nile, the Matushka Volga - fills my eyes.

The notes along this route touch on a range of themes, including

châteaux and palacesconvents and monasteriesfood and drinkgardens and parksgold and silverhistorical commemorationinsignificancemarkets and fairsmetals and miningmurder and bloodshed, photography, topographical notes, and woodworking.

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