City (pop., 2002: 506,400), southwestern Russia. It is situated on several islands in the delta of the Volga River. It was the capital of a Tatar khanate that became independent of the Golden Horde in the 13th century, and its location on caravan and water routes made it a trading centre. Ivan IV (the Terrible) conquered Astrakhan in 1556, giving Russia control of the Volga. The Turks burned the city in 1569. It served as the base for the campaign of Peter I (the Great) against Persia and later was given special trade privileges. Sites of interest include a fortress and a cathedral.
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Astrakhan (А́страхань; Ästerxan; Persian: حاجیترخان Haji-Tarkhan) is a major city in southern European Russia and the administrative center of Astrakhan Oblast. The city lies on the Volga River, close to where it discharges into the Caspian Sea. Population: 502,800 (2004 est.); 504,501 (2002 Census); 509,210 (1989 Census).
In 1556, the khanate was conquered by Ivan the Terrible, who had a new fortress, or kremlin, built on a steep hill overlooking the Volga. In 1569, Astrakhan' was besieged by the Ottoman army, which had to retreat in disarray. A year later, the Sultan renounced his claims to Astrakhan, thus opening the entire Volga River to Russian traffic. In the 17th century, the city was developed as a Russian gate to the Orient. Many merchants from Armenia, Persia, India and Khiva settled in the downtown, giving it a multinational and variegated character.
For seventeen months in 1670–1671 Astrakhan' was held by Stenka Razin and his Cossacks. Early in the following century, Peter the Great constructed a shipyard here and made Astrakhan the base for his hostilities against Persia, and later in the same century Catherine II accorded the city important industrial privileges.
In 1711, it became a capital of a guberniya, whose first governors included Artemy Petrovich Volynsky and Vasily Nikitich Tatishchev. Six years later, Astrakhan served as a base for the first Russian venture into Central Asia. In 1702, 1718, and 1767, it suffered severely from fires; in 1719 it was plundered by the Persians; and in 1830 the cholera swept away a large number of its people.
Astrakhan's kremlin was built from the 1580s to the 1620s from bricks pillaged at the site of Sarai Berke. Its two impressive cathedrals were consecrated in 1700 and 1710, respectively. Built by masters from Yaroslavl, they retain many traditional features of Russian church architecture, while their exterior decoration is definitely baroque.
In the autumn of 1942, the region to the west of Astrakhan became one of the easternmost points in the Soviet Union reached by the invading German Wehrmacht, during Case Blue, the offensive which led to the Battle of Stalingrad. Light armoured forces of German Army Group A made brief scouting missions as close as 100 km to the city before withdrawing. In the same period, the Luftwaffe flew several air raids on the oil terminals and harbour installations of the city.