Heading to Volgograd for the football? Here are five ways to soak up a little of the local culture in between matches.
So you’ve got your ticket, booked your flights and you’re ready to get behind England at this summer’s football tournament. To kick things off England face Tunisia in Volgograd on the 18th June - and although the history books will one day talk of how it was the city in which England kick started their tournament-winning campaign (no, really), Volgograd already has some incredible stories to tell.
Founded as Tsaritsyn in 1555, the city was renamed Stalingrad from 1925 to 1961 before taking the name Volgograd after Stalin’s death. History fans will be in for a treat while staying here, but that’s not all this city’s got.
1. Pavlov’s House
The Battle for Stalingrad was arguably the world’s largest and bloodiest battle. Among the countless stories of bravery and sacrifice during this period, one particular story stands out. Head to Pavlov’s House, a bullet-peppered shell of an old building overlooking the 9th of January Square. After becoming surrounded by German forces during the battle, Pavlov and his comrades assumed all was lost. Instead of retreating, they dug in, fortified the building and held the position for two long months. They beat the invaders back and, even with countless assaults of soldiers and tanks, Hitler’s army just could not break through. Determined to follow Stalin’s “not one step back” order to its end, the defence here took more German lives than the entire German assault on Paris. Pavlov and his fellow soldiers survived to tell the tale and today the structure stands as a powerful testament to the courage of the Russian people.
2. Poplar Tree
The battle completely and utterly gutted the city. When the fighting ended the city was unrecognisable, with its parks, trees and plants all reduced to ash. In the Square of the Fallen Fighters however stands something very special – a living tree that survived the horrors of the battle and still stands today. You better move quickly however, as poplar trees only last around 80 years and scientists fear the tree will soon die, taking an important piece of history with it.
3. Old Sarepta
Russians and Germans weren’t always at odds with each other, of course. Old Sarepta is a poignant reminder of the ties the two countries have shared throughout history. This picturesque European-style square stands in stark contrast to the Soviet tower blocks and urban sprawl that surrounds it. Built by Germans who were invited to Volgograd in the Tsarist era, this quaint neighbourhood now acts as an open air museum offering a unique chance to learn about this special aspect of Russian history.
4. Volga-Don Canal
No trip to Volgograd is complete without checking out the Volga-Don Canal. This mighty feat of engineering was built by Soviet prisoners of war and connects the Volga and Don rivers, which in turn connects the Caspian Sea with the Black Sea and world’s oceans. Work was started all the way back in 1569 by the Ottomans. Under various rulers and dictators the project was eventually completed in 1952. Visitors today can enjoy a pleasant walk alongside the canal, which is flanked by beautiful parks and topped off with a magnificent arch before the final lock connecting the rivers.
5. Try Sarepta Mustard
Russians love their mustard. And if you were to ask a Russian about the best place to get your hands on some prime product, they’d undoubtedly point you in the direction of Volgograd. It’s considered the capital of Russian mustard - and it’s so good that Queen Victoria used to get it ordered in especially to be used in the royal kitchen. How’s that for an endorsement? This fragrant and healthy condiment is commonly available in shops all over Volgograd and makes a great souvenir or gift.
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