March 01, 2000

Yekaterinburg: Passage to Asia

If Perm stands watch over the European part of the Urals, Yekaterinburg serves as the main passage to Asia. Indeed, near the main railroad between the two cities, there is a marker designating the line dividing the two great continents. Perhaps for this reason, Perm and Yekaterinburg, like Moscow and St. Petersburg, seem perpetually engaged in a contest of opposites. Perm is Europe, Yekaterinburg is Asia; the Perm region is associated with the Stroganovs, while Yekaterinburg was linked to the Demidovs. Each at some point during the past two and a half centuries has served as capital of the mighty industrial resources of the central Urals. (Now each is the capital of its own oblast, or province.) Although each witnessed some of the most dramatic events of the civil war between the Reds and the Whites, Yekaterinburg will forever be remembered as the site of the fateful murder of Nicholas II and this family in July 1918. Perm, from its perch above the Kama River, has the more dramatic landscape, while Yekaterinburg must settle for the decidedly less imposing Iset River.

Nonetheless, it is Yekaterinburg that can now claim the edge: its population of 1,400,000 is considerably larger, and many of the main affiliates of such national institutions as the Academy of Sciences are located here. Yekaterinburg is also the site of an important United States consulate, which represents American interests in much of the vast territory between Moscow and Vladivostok. Even the modest Iset has been turned into an asset, as its waters form a series of ponds that bisect the city from north to south. What were originally prosaic factory ponds now create a series of refreshing parklands in the center of the city.

Like Perm, Yekaterinburg is sustained by its heavy industry, once closely linked to the defense establishment. The town was founded in 1721 by Vasily Tatishchev, who also played a pivotal role in the development of Perm (see Russian Life, Jan/Feb 2000). The expansion of Russian metalworking capabilities was a major part of Peter the Great’s industrial strategy, and the mineral resources of the Urals led to the creation of a number of factory settlements and towns. Yekaterinburg was established to be their center. Production at the first State Metals Factory on the Iset River began in 1723. The settlement was named in honor of Empress Catherine I, Peter the Great’s second wife, who reigned between 1725 and 1730.

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