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Introducing Nizhny Novgorod

A glorious setting is not something most Russian cities can boast, but Nizhny (as it is usually called) is a lucky exception. The mighty clifftop kremlin overlooking the confluence of two wide rivers – the Volga and the Oka – is the place where merchant Kuzma Minin and Count Dmitry Pozharsky (men commemorated in a monument in front of Moscow's St Basil’s Cathedral) rallied a popular army to repel the Polish intervention in 1612.

Nizhny has been a major trading centre since its foundation in 1221. In the 19th century, when the lower bank of the Oka housed the country’s main fair – yarmarka – it was said that ‘St Petersburg is Russia’s head; Moscow its heart; and Nizhny Novgorod its wallet’. During Soviet times the city was named Gorky, after the writer Maxim Gorky, born here in 1868. Closed to foreigners by the Soviets, Gorky was chosen as a place of exile for the dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov.

Nizhny is often called Russia’s ‘third capital’, but it is the fifth-largest Russian city and markedly quieter than Moscow and St Petersburg, with a laid-back ambience characteristic of the Volga cities downstream.