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Samara grew up where the Volga meets the Samara River, at a particularly sharp bend across from the Zhiguli Hills. The site provided a valuable vantage point for monitoring river activity; in 1568 a fortress was constructed here to guard the tsar's recently acquired territorial possessions. In 1606 a customs house was built that enabled the tsar to take a cut of the profitable river trade.

In 1670 Stepan Razin's rebel band came through, pausing to torch the town and drown the military governor. A hundred years later, Pugachev's peasant army also paid a call on Samara. The military governor, apparently a student of history, thought it best to flee on that occasion, leaving the town to the whims of the angry throng.

The Russian Civil War began in Samara, when a unit of Czechoslovakian prisoners of war commandeered their train and seized control of the city. They were quickly joined by a contingent of old regime officers, who formed the restorationist White Army.

The name of the city and province was changed in 1935 to Kuybyshev, in honour of a local Bolshevik hero who made it big in Moscow. In WWII, Kuybyshev became the 'second capital', housing much of the relocated central government, including Stalin's bunker. Industry developed along the river, oil was discovered in the province and the city was closed. With the fall of Soviet communism, the city was reopened and its original name restored.