Initially a fortified town, Simbirsk was Moscow's border guard post and a trade centre. During the 18th century it earned the nickname 'Nobles' Nest', as Russia's rich used to retire here for their holidays.
Despite taking its new name upon Lenin's death, the city stayed a backwater until the centenary of his birth in 1970. Then, in a Brezhnevian orgy of development, the city centre became a 'memorial zone', with the construction of a vast museum complex and yawning plaza, and the restoration of an entire neighbourhood, including no less than seven Ulyanov family houses.
Now the city is cleverly repackaging itself as 'Old Simbirsk'. The quiet, tree-lined streets and brightly painted wooden houses contain a bevy of little museums, all of which hark back to late-19th-century provincial Russia.