Once the winter snows have melted, Oryol can seem like a magical place. Afternoon boaters float idly along the Oka River as the glow of sunlight illuminates the golden domes of Orthodox churches about town. Couples and friends stroll along the blossom-lined riverbanks, and fill the parks and plazas until late in the evening, when red-and-yellow trams are still rattling through town.
In sharp contrast to nearby industrial cities, Oryol is a visibly wealthy place, with a distinctly European capitalist flavour. Founded in 1566 as a fortress against the Tatars, Oryol (arr-yol, meaning eagle) reached its peak during the 19th century, when a surprising number of gentry lived here (19, 000 out of a population of 32, 000 in 1853). The writer Ivan Turgenev was one of 12 writers who thrived here; their work is remembered at the several museums about town.
For lovers of 19th-century Russian literature, Oryol is bound to be rewarding. To others, the town may seem to be in something of a time warp, with capitalism and communism rather awkwardly commingled.