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. The city was closed to foreigners by the Soviets and as such made the perfect place of exile for the dissident Sakharov.