The history of Ufa
Being one of the peoples of Russia, Bashkirs inhabited these territories, which were an “apple of discord” between different nations and were constantly fought for. For a long time they had been under the reign of the Mongols. After the Golden Horde collapsed, Bashkirs became subject to the Kazan Khanate.
As the Russian state was steadily growing, its people were advancing to the East. According to modern historians’, when the Russian army conquered Kazan, it encouraged Bashkirs to join their powerful neighbour Russia. In fact, Bashkirs had been oppressed vassals of other mighty peoples for many centuries. After the affiliation, they visited Moscow and the Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible presented them with special charters, which confirmed their land title and guaranteed them protection against raids in exchange for paying taxes. Bashkirs actually got their own self-government and military protection. Besides, they were released from the burden of a war tax (i.e. the obligation to provide armed cavalry, supplied with the store of food for a whole year).
Why did Russians found Ufa?
Later Bashkirs applied to the Russian tsar and asked him to found a new city, bypassing Kazan, as a token of good neighborhood between two peoples. In 1574, Russian Streltsy (riflemen) built the first fortress on the banks of the Belaya River and the Ufa River. As Ufa was almost completely surrounded by water, its favorable location guaranteed solid defence against raids. Being founded by Russians, this old city was being constantly attacked by hostile neighbours, who were displeased with the rise of Bashkirs. Ufa withstood many sieges but was never taken by enemies.
Wooden Ufa. By Stas Mikhaylov (CC, flickr)
For a long time Ufa remained underpopulated. In the 20th century the discovery of oil reserves in Bashkiria and the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway encouraged the further development of Ufa.
Modern Ufa is much bigger than the old one. Nowadays it has a million population and it is one of the most extended Russian cities.
The place where extremes meet
Salavat Yulaev Monument, Ufa. By William Veerbeek (CC, flickr)
The current population of Ufa comprises not Bashkirs but mostly Russians. However, there is the monument to Bashkir national hero Salavat Yulaev (the largest equestrian monument in Europe). Besides, one of the leading Russian hockey clubs has been named after him.
Salavat Yulaev is known for joining Yemelyan Pugachev’s Rebellion, the bloodiest uprising before the 20th century, and turning into one of its authoritative leaders despite being only nineteen years old. This rebellion against autocracy was severely crushed by the Russian Empress Catherine II. Salavat Yulaev was taken captive and then was sent with other conspirators to penal labour to Estonia, where he was living for the following twenty five years.
Salavat Yulaev is also known as a poet. He symbolizes a poetical warrior from the Middle Ages, who serves as an ideal in many countries.
The cathedral mosque-madrasah “Lala Tulpan” is built in the form of a flower in full blossom and painted in the colour of tulip while its minarets look like two flower buds. According to the legend, the unblossomed flower bud conceals real happiness. The Russian Empress Catherine II transferred the Islamic centre from Kazan to Ufa in order to lessen its power
Things to do in Ufa
If you are going to Ufa, you should definitely have a look at the cathedral mosque-madrasah “Lala Tulpan”, walk along the Lenin Street, which is beautifully lit during the night, see the equestrian monument to Salavat Yulaev, enjoy a stunning view from the bank of the Belaya River in Park Pobedy (Victory Park), visit the national museum of the Republic of Bashkortostan, taste kazuluk (“kazu”, traditional and very delicious sausages made of horsemeat and popular among Turkic peoples) and explore the historical city centre.
The Capova Cave
The Capova Cave is located in the Urals, not far from Ufa. This karst cave is widely known not only in Russia but in other countries as well. Its Bashkir name sounds like Shulgan-Tash. The cave is famous for ancient paintings, numerous halls on three levels, corridors, galleries, shafts, underground lakes and its own Shulgan River.
The age of cave paintings is estimated to be from 14,000 to 17,000 years. Their seize reaches 122 cm. The paintings are drawn with the help of sienna and charcoal and depict mammoths, other animals and undeciphered symbols. Surprisingly, ancient people did not use torches while drawing – there are no smoke marks.
Lake Goluboe can be seen in front of the cave entrance. It has the diameter of mere 3 meters, with its depth being as many as 80 meters!
The Belaya River, which is the major waterway of Ufa, offers tourists a popular Russian route for water rafting on catamarans and kayaks.