Whenever I travel for work to a new location, I take full advantage of my time there. I want to discover as much as I can of the city that I am visiting, so I walk, walk, walk… My step counter is happy in those days (the poor thing sometimes records only a few steps :P). One of my business trips took me to Russia, in a famous city, Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad. Keep scrolling (and reading!) to see my Volgograd visual guide, with photos taken during my walks 😉
First of all, Volgograd (Stalingrad) is not famous because some football matches took place here in this year’s World Cup. This city is famous because of its role in World War II! Here, in Stalingrad, a decisive battle took place, between Germany (and its allies) and the Soviet Union. Because of the close combat and German air raids, Stalingrad sustained a lot of damage. The battle itself was one of the bloodies in the history of warfare. Eventually, the German army was defeated. It was the beginning of the end of the Nazis and Hitler himself acknowledged Stalingrad for Germany’s impending doom, in a speech in 1944.
After the war, the city was in rumbles. Exquisite architectural marvels were destroyed by the Luftwaffe air raids, many civilians were killed, and the city appeared to have been lost. However, the city and its people managed to get back on their feet, re-build Stalingrad and restore it to its former glory. As the war ended, in 1945, the city was rewarded with the title of Hero City, an honorary Soviet award, given to 11 cities throughout the former Soviet Union, for their role in World War II.
The citizens of Volgograd are very proud of this role and all over town you can see memorial statues, reminders of those who gave their lives for freedom. There is an overall feeling of gratitude among the citizens of Volgograd that impressed me, because it is not often that you see it, nowadays.
A must see in Volgograd is the memorial complex located on the Mamayev Kurgan. Mamayev Kurgan is a dominant height overlooking Volgograd. The memorial complex was built between 1959 and 1967. In the center stands the world’s largest statue of a woman. “Motherland calls”, as the status is named, depicts a woman, dressed in robes, holding a sword over her head. The idea behind the statue, as I was told by a nice old gentleman that I met while visiting the memorial complex was that the citizen become united, under one unique goal – the goal of protecting the motherland. So, when motherland calls, everybody must answer.
The statue is even taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York. It is, I must confess, a strange feeling, seeing the statue on top of the Mamayev Kurgan, but it’s an even stranger feeling to be next to it. You literally feel extremely small!
In addition to this and other statutes (each of them with a different significance related to the battle of Stalingrad), something else moved me while visited the complex. It was a low-ceiling construction, from where hushed murmurs could be heard. In the middle of it, an eternal flame, held by a hand, was watching over the thousands of names listed on the walls all around the construction. The names belong to the soldiers which fought and died during the battle of Stalingrad.
It was quite overwhelming to see the names written on the walls, the soldiers standing guard and the people bringing red carnations. Moreover, since one of my great uncles fought in Stalingrad and was declared missing in action, never to return to his family.
The reconstruction of the city began soon after the war. Many of the buildings that you can see nowadays in Volgograd are relatively new (in comparison to the buildings destroyed in the war ☹). Most of the apartment blocks were built in the 1950s. The architectural style is quite eclectic, if you ask me. The buildings that you can see all over the city are following the Stalingrad Empire style featuring high ceilings, strict linear forms, graceful arches and columns, carved balconies. The richness of the decorations on the outer walls of the buildings attract the traveler. I couldn’t help but take a few shots at every turn. During my walks around the city I also found red brick buildings, my favorites. Though some were old and derelict, they still maintained their beauty and grace. I can assure you that you will not be bored while walking the streets of Volgograd. But, be careful of where you step. While looking at a building, I almost fell 😀 😀
If there are no buildings to be admired, I am sure you’ll find some other interesting thing to check out, like this bench made out of pallets or this gate adorned with Soviet symbols 😛
And when I say in style, I literally mean in style! The Volgograd Main Train Station is one of those examples of fine architecture, both inside and out. I was amazed when I walked in and I took so many photos, that I was afraid the guards would come up to me and say something along the lines of “hey lady… you ok?” 😊 first of all, there was the high ceiling. A marvelous chandelier was guarding over the main entrance hall. I honestly thought I entered a palace. The waiting rooms also had high ceilings. But no chandeliers… Instead, stunning paintings. The paintings depicted various scenes of Volgograd’s history and reconstruction period. I mostly walked with my head in the clouds, it was truly a wonder that I did not bump into anyone. That might have been also because people where actually avoiding me, seeing as I kept looking up. Above each window, were small decorations, made out of plaster, in an Italian style. All in all I was pleasantly surprised to see such beautiful interior decorations. Outside, the surprise was even bigger. It had gotten dark by the time I finished admiring the interior and the building was softly illuminated.
Practical tip: Speaking of getting dark – despite being middle of August, in Volgograd, it got dark at around 7.30 pm. It kind of sucked, because there were many, many things to discover. But, in the absence of natural light, do not be afraid to walk around the parks or green alley ways. The locals stay out pretty late and I did not feel in any way unsafe.
Russia is a pretty religious country. I noticed that not only when I visited Samara (another Russian city), but also here, in Volgograd. At the time of my visit, the main cathedral of Volgograd was under renovation, so there was not much to be seen. However, from time to time, you could see a small chapel. One of those, right at the entrance of a park 😉 I found it quite interesting, as there were a lot of people inside, despite not being a usual hour for church visits (late afternoon). I was pleased to see that here, as well as in Samara, the churches do not have many towers and are rather simple in style. Only the gold covering of the tower catches your eye a bit. So, be careful not to look up at a church tower in Russia while it is sunny outside 😉
All in all, so far, Russia has been a pleasant surprise and I look forward to visiting some more of it, when given the opportunity. Until then, I am left with photos to enjoy 😉