The Volga River is the longest river in Europe. It is entirely in Russia and has no natural access to any open seas. It starts in a swamp in a small ridge, flowing through prehistoric lake beds on a course that separates the mountains of the Rus- sian Uplands from the flat European Plain before dropping below sea level to enter the inland Caspian Sea.


The Volga River is the longest river in Europe  

The Volga River is in Russia. It is the longest river in Russia and the longest river in Europe. It runs 2300 miles (3692 kilometres) from the Valdai Hills (also spelled Valday) to the Caspian Sea. The Danube is the second longest river in Europe, but is more than 500 miles (800 kilometres) shorter than the Volga. The Volga is a slow moving river. From its source to its mouth, it only drops 830 feet (253 meters) in height.

About 60 percent of the Volga’s water comes from melting snow in the high- lands. The rest comes from land runoff and over 200 tributaries that flow into the river. The Volga River is the main waterway in Russia. It carries half of Russia’s river traffic. Locks and dams have been built along most of its course. This allows ships to navigate the entire river except the first 65 miles (105 kilometres) from its source. The river floods during May and June. All river traffic stops for three months in winter when most of the river freezes.

The Volga River starts in a swamp in the Valdai Hills 

The Valdai Hills is a ridge running north from the Central Russian Uplands. It is located in North West Russia, about halfway between St Petersburg and Mos- cow. The Hills reach a height of 1125 feet (343 meters). They contain many lakes and are the sources of several rivers.

At about 738 feet (225 meters) above sea level, on the outskirts of the village of Volgoverkhovie, there are several springs on the edge of a swamp. This is the offi- cial source of the Volga River. The Volga flows out of the swamp as a small stream about three feet (one meter) wide and about one foot (30 centimetres) deep. The water is a reddish brown color. It might not look clean, but it is safe to drink. In the dry season, the stream may dry up completely for several meters from the source.

The source of the Volga is a Natural Monument

The source of the Volga has always been considered special. In ancient times, a small, square, wooden chapel was built over one of the springs. In the center of the chapel, there is an opening directly above the spring. Access to the chapel is along a small wooden bridge over the swampy land.

Today, the source is considered to be a Natural Monument. The chapel and its bridge have been renovated. The chapel has a platform around it, with steps that lead down to the water. The bridge entrance has a square, wooden framework above it, with a small stone wall and marker to one side. A nature reserve has been established around the source, including a forest of 15.8 square miles (41 square kilometres).

The Volga River enters the Caspian Sea below sea level  

The Caspian Sea is an inland sea. It is completely surrounded by land and does not connect with any other seas or oceans. This means it is not affected by normal sea levels. The Caspian Sea is in a depression in the land. The surface of the sea is about 92 feet (28 meters) below normal sea level.

The level of the Caspian Sea rises and falls depending on the water flowing into it from the Volga and other rivers. The sea level rises by about 6 inches (15 centimeters) every year. The only way water gets out of the sea is by evaporation. About 80 percent of the water flowing into the Caspian Sea comes from the Volga River. The Volga also supplies nutrients and sediment, and dumps industrial waste into the sea.

The Volga River has three sections  

The Volga River is divided into three sections. They are the Upper Volga, the Middle Volga and the Lower Volga. The Upper Volga starts at the source. It runs through a natural lake system, manmade dams and four reservoirs to Nizhny Novgorod, where it meets the Oka River. The Middle Volga runs from the Oka River to the Kama River, south of Kazan. It flows through ancient lake beds and two reservoirs.

The lower reservoir is Kuyby- shev Reservoir. This is the largest manmade reservoir in Europe. The Lower Volga runs from the Kama River to the Caspian Sea, passing through two more reservoirs. For most of this journey, it forms a border between the mountainous Volga Uplands on the right bank and the Volga Lowlands on the left It does a sharp U-turn around the Zhiguli Mountains at Samara Bend before resuming its course. From Volgograd, it enters the Caspian Depression and flows to the Caspian Sea.

The Upper Volga has the only natural lake system left on the Volga River  

The Upper Volga starts at the source. It flows through a small lake system to Lake Volgo. This lake system is the only naturally occurring lake system remaining on the Volga River. The first dam was built a few miles below Lake Volgo. The dam allows the water level in the river to be raised to the Shenksa River at Rybinsk – a distance of about 305 miles (490 kilometres). Boats can navigate along the Volga River from this point (about 65 miles from the source) to the Caspian Sea.

Between 1934 and 1957, four reservoirs and hydroelectric stations were built along the Upper Volga. They are Ivankovo near Dubna, Uglich near the town of Uglich, Rybinsk at Rybinsk and Gorky. The Volga flows through a broad valley of land depressions reaching a depth of between 150 and 200 feet (45 to 60 meters). These depressions were once wide lakes that were linked together. The land is full of deposits dating back to the Per- mian Period nearly 300 million years ago. The Upper Volga ends here, where it meets the Oka River. Most of the water that flows down the Volga River from this point comes from the Oka River.

Kuybyshev Reservoir is half as big as Connecticut  

The Middle Volga continues easterly towards Kazan. It widens, flowing through the depression of a long-gone ancient lake. The river is only 190 feet (58 meters) above sea level. Its width ranges between 350 yards and 1750 yards (320 and 1600 meters). That makes it nearly one mile wide! The river turns south at Kazan, flowing through another ancient lake depres- sion. The Kama River joins the Volga in this depression.

The fossilized remains of mollusks that are still found in the Caspian region have been discovered through- out this depression and in both the Volga and Kama Rivers. Kuybyshev Reservoir was built in this area. It runs over 310 miles (500 kilo- metres) in length to a dam in the Lower Volga at Zhiguli Hydroelectric Station. Kuybyshev is the largest manmade reservoir in Europe and the third largest manmade reservoir in the world. It has a surface area of 2490 square miles (6450 square kilometres). That’s about half as big as the US state of Connecticut.

The Lower Volga reaches a width of two miles  

The Lower Volga runs southerly from the Kama River. The Volga Uplands are along its right bank and the Volga Lowlands are along its left bank. The river U-turns at the Zhiguli Mountains. It flows east, then turns back west, covering nearly 120 miles (200 kilometres) in its detour around the mountains. It resumes its course and heads southwest to Volgograd. At Volgograd, the river turns sharp southeast, and enters the Caspian Depres- sion.

The right bank has low hills. On the left, it runs parallel to one of its branch- es, the Akhtuba River. In flood, the two rivers join and can flood the country from 15-35 miles (24-56 kilometres). The width of the Volga ranges between 520 yards and 2 miles (475 meters and 3.2 kilometres). It is over 80 feet (24 meters) deep.

The delta begins 40 miles (64 kilometres) above Astrakhan. The Volga branch- es into many rivers, streams and channels with over 500 mouths reaching the Caspian Sea.

Dam construction along the Volga has damaged the environment  

When the first dams and reservoirs were built along the Volga, any damage to the environment or the culture of the people living in the area was ignored. People were moved elsewhere, their towns were flooded and their historical heritage was lost. When Rybinsk Reservoir was built between 1935 and 1947, it was the largest artificial lake in the world. It covered over 1560 square miles (4040 square kilo- metres). Construction of Rybinsk Reservoir changed the environment forever.

Ground- water levels in the area rose. This created swamps, which provided a perfect breed- ing ground for mosquitoes. Summers became cooler and winters became warmer. Rybinsk and other reservoirs have also blocked the migration routes of fish. Be- cause they can no longer travel upstream to breed, many fish species are in danger of becoming extinct.

People who said they came from Mologa were jailed  

When Rybinsk Reservoir was constructed, the city of Mologa, 663 small vil- lages, about a hundred churches and six monasteries were flooded. The people of Mologa were not told anything until prisoners came into the town to begin the works.

The 150,000 residents were then told to take what they wanted and leave. Their wooden houses were dismantled and shipped to Rybinsk, where they were rebuilt on a strip of land 9.3 miles (15 kilometres) long. Many of the city’s stone buildings were blown up with explosives.

Hundreds of prisoners died building the reservoir. They were buried in a mass grave, which is now underwater. Some people refused to leave. Although denied by many, it is believed that 294 people stayed in their homes as the city was flooded. After some time, many families returned, drowning themselves in the reservoir. When word of this reached Moscow, the remaining former residents were moved to the north.

Mologa was removed from all official records. Anyone who men- tioned the city or said they came from there was arrested and imprisoned. Mologa became a myth. After the political and social changes of the 1980s and 90s, the Russian people had more rights and freedoms. The myth of Mologa sparked interest and investi- gation. In 1999, visitors came to the reservoir, holding prayers for the workers and residents who had died. In 2003, a chapel was built in their memory. Rybinsk Reservoir has now started drying up and parts of Mologa are emerging from the water.

The Volga River has canals linking it to the open seas  

In the early 1700s, Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, took control of the Gulf of Fin- land from Sweden. The Gulf is part of the White Sea, which is connected to the Baltic Sea. To connect St Petersburg, on the Gulf, with inland Russia, he created a river transport system using rivers and lakes in northwest Russia. This was a disaster. Dangerous winds, storms and shallow waters on the lakes wrecked hundreds of cargo ships. To avoid the dangerous lakes, Peter decided to build a safe canal system linking the Volga to the Gulf.

Using the Volga would open up inland Russia all the way to the Caspian Sea. Over the years, Peter’s canal system has been rebuilt. The latest route was fin- ished in 1964. Canals have also been built to connect the Volga to other rivers. The Moscow Canal connects the Volga to the Moskva River in Moscow. The Volga-Baltic Canal links the Volga with the Baltic Sea to the east, passing through several northern Russian lakes and the Baltic-White Sea Canal. The Volga-Don Canal links the Volga with the Azov and Black Seas in the southwest.

The Volga Delta is the largest river delta in Europe – and it’s still growing!  

The Volga Delta is the largest river delta in Europe. It starts about 77 miles (124 kilometres) from the Caspian Sea. More than 500 channels, streams and smaller rivers branch off the Volga River and enter the sea across a distance of about 99 miles (160 kilometres). The top section of the delta is full of clay and sand ridges, which can be up to 72 feet (22 meters) in height and six miles (10 kilometres) long. They are part of the ancient river delta. Today, the ridges harbor small lakes of varying saltiness where plants and animals thrive.

This landscape gives way to small dunes and algal flats, with channels running through them to the sea. The delta extends about 40 miles (60 kilometres) into the sea, though sediment from the Volga reaches out to 120 miles (200 kilometres). The size of the delta is increasing, due to rising sea levels in the Caspian Sea.

The Volga wetlands are an important breeding ground for many of the world’s birds  

The Volga Delta contains about 278 species of plants, including 44 water plants. These range from forests of willows, poplars and alders to rare water chest- nuts and lotuses. There are about 30 mammals including beavers and otters and 61 species of fish, including sturgeon, catfish, lampreys and carp.

Tens of millions of migrating birds from all over the world pass over the Volga Delta twice a year Spring can see over seven million water birds and autumn can see 5-10 million. Many birds stay for the winter. More than 600,000 birds from over 230 species nest in the delta. These in- clude swans, geese, ducks, pelicans, flamingos, herons and white-tailed eagles.

Pigeons, golden orioles, cuckoos, red-footed falcons and many others nest in the forests and reed beds. While the size of the delta is increasing, the size of the wetland areas is de- creasing due to natural and manmade causes. Many of the plants and animals in the delta are endangered.

One female sturgeon can produce over $100,000 worth of caviar  

Astrakhan is a city on the upper part of the Volga delta about 60 miles (100 kilometres) from the Caspian Sea. It sits on the left bank of the main Volga’s west- ernmost channel, and spreads across eleven islands. Astrakhan is the centre of the Russian caviar industry. Caviar is unfertilized fish eggs that come from sturgeon.

A quarter of caviar-producing sturgeons live in the Volga River. The most expensive caviar comes from the beluga sturgeon. Beluga caviar can cost up to $600 an ounce ($21.50 per gram). The eggs from a single female beluga sturgeon can be worth more than $100,000! The largest sturgeon on record was a Beluga female caught in the Volga estuary in 1827. She was 24 feet (7.2 meters) long and weighed 3464 pounds (1571 kilo- grams). That’s 1.7 tons of fish!