Really it is difficult to trace what the city got its name from, because it is just so very ancient: nameless settlements on the Samarskaya Luka had been mentioned in Russian chronicles as early as in 1361. Samara’s story actually begins in the middle of the16th century, when the Russians began to construct fortresses on the Volga to reinforce the eastern state frontier of those days. The fortress of Samara was built in 1568 by the order Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich. It was specially placed on the Great Trade Route along the Volga where a lot of caravans would pass. In 1600 a custom office was opened in Samara. With the emergence of the fortress which withstood numerous sieges, the actual Russian frontier moved farther to the east. The Volga at last became a safe route to travel. Gradually the necessity of a fortress fell away completely and in 1688 Samara became an ordinary town which witnessed both the traffic of merchants’ caravans and the spreading of peasant unrest, common for Russia of that time. Historic data say the citizens took rather an active part in the major people’s movements and gave a cordial welcome to at least two legendary leaders of rebels, Stepan Razin and Yemelyan Pugachev.
Having a large and active population, Samara was elevated to a major city of an uyezd (“district” in Russian) in 1781 and a new stage of the development of the city began with the foundation of the Samara Region in 1851. Thanks to the efforts of Samara’s governors (especially K. Grott, a stern but honest and conscientious man of German origin) the first library, the Philharmonic Society, the Theological Seminary, women’s schools and other educational institutions were founded in Samara later to evolve into literally dozens of institutions of all levels of education which give Samara a right to be called a students’ city.
Samara has had to compete with many Russian formidable cities for its share of trade and status and it was chosen instead of Kazan as the major railway junction for Eurasian travel (Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia). Thus, Samara is ideally suited for those who wish to travel to distant and exotic destinations via the Trans-Siberian or Trans-Caucasus railroads. A new railway station is currently under construction to accommodate the increased traffic in passengers and cargo. It is going to be one of the biggest in Europe. The entrepreneurial spirit of this region has allowed Samara not only to survive but to thrive. Samara was formerly a “closed city” primarily due to the number of industrial enterprises engaged in defense projects (the “Buran” spacecraft, rocket/missile components and Tupolev aircraft to mention a few). The city still enjoys a reputation for talent and intellect as evidenced by the rapid growth of small businesses and commercial ventures.
During the communist era the city was renamed Kuibishev (in honour of a former Bolshevik revolutionary). While the city experienced many changes during the communist era (a monument to tsar Alexander II was replaced with a monument of Lenin), the city has preserved many unique and historical landmarks dating back to pre-Revolutionary Russia. Samara has an historical centre featuring noteworthy architectural wonders in a variety of styles including pre-Revolutionary, neoclassic, modernist, etc.
Samara is a city of high culture and the arts. There are many museums and theatres here of which the oldest are Samara Academic Drama Theatre (150 years) and Samara Academic Opera and Ballet House (70 years). Also there is the Philharmonia which has a regular program of classical concerts and the Kubishev Theatre which has an innovative program of classical and contemporary theatre productions.