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History of the Astrakhan Kremlin

In the spring of 1558, two years after the Tsardom of Russia finally gained control over the Khanate of Astrakhan, Ivan Vyrodkov, diak of the Razriadny Prikaz and one of the first Russian military engineers, arrived in Astrakhan. He had already distinguished himself by building several strongholds during the siege of Kazan. At Ivan the Terrible's command, Vyrodkov was appointed the governor of Astrakhan. He was in charge of the construction of the first Russian fortress in Astrakhan. Astrakhan’s suitable geographical location, which was the «trade gate to Asia» for the Tsardom of Moscow, became the focus of attention in Turkey and the Crimean Khanate a long time ago. Only the small, unstable reed and clay buildings from the time of the Astrakhan Khanate remained, so the city urgently needed new fortifications. Vyrodkov chose a very suitable place to build the stronghold: on a high hill surrounded by the waters of the Volga and Kutum on two sides and by bogs that were difficult to traverse on the third side. During that time the stronghold was wooden, but it had solid earthworks, wooden walls and towers.

In 1582 it was decided to turn the wooden citadel into a stone one. That started the process of developing the complex of today's Astrakhan Kremlin. A large-scale construction lasted for several years and it was not completed even after Ivan the Terrible's death, in the time of Fiodor I and Boris Godunov. Moscow masters such as Mikhail Velyaminov, Grigorij Owcynow and Dei Gubastyi were entrusted with the construction. They were responsible not only for the design and the building of the Kremlin, they also managed the delivery of materials, hired and paid workers. The local treasury as well as some cities located at the Volga were burdened with expenses. Burnt-out bricks from the ruins of former cities of the Golden Horde were often used to build new Kremlin buildings. The architecture of the Astrakhan Kremlin is very similar to strongholds built at that time in Central Rus, including the Moscow Kremlin which popularized the topping of walls and towers with a two-horned tooth called «a swallow's tail».

Arrow slits were cut in merlons to allow hand weapons to be fired out, while light and heavy artillery was housed in specially prepared niches on the inner side of the wall. On a defensive platform running along the wall there were special holes through which boiling water or boiling pitch was poured on the enemy during a storm. The military towers (also named deaf towers because they had an entrance only into the Kremlin's inner courtyard) enabled to defend the Kremlin with hand firearms in a circle. Apart from the military towers, the Kremlin also had gate towers. Some of them were only for walkers, others were for riders and carriages. At first riflemen served in the Astrakhan garrison, but when the Time of Troubles ended, in the time of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov, regiments were established in all border strongholds, following a new model; they consisted of soldiers, mercenary troopers and dragoons. Additionally, if needed, the governor could call up Tatar and Kalmyk cavalrymen who served the State and received salaries.

The 17th century was quite a rough period in the history of the Astrakhan Kremlin. From time to time various events took place, and they were directly related to the political life of Russia. In 1606 Astrakhan became a major centre of an uprising led by Bolotnikov, while several years later a rather disliked person from the Time of Troubles – Marina Mniszech – and her companions sought shelter behind the Citadel's walls. In 1670 the Astrakhan Kremlin was taken by a peasant-Cossack army led by Stenka Razin and was a rebel bastion for some time, even after Razin's execution. The beginning of the 18th century did not bring the city of Astrakhan the long-awaited peace. In 1705, when Peter I’s new reforms entered into force, a rebellion of riflemen and townsmen broke up in Astrakhan. They gained control over the Kremlin, killed the governor and tried the gentry. At Peter I's order, the uprising was cruelly put down by Duke Szeremietiev. Many rebels were executed or exiled in Siberia, and the garrison of riflemen was dissolved and replaced by a regiment of dragoons.

In 1717, after Astrakhan became the capital of a province, the garrison grew larger. Before a visit made by Peter I in 1721, the governor of Volhynia ordered to remove the destroyed wooden buildings in the Kremlin. During the 18th-19th century, several alterations and construction works on new buildings took place inside the Kremlin: powder and food cellars, an arsenal, barracks, the officer's house, administrative corps and various utility rooms. During World War I there was an infantry regiment in the Astrakhan Kremlin, it went over to the Bolsheviks after the Revolution of 1917. During the Civil War, white-Cossack soldiers attempted to take the Kremlin walls by storm, but even cannon fire did not help. After the establishment of the Soviet Union the Astrakhan Kremlin kept the status of a military building. The garrison authorities demanded that the «ideologically strange» churches and cathedrals in the Kremlin be demolished, but luckily these precious historical and architectural gems survived, even though they served as warehouses.

During World War II there were cannons in the Astrakhan Kremlin. Their task was to protect the city against German air bombing. After the war, during a large reconstruction of the city of Astrakhan, the rebuilding of the Astrakhan Kremlin also began. In 1960 the Astrakhan Kremlin became a federal historical gem. After the renovation in 1974 a regional museum was opened there, later it was turned into a historical and architectural museum-reserve. Recent renovation works behind the Kremlin walls were conducted in 2006 during preparations for the 450th anniversary of the city of Astrakhan. The Astrakhan Kremlin is an inseparable part of the city's history.