Siberian Blog
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Siberian Blog

What is interesting to see in Russia? Tomsk is an ancient Siberian city.

the administration of Tomsk is located in a historic old merchant building. Night photo

Greetings, my dear reader! Recently, in my blog about Siberia, I wrote about my hometown of Seversk, a closed nuclear city near Tomsk.

This content (can be viewed at the link):

as well as a clarification of the comment to it (you can see the link):

they aroused, judging by the response of readers, a noticeable interest. Continuing a series of posts about my homeland, I found it necessary to provide you with a similar story about the neighboring city of Tomsk, located 15–20 minutes by car from Seversk.

I will try to make the first story about Tomsk more compact. Unlike young Seversk, Tomsk is an old Siberian city with a much longer history. A detailed description of historical events is worthy of a scientific dissertation, and I am not a scholar of history, but a simple resident of Siberia (although I can certainly later tell you about something in detail, I love history) and you, my dear reader, probably want an easier presentation and a look at modern Tomsk.

Tomsk from a bird’s eye view

So let’s get started. The official date of formation of Tomsk is considered to be from the date of the Foundation of the fortress on the Tom river in Siberia by the Cossacks of the Russian Empire. However, now more and more data is emerging about older settlements in this area. In particular, scientists are actively discussing the theory of the ancient city “Grustina”, the description of which is found in the works of the Persian sages of the X-XII century. More and more information appears when studying historical records and archaeological finds on the territory of Tomsk, confirming the presence of numerous traces of an ancient stone underground city with an extensive network of tunnels and communications, created long before the beginning of stone construction in Tomsk. Also, the ancient burial sites found during excavations, when studying with new scientific views and capabilities, allow us to assume about a people other than the Mongoloid race, which was previously considered the indigenous ancient inhabitants of Siberia.

Information about the ancient city of “Grustina” is enough for a separate article. We for brevity having mentioned this time in one paragraph will go in our story about the history of Tomsk further, along the way noting that the ancient city and its people were destroyed presumably in the XIII century by one of the numerous troops of Genghis Khan. By the way, near Tomsk there is now an old village “Eushta” with a predominantly Tatar population, mentioned in the Chronicles of the beginning of the laying of the Tomsk fortress by Russian Cossacks. Scholars believe the name Eushta is a linguistic evolution from sad Among the Turkic-speaking peoples.

monument copper coat of arms of Tomsk on the background of the Cathedral

A little about names: Contrary to the popular misconception that the name of Tomsk should be interpreted as an abbreviation, in fact, the city was named after the river Tom. The name of the river is also not deciphered. According to one version, it is translated from the language of the kets who once lived in these places as “river”. Another version of the translation is “dark”. There is a legend that the river took the name of the Tatar girl Toma.

Officially, the beginning of the history of Tomsk is considered to be January 20, 1604. Russian Tsar Boris Godunov received Russian ambassadors from Siberia on this day, headed by the leader of the Tatar tribe Eushta Toyan, with a request to accept the Eushta tribe under the rule of Moscow and to build a Russian city on the Tom river to protect the Eushta people from the attacks of their warlike neighbors — the Kirghiz and Kalmyks.

On March 25, 1604, Boris Godunov sent the Cossack head Gavrila Pisemsky from the fortress of Surgut and the Streletsky head Vasily Tyrkov from the city of Tobolsk with the task to establish a fortress on the Bank of the Tom river, in the Tatar land, to establish around it the sovereign’s arable land and bring the surrounding peoples to the Russian Tsar.

Panorama of the city of Tomsk in the Voznesenskaya mountain, the site of the city’s Foundation.

Tomsk fortress was founded on the southern promontory of the resurrection mountain, rising above the right Bank of the Tom river, 60 km from its confluence with the Ob river and near the mouth of the taiga river Ushaika. The place was chosen by the Cossacks for a reason: it was located on a high place, the forests created a natural barrier, and Tom would serve not only as a defensive border, but also would help to withstand a long siege.

By October 7, 1604, all construction work was completed, and this date is considered the birthday of Tomsk (now the city’s day is celebrated on June 7, however, as bad weather often interferes with the celebration in the fall). It became an important strategic military center, ensuring the security of the local population throughout the 17th century-in 1614, 1617, 1657 and 1698, it repelled the raids of nomad tribes.

The city played an outstanding role not only in the history of Western Siberia, but also in the whole of Siberia. Founded at first as a small wooden fortress to protect the Eushta Tatars of the leader Toyan, it soon became the main center, the base from which groups of Cossacks were sent to visit “not peaceful lands” from the Altai mountains and the upper reaches of the Yenisei to the TRANS-Baikal steppes and the shores of the Pacific ocean. It was Tomsk service people who laid the first trails in this part of Siberia. Tomsk belonged to the number of arable cities and the first economic basis for its development was arable agriculture. But very soon there is a developed craft production. In 1625–1626 there were about 20 artisans in Tomsk, in 1655 there were already about 70, and in 1721–384 artisans of various specialties. The border functions of Tomsk fell into the background, and trade and crafts began to develop. First of all, we are talking about typical Siberian areas — leather, soap, blacksmithing and carpentry industries. A major role in this was played by the Moscow-Irkutsk highway, through which goods were exchanged in transit.

Tomsk. On the left is an old photo of the end of the XIX century, on the right is this street now, Lenin Avenue

Already in the first decades of the XVII century, Tomsk organized industrial iron production, one of the first in Siberia. Carpentry and wood processing have reached a high level of art. Tomsk architecture and wooden architecture of that time had a “ strict and at the same time picturesque silhouette, representative facades of houses, quality of construction and beautiful, masterful decor.

Tomsk today. Old wooden houses

Tomsk is an important trade and cultural center of Siberia of the XVII century. Already at the end of the 1620s, books were on sale in the city’s market. In the second half of the XVII century, the city chronicle appeared. Tomsk has always been a tolerant multi-ethnic city. The Tomsk military personnel included Belarusians, Ukrainians, poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Greeks, not to mention the indigenous representatives of the peoples of Siberia — Tatars, Kalmyks and Kirghiz.

In 1719, Tomsk was assigned to the Yenisei province, in 1726 — to the Tobolsk province, and in 1782 received the status of a regional city of the Tobolsk Viceroyalty. After the creation of the Siberian highway, which went from Moscow through Tomsk to Kyakhta (Transbaikalia), Tomsk became an important center of transit 1738, the Yamskaya service appeared in Tomsk. Gradually, the city grew to the status of a regional administrative center and in 1804 became the center of a huge Tomsk province, which included the territories of the present-day Republic of Altai, Altai territory, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk and Tomsk regions, East Kazakhstan region (Kazakhstan), Western parts of Khakassia and Krasnoyarsk territory.

Tomsk today. Voskresensky vzvoz
Voskresensky vzvoz, old foto

Starting from the middle of the XVIII century and up to the Soviet times, Tomsk became a place of exile. Prominent political figures, writers and poets came to exile. The Eastern part of the Russian Empire — Siberia, Transbaikalia and the far East-has traditionally been a place for hard labor and exile. Let me mention the difference between these two entities of penal correction in tsarist Russia:

Penal servitude is a measure of punishment that awards servile labor served in favor of the state by the most serious, from the point of view of the state, criminals. Those who committed criminal offences, including for political purposes, were sent to penal servitude in the first place, but they were still criminal. That is, convicts were thieves, murderers, robbers (or rather those who were recognized as such by the judicial system).

Exile, in contrast to hard labor, is a punishment that involves forcibly moving a person to a place of residence away from the” capitals “ of Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The link could be temporary or permanent. They were sentenced to exile for political reasons, from the point of view of the judicial system and the authorities that run it, “rebels, freethinkers and troublemakers”, that is, people who undermine the reputation and foundations of the regime of power by their activities. People were sent out, as they say, “out of sight — out of the heart here” — so that the capital’s secular society would not spread their “revolutionary” views and opinions.

Tomsk today. Embankment of the Ushaika river. On the left, the facade of the store “ 1000 little things”
an old photo of the same building

Exiled settlers were usually educated and provided for. Most often they were free-thinking representatives of the nobility, writers, poets, philosophers and thinkers. These people also significantly contributed to the development of Siberia with their knowledge, energy and thirst for activity.

The rapid growth of Tomsk began in the late 1830s due to the increased development of gold mines in the Tomsk and Yenisei provinces. In 1822–1863, the civil Governor of Tomsk was also the chief chief of the Altai mining plants. There was a Mining office in Tomsk. The commercial importance of Tomsk as the Central warehouse of large Russian firms grew due to the cheap waterway and the steamship company that developed strongly along the rivers of Western Siberia. In 1900, there were already 208 small factories.

Currently, the administration of the city of Tomsk is located in the building of the trading house “Kukhterin and sons”. And in 1937–1938, opposite the building was located the city Department of the NKVD, where prisoners were previously held (and tortured) before being sent to be shot in the Tomsk prison №3 of the local Department of the NKVD
An old photo from the same place, the trading house “Kukhterin and sons”, the beginning of the XX century. As you can see, there are many well-preserved historical places and buildings in Tomsk. Tourists have something to see here if you are interested in history!

However, at the same time, a key event occurred, which was small in essence, but radically changed the development and determined the current geopolitical and economic situation of Tomsk. During the construction of the TRANS-Siberian railway, which promised to become the largest and most important transport artery in Russia, the place for the bridge over the Ob river was chosen significantly South of Tomsk. The reason for this, as can be seen from the archive records, was the banal greed and desire for short-term benefits of the Guild of Tomsk merchants who controlled commodity exchange in Tomsk. They felt that an “independent” transport link to the city itself would reduce their influence. By hook or by crook, bribery and bribery, they have made justification the definition places the nearest station of the TRANS Siberian railway to 300 kilometers South of the city, hoping to obtain profits from the complete control of the resulting intermediate transport path and the transportation from Tomsk to new stations of their service equestrian carting. As a result, the settlement “Alexander settlement” was formed in the area of this crossing, which then grew into the current “capital of Siberia”, the largest city in the center of Russia, Novosibirsk. Tomsk turned out to be away from the railway, and although in 1896 a railway line was laid to Tomsk, it was a dead end and the city lost the importance of a transport hub, significantly reducing the pace of its development.

old photo of Tomsk, the Annunciation Cathedral

Nevertheless, life went on. In 1880, construction of the Siberian University building began in Tomsk. It was the Metropolitan academician A. K. Bruni who completed the architectural design of the main building of the educational institution. But even before the construction began, the famous University library was almost formed. One of the main donations for the library was made by Count A. G. Stroganov, a descendant of the oldest family of Russian Industrialists, who gave the future University a very significant book collection.

8 years later, in 1888, after the building was built, Emperor Alexander III ordered to open the 1st Tomsk University in Siberia. At the very beginning of its history, it had only one medical faculty, which enrolled 72 students and 2 freelancers. A huge role in the creation of the University was played by the famous Russian scientist V. M. Florinsky.

The first Technological Institute outside the Urals was opened in 1900. Today it is called the Polytechnic University. Then the teaching, medical, and construction institutes were opened.

Tomsk today. Tomsk State University is a prestigious educational institution in Russia.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Tomsk took the first place in Siberia in terms of the number of educational institutions (104 educational institutions of different levels). The cultural life of Tomsk was quite rich . It had 4 theaters, 5 cinemas, 7 libraries, three pleasure gardens, plus 4 Newspapers.

In General, to this day Tomsk is considered the cultural center of Siberia and the main student city in the center of the country, where thousands of not only Russian students, but also foreign students come to study every year.

In 1911, 1001 commercial enterprises and 189 factories were registered in the city. In total, the city covered 15 square kilometers. Its center was telephoned, electrified, and even had not only a water supply network, but also centralized heating. The population in the city increased to 110 thousand people of different faiths, as evidenced by 23 Orthodox churches, a Church, a Church, three synagogues and two mosques.

Tomsk today. Church Of The Resurrection. The Church was originally made of wood and was located on the territory of the assumption monastery, which was abolished in 1626. Its founder is the first Bishop of Tobolsk, Cyprian. Dilapidated due to frequent fires, the temple was decided to rebuild. In 1789, the stone Foundation of the Church was laid. The work was completed in 1807.

The events of the coup d’etat in Russia in 1917 and the civil war are topics for a separate and very voluminous scientific work. There are a lot of events and they are well documented. But I will not touch on this time in any detail. The review of a short story about Tomsk and its history is already very long, as I see.

Illustrated Appendix to the newspaper “Siberian life”. March 10, 1917

Soviet power in Tomsk was proclaimed on December 19, according to the new style of 1917. On February 8, 1918, the Tomsk Soviet dissolved the Siberian regional Duma. As a result of the mutiny of the Czechoslovak corps on may 31, 1918, Tomsk came under the control of the white guards, but on December 22, 1919, the Red Army finally established Soviet power in the city.

Captain of the Czechoslovak corps Radola Gayda (second from left) and Lieutenant Colonel of the white guard army Anatoly Pepelyaev (third from right). Summer of 1918
Removal of Royal symbols from buildings in Tomsk, photo taken on March 7, 1917

The period from 1918 to 1944 was a time of outright decline of Tomsk, the decline of its regional status, there was a powerful departure of the population to the fast-growing Novosibirsk and other cities located on the TRANS-Siberian railway. Tomsk itself fully felt what it is to be a simple сounty town.

During the Second World war, Tomsk was forced to receive a surge in industrial development — more than 30 defense factories were evacuated from the European part of the USSR to the city. During the war years, industrial production in the city increased several times.

Of course, like everywhere else, it was a very difficult time. According to the archives, almost 130 thousand people left Tomsk for the war years. This is almost 80% of men who can hold a weapon. Women also went to the front. Almost half, about 65 thousand of those who went to the front died heroically in the war with the fascist forces. In the evacuated factories, women, old men and children stood at the machines, who no less heroically, in the terrible conditions of wartime, lack of food, with absolute self-denial, for 12 hours on their feet in two shifts continuously, produced products that were so necessary for the Motherland, for the front. We watch films about soldiers-heroes of war, but sometimes we undeservedly forget these feats of simple weak hands left at home, who nevertheless created the Foundation of a common victory over fascism with superhuman efforts. My generation still remembers my parents ‘ stories about this difficult time.

photos of the period of the Second World War, at the machines working women, old men and children — all men at the front. The machine has to substitute a box so that the child can reach the work surface.

After the end of the great Patriotic war, new industries emerged in Tomsk-optical and mechanical, electrical, rubber, Metalworking and mechanical engineering, food and light industry.

Tomsk of the USSR, Lenin Avenue
Tomsk of the USSR, parade of the Soviet pioneer organization

The post-war development of the city and the region is largely associated with the beginning of industrial development of oil and gas fields. In August 1962, the first industrial inflow of oil was received.

In the 1990s, under the drunken gaze of a very democratic President, Boris Yeltsin, the country was actually thrown into a bloody massacre of “privatization”, plundered and plunged into the abyss of decline. In Tomsk, as in most Russian cities, there was a significant decline in industrial production, especially in machine-building, focused on military state orders, and in the uncompetitive light industry. The instrument plant and radio engineering plant ceased to exist, and the petrochemical plant, which changed its ownership several times, experienced problems. The economic situation improved after the default of 1998 and the subsequent recovery of the country’s economy. Perhaps one day I will make a separate post on my blog on the Medium platform, dedicated specifically to the dark times of the nineties.

Today Tomsk is considered a scientific and educational center aimed at high-tech industries. The main customers in this area today are organizations working in the field of oil and gas production and processing, energy, enterprises of the Rosatom state Corporation.

Tomsk today. River port

The agro-industrial sector of the region employs almost 1/5 of the working-age population of the region, mainly dairy and meat livestock. Crop production is focused on forage. Poultry and pig farming are developing dynamically. There is also a well-developed sphere of trade in the city.there are many retail chains, both local and regional, as well as Federal, shopping complexes and centers.

More than 600 thousand people live in Tomsk, which is about half of the population of the Tomsk region. Tomsk continues to be a city — forge of personnel and science for 100 years, annually producing 5 thousand specialists with higher education and the same number with secondary special education. Tomsk ranks third in the country in terms of the number of students in professional institutions per 10,000 residents.

Tomsk today. Komsomolsky prospect. old private wooden houses, still sometimes seen in modern areas, look in contrast to the defiant era of progress

The old districts of the city are surrounded by greenery. A memorial complex to the memory of those who fell during the Second World war was built in the Camp Garden.

Camp garden on the Bank of the Tom river. Monument to Soviet citizens who fell in World war II.

One of the main attractions of the city was the White lake, which is located within the city limits. This is one of the most popular vacation spots not only for the surrounding residents, but also for guests of the city. Restoration works are regularly carried out to restore temples and historically valuable buildings of the city.

Tomsk today. “White lake” in the center of the city.

Over 400 years, Tomsk has risen in importance, cultural, social and economic development to the level of cities in Central Russia. City buildings, in their appearance, are a mix of different architectural styles of different historical eras, this is the main tourist feature of the city.

Tomsk was granted the status of a historical city in 1991.

Despite the geographical location of Tomsk slightly away from the main tourist transport interchange, I am happy to invite travelers to visit us, take a walk along the old streets of Tomsk, visit our museums.

Traditionally, at the end of the post, I will add a random photo gallery that draws the modern look of the city:

city centre
night photo, Lenin street
Lenin square, the statue of Vladimir Ilyich and the Cathedral in one frame look symbolic — time equalizes and calms everything.
wedding Palace on Lenin street
Lenin street, city center.

It is quite unusual that the center is dominated by old low-rise buildings, usually in cities it is the opposite in the center of the city high-rise district and the private sector on the outskirts. However, residents of European old cities on the contrary are familiar with such urban development.

old wooden streets are a signature feature of Tomsk
old wooden streets are a signature feature of Tomsk
historical examples of old wooden architecture of Tomsk, tourist sites
Komsomolsky Prospekt, business center of Tomsk
Tomsk today, residential area “Sunflower”
Tomsk today. Residential area “Sunny”
Tomsk today. Older residential area “Kashtak”
Tomsk today. Outskirts of town, a residential area, “Bela Kuhn”, home of “Khrushchev’s” plan
night Tomsk, residential area
Tomsk today. Railway station, one of two in the city
Tomsk today. Old street
Tomsk today. Old street, the surviving stone lining the pavement

On YouTube, I came across a fairly recent English-language review of Tomsk. I attach a link to my post and say thank you to the author of the review.

My post turned out to be more of a historical reference and at the same time quite long. dear reader, write if you want to read a separate article about today’s Tomsk, describing the main tourist places and districts of the city. And thank you for your attention to my notes!

panorama of night Tomsk



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Hi! My name is Alex and I’m Russian :) And I live in a closed “atomic” city, somewhere in the depths of the Siberian taiga.