Ukek or Uvek, a city of the Golden Horde, was situated near the site of the modern city of Saratov from the mid-13th century until its destruction in 1395. The modern city was founded in 1590.
It traces its history to the reign of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich, who constructed several settlements along the Volga River in order to secure the southeastern boundary of his state. During the summer of 1586, the fortress of Samara was founded, followed byTsaritsyn in 1589 and finally Saratov, located midway between Samara and Tsaritsyn, in 1590.
Saratov was built at the insistence of count Grigory Zasekin. All three forts were located in a region where the Volga and the Donflow nearest one another, which allowed the Duchy of Moscovy to secure both rivers and to ensure control over the recently annexed khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan in the years following the Livonian War.
The future town’s buildings were first constructed in the upper reaches of the Volga, a full year prior to the in situ foundation of Saratov. In the spring of 1590, workers disassembled the constructions, marked each log, and delivered the «town» to its destination via the river. This method allowed the buildings to be rapidly erected in just a few weeks.
The name Saratov may derive from the Turkic words Saryk Atov, which mean «hawks’ island». Another version of the name origin is Sary Tau (Сары Тау), meaning «yellow mountain» in the Tatar language.
By the 1800s, Saratov had grown to be an important shipping port on the Volga. The Ryazan-Ural Railroad reached Saratov in 1870. In 1896 (26 years later), the line crossed the Volga and continued its eastward expansion. A unique train-ferry, owned by the Ryazan-Ural railroad, provided the connection across the river between the two parts of the railroad for 39 years, before the construction of a railway bridge in 1935.
During World War II, Saratov was a station on the North-South Volzhskaya Rokada, a specially designated military railroad providing troops, ammunition and supplies to Stalingrad.
Until the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Saratov was designated a «closed city», that is, strictly off limits to all foreigners due to its military importance. This was due to the presence of a vital military aircraft manufacturing facility in the city.
Saratov Oblast is highly industrialized, due in part to the rich in natural and industrial resources of the area. The oblast is also one of the more important and largest cultural and scientific centers in Russia. Saratov possesses six institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, twenty-one research institutes, nineteen project institutes, as well as the Saratov State University, the Saratov State Socio-Economic University, the Saratov State Technical University, and many scientific and technological laboratories attached to some of the city’s large industrial enterprises.
One of the city’s most prominent landmarks is the 19th century neo-Gothic Conservatory. When it was built in 1912, the Conservatory was Russia’s third such institution (after Moscow and St. Petersburg). At the time, Saratov, with a population of 240,000, was the third-largest city in Russia.
Saratov is noted for several art museums, including the Radischev Art Museum, named for Alexander Radishchev. It contains more than 20,000 exhibits, including ancient Russian icons, as well as works by some of the finest Russian painters (e.g. Aleksandra Ekster, Pavel Kuznetsov, Aristarkh Lentulov, Robert Falk, Pyotr Konchalovsky, Martiros Saryan, Fyodor Rokotov).