Administrative center: Menzelinsk
Area: 1923.5 sq.km
The valleys of the rivers Belaya, Kama, Ik and Menzelya were once used as the northern bypasses of the Great Silk Road. The path of the trading caravans lay through a small settlement that stood on the site of present-day Menzelinsk ("menzil" is Arabic for a unit of distance equal to 40-45 kilometers, or one day’s pass). This settlement gave its name to the local river, and then to the modern town.
Where the waves of the Ik roll, as I know it from childhood,
By the green willows, the day passes as a minute.
There is always more fun here with my friends than at home.
Silence and the vast expanse call my heart up to the sky.
Oh, what bliss! It cannot be better than here…
Menzelinsky rayon is located in the north-eastern part of the Republic of Tatarstan, near its borders with Bashkortostan and Udmurtia. Its neighbors are Muslyumovsky, Tukayevsky, Sarmanovsky and Aktanyshsky rayon.
In ancient times, most of the Eastern Trans-Kama region was covered by meadow steppes and dry meadows, with broad-leaved forests on the watersheds between the rivers. Such topography proved good for the life of primitive herdsmen, hunters, fishermen and gatherers. Almost all of the flood-free sand dunes by the stream of old rivers have preserved remains of ancient settlements, such as the ones near the villages of Deukovo, Tulubayevo, Podgorny Bailar, Novoye Masino, Kuzkeyevo.
The Menzelinsk ostrog was the largest fort in the Old Trans-Kama Abatis Line. It gave rise to the town itself, which was founded in mid-17th century on the then Bashkir border. Menzelinsk’s first settlers were a hundred streltsy (soldiers), who began the construction of the Trans-Kama Abatis Line to strengthen the eastern boundary of the state. In 1665, 124 families of the Polish Smolensk gentry were transferred to Menzelinsk by the decree of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. Their descendants still live in the area.
The easternmost outpost on the defense line proved to be a very valuable fortification. In late 17th and early 18th century Menzelinsk found itself in the center of a series of Tatar and Bashkir rebellions, and was an important stronghold of government troops. One of the few historical sites that have survived from those days is the Menzelinsk jail where many troublemakers were harshly dealt with. Pugachev’s rebel army repeatedly besieged the fort and tried to assault it several times in 1773 – 1775. Unlike many other fortifications, Menzelinsk withstood the attacks of the rebels.
In the aftermath of the rebellion Catherine the Great tried to provide additional power to local authorities in the region by establishing the Ufa Vicegerency. Consequently, Menzelinsk was established as an uezd town under the power of Ufa on October 23, 1781.
In 1878, a huge fire devastated the city, leaving the local cathedral, a monastery and a few stone buildings alone standing amidst the smoking debris. However, the city was quickly rebuilt again.
Due to its favorable geographic location close to the Kama, this trading city grew and developed very fast. At the end of the 19th it already had six churches, a convent, a school of agriculture, a four-grade primary school and a zemstvo-run hospital. The industry was represented by a brewery and meadmaker’s, an alcohol distillery, a molasses and match factories and a brickyard. The city center has retained some of the buildings erected by 19th century merchants, which give the town a distinct image. Right in the center an Orthodox church and a Muslim mosque stand side by side – an old and unique neighborhood. Both the Great Mosque and St. Nicholas’ Cathedral (built in 1831) are recognized as landmarks of architecture and the gems of the Menzelinsk architecture.
But above all, the city was famous for its fairs, which were the talk not only of the Russian Empire, but of foreign countries as well. The Grand Menzelinsk Fair was considered to rank fourth in trade turnover after the Makaryev, Novgorod and Irbit fairs. Leading merchants sold cloth, furs, horses and agricultural stock at the fair’s respective General trade, Horse, Fish and Forestry shopping streets. Caravans flocked to Menzelinsk from across Russia, and even as far as Central Asia and Iran.
Fairs were held three times a year under three different names.
The Summer Fair of St. Elijah fell on 3 - 5 August and featured the local crafts - wheels, barrels, glassware and other farming utensils as well as honey, beeswax and other apicultural equipment.
The Autumn Fair was held 3 - 17 October, with an emphasis on seasonal goods: hides, agricultural stock, foodstuffs and local craftwork.
The largest in turnover and the number of merchants and buyers, as well as the most abundant in goods was the Christmas Fair. In line with the ruling of the Gubernia Zemstvo Assembly, since 1906 it was held between December 28 and January 9 (Old Style). Agricultural stock and furs were the specialty of the winter fair.
The regional trade turnover in the Menzelinsky uezd was one of the largest in the whole gubernia and reached RUB 876,000. For instance, in Orenburg uezd which included a capital city of a gubernia it stood only at RUB 90,000.
It were the prominent local merchants that filed a petition for the construction of a railway line to serve the fair at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1914, the construction of the famous bridge across the river Menzelya began. Legend has it that one of the rivets in the bridge is made of pure gold. Local residents call it Catherine’s Bridge, linking the construction to the name of Catherine the Great. The city actually had an older bridge rebuilt for the visit of Catherine II, but the Empress never set foot on it. She also never got to see a long birch alley that was planted days before her intended visit.
NB Since the 1930s, residents of Menzelinsk have had the pleasure of attending their own theater.
A sea of greenery rose in a matter of days, and all the birch-trees were thirty-year-old white beauties. Why did Catherine fail to come to the town? There is no answer in the annals of history… The bridge across the Menzelya remains unfinished even now: the outbreak of the World War One, and then of the Revolution and Civil War gave up on the construction on the railway line. The bridge, never used for its intended purpose, still leads into the middle of nowhere, and has since become a symbol of the city.
Since the 1930s, residents of Menzelinsk have had the pleasure of attending their own theater. Menzelinsk Tatar Drama Theatre is named after its founder, first director and producer, Meritorious Artist of Tatarstan Sabir Gadelzyanovich Amutbayev. The city’s economic and cultural development, as well as many social projects, were masterminded and implemented by the head of the rayon, Hero of Labor, the legendary Magsum Shaigazzamovich Husainov.
In 1963, the rayon established a military museum, and in 1990, a local history museum as a branch of the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan. The museum collections have over 5,000,000 various items, including exhibits on local history, archeology, paleontology, natural history and the culture of past and present.
The town has many monuments. One of them is devoted to Mussa Jalil, the poet and World War II hero. Jalil stayed at Menzelinsk while studying at the school of political officers, before being sent to the battlefront. While traveling through the area, you will recall Jalil’s verses:
As a stream flowing down the valley,
I sang songs now and then on my way.
And it seemed all the time that my songs
Made the land around me bloom and rejuvenate…
Many an artist has professed sincere love for their native land in their works. Among the natives of Menzelinsky rayon who wrote or sang about their homeland are Rashit Garay, Mars Shabayev, Roman Solntsev, Fannur Safin, Salisa Garaeva, Alexander Malygin, Nazym Habibullin, Vil Habibullin. The renowned painter Vadim Aksenov has captured the beauty of Menzelinsk in his masterpieces, which his countrymen admire. He was able to reveal the remarkable beauty of the Menzelinsk vistas, creeks and backwaters, sunsets, trying to preserve the landscapes he saw as a child for the next generations.
Apart from a rich history, the rayon has brilliant prospects. Menzelinsk has a significant economic, cultural and educational capability. The town is getting more beautiful; many comfortable cottages and apartments are built with improved layout and infrastructure.
One of the most important sectors of the rayon’s economy is its agriculture. The rayon has more than 82 farms, over 50 of which are in private individual ownership. The cultivated crops include spring wheat, winter rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, peas and millet. The main focuses of livestock breeding are meat and dairy cattle, sheep and poultry farming. People of the area for many centuries have been farming grain and breeding stock, and were among the leaders in agricultural production. The recent growth in agriculture has been possible thanks to an increase in the area of winter crops, livestock expansion, purchase of new equipment and introduction of new technologies by the generous private investors.
The administration of the rayon guarantees optimal conditions for a successful business of a potential investor, including quick problem-solving, transparency of all issues, and open dialogue.