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The City of Naberezhniye Chelny


Administrative Center: Naberezhniye Chelny
Area: 171.03 sq.km
Population: 516,600


For thousands of Soviet workers, the Kama shores were something similar to America for European settlers — a modern symbol of a new life. In the 1970s, young people flocked here from across the vast Soviet Union in search of a new meaning in their lives. The whole country was then building the Kama Automobile Plant, the last all-Russian Komsomol construction site.

Many erroneously believe that the history of Naberezhniye Chelny began only several decades ago, when the foundation if the automobile plant had been laid. But this is not actually the case. Chelny is a city with its history spanning several centuries. According to archival documents, Russian chronicles mentioned Chelny as early as 1626. They tell a story of a group of Yelabuga farmers led by Fyodor Popov who crossed the Kama and settled on the Ufa side, squatting on lands long abandoned by previous residents: "having crossed the Kama, they moved into houses already built." The earliest sources refer to this settlement as Chelninsky pochinok (hamlet).

Local historians and etymologists believe that the name ‘Chelny’ has nothing in common with the Russian ‘choln’ (small boat), but is a cognate of the Bolgar roots: ‘chal’ in old Turkic dialects meant ‘stone’dialect means "stone", and ‘chally’, ‘a stone building’ or ‘fortress’.

By mid-17th century Chelninsky pochinok had about 10 other hamlets around it, all in all over 300 homesteads. In 1650, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich ordered a construction of Cossack Chelninsky fort at the confluence of the Chalna and Kama to protect the hamlets and parishes from being attacked by Kalmyk and Nogai tribes. According to some surviving accounts, these places were considered extremely rich and picturesque. Chronicles mention countless lakes surrounded by wild forests rich in game. These days, most of the lakes have been flooded by the construction of Nizhnekamsk reservoir or filled in and built over. Of special value were the pine forests — Bolshoi and Maly Bor near Elabuga, ship groves on both banks of the Kama River, including the Borovetskaya Grove. After Kazan Admiralty had been founded by Peter I, the grove was declared state property. It was here that pine trees were felled for the construction of ships in Kazan and Astrakhan.

The KamAZ-Master team — multiple winners of the international Paris-Dakar rally

Today, the Kyzyl-Tau forest has replaced the Borovetskaya grove. It is the only place in the Middle Volga where, due to changes in the course of the river, the taiga (boreal forest) has crossed into the left bank of the Kama covered by the wooded steppes. A rare species for our climate — the spruce — also grows here in abundance. Both Bolshoi Bor and Kyzyl-Tau have been recognized as regional-level landmarks of nature and are parts of the Lower Kama national park.

By the start of the 20th century, Berezhniye Chelny was a rich trading settlement with over a thousand residents. Dvoryanskaya — its main street, partially preserved as the present-day Tsentralnaya — featured two-storied wooden and stone houses. Traditionally, the ground floor of a merchant’s house featured shops, and the upper floor, the family’s living quarters. Offices of the largest shipping companies of the Volga-Kama basin, as well as homes of influential grain merchants, were located in the village. In 1912-1917, Chelny saw the construction of Russia’s third largest grain elevator. The village started resembling a town, with its commercial area and administrative institutions, with its urban planning.

Ever since the 1860s, proposals have been repeatedly made to merge Berezhniye and Mysoviye Chelny into a town, which would succeed Menzelinsk as the local uezd center. In early 20th century the name Naberezhniye Chelny gradually superseded the historic original form, Berezhniye Chelny.

A favorable geographical location and large stocks of grain and other foodstuffs had made Chelny and the present-day Tukayevsky rayon a desired prize for both Red and White Armies during the Civil War.

Many well-known military figures took part in the fierce battles on either side. Fighting against the “White Czechs” and the army of Admiral Kolchak, such legendary heroes of the Eastern Front and the Volga-Kama flotilla made themselves famous here as Vassily I. Chapayev and Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky.

Naberezhnye Chelny has been promoted to the status of a town less than a century ago — in 1930. For the last decades, it has achieved the status of Tatarstan’s second city. Its name became internationally known, together with the story of its rapid economic development, during the “golden decade” when it transformed from a provincial trading town into a Russian version of Motor City.

Early in 1960, the city began preparing for the giant construction by commissioning a cellular concrete plant, Nizhnekamsk hydropower station and a brick factory. On July 14, 1969 Naberezhniye Chelny received a state inspection to review and approve the final choice of the KamAZ construction site. Near the old Menzelinsk road, a boulder was placed with an inscription coming as if from a Russian fairy tale: "On this spot, the Kama Automobile batyr [warrior hero] will rise."

Half a year later, on December 13, 1969, all the radio stations of the USSR broadcast the much-expected news: dredgerman Mikhail Noskov first dug into the frozen soil and the construction of KamAZ began.

The construction was promoted by the Komsomol nationwide, and the plant was completed in record time. At the end of February 1974, the final 50-ton block of the automobile construction line was installed. KamAZ was equipped with cutting-edge technics and facilities purchased from over 700 foreign companies, including Swindell-Dresler and Holcroft from the USA, Busch and Hueller from Germany, Morando and Fata from Italy, Renault from France, Sandvik from Sweden, Komatsu and Hitachi from Japan. 16 February 1976 marked the first day when the main conveyor started work in adjustment mode. The same year, the first “KamAZ 0000001 model 5320, a drop-side truck" was released.

The plant steadily built momentum, and two years later, in August 1978, the 50000th truck car rolled off the production line. Exactly ten years later, in 1988, a millionth car was assembled.

To keep high the spirit of the young Motor City, many famous people came to Chelny to meet and talk to the workers. Especially memorable were the visits of the great poet and actor Vladimir Vysotsky. His visits always gathered thousands of spectators and were later commemorated with a monument on one of the city’s squares: a silhouette of a musician with a guitar seems to be singing a song to the eternally young city, as if coming back to life in the twilight...

The construction of KamAZ meant the start of a new city. Soviet Union’s best architects were invited to design its new neighborhoods and districts. The first 12-storey residential building for the pioneers of KamAZ construction was commissioned in 1971. The plan was to increase the city's population tenfold: from a little less than 30,000 to 500,000. This involved a large-scale social experiment: comfortable accommodation, medical and educational institutions, sporting and cultural facilities, as well as all required infrastructure had to be built at unprecedented speed. Each year, 40,000 young professionals and their families moved to Chelny. The city had to satisfy their requirements and meet their needs adequately. The efforts of city planners were in the end fully appreciated at Russian and international architectural shows and contests. Naberezhniye Chelny will impress you with the simplicity, functionality and aesthetic elegance of the city’s urban design, its roads and highways.

The total area of the giant plant’s buildings and structures had reached 3,300,000 sq. m by the start of the 1990s. Its constituent factories and production lines had over 30 million units of hi-tech equipment, including 20,000 industrial units worth more than 2 billion rubles, half of which was bought outside the USSR. More than 81% of the equipment was running on automatic and semi-automatic cycles.

During the tenth year of production (1987), a new line was set up for production of the Oka compact cars. The first sample was on 21 December of the same year. By 1994, the production line has been assigned to a new compact automobile factory. The overall financial and economic study of the company’s performance held in 1988 showed that since the start of production, the Soviet Union had received around RUB 8 bln in operational revenue only.

That means that in less than ten years KamAZ had fully recovered all investments incurred by its construction. With its production accounting for a third of the country's truck fleet, KamAZ could also take pride in that its trucks carried up to two-thirds of all goods transported by road. In 1990, KamAZ became one of the pioneers of capitalist transformation in Soviet Russia, setting up a joint-stock partnership known as KamAZ OJSC.

One day in April 1993 a piece of terrible news shocked the city: the giant engine plant, the heart of KamAZ, was on fire. The fire fully destroyed its main production line, together with sophisticated manufacturing equipment. The engine plant was devastated.

The damage to Russia’s automobile production was huge, but thanks to the support from the governments of Tatarstan and the Russian Federation, the company managed to overcome the direst consequences of the catastrophe and quickly rebuild the plant’s capacity. As soon as in December 1993, the engine plant was reopened and the production flow resumed.

KamAZ JSC is the largest manufacturer of diesel trucks and diesel engines in Russia. It also produces buses, tractors, combine harvesters, electrical equipment, mini-thermal power plants and related components. As of 2012, the KamAZ group of companies is rated 16th among the world producers of heavy trucks. By 2010, the plant ranked 8th world largest producer of diesel engines. By that time the plant had already began the production of agricultural and road-building equipment under the brand name CNH (Case New Holland, owned by FIAT Group, is one of the world's leading manufacturers of agricultural and construction machinery). According to the agreement, KamAZ OJSC and CNH set up a joint venture, CNH-KamAZ Industrial BV, which is supposed to produce up to 4,000 units of machinery a year: combine harvesters, several types of tractors and construction equipment. The year 2011 saw a steady increase in sales.

Both the city and the company have gone a long way from its inception, but neither political crises, nor abrupt changes in the economic system have brought the enthusiasts to their knees. The development and the upward drive never ceased, and on February 15, 2012 Naberezhniye Chelny celebrated the release of the 2,000,000th KamAZ-6522.

This beautiful and modern city is full of wonderful and amazing locations created by talented architects. The new skyline of Chelny is dominated by a 24-storied tower of the 2/18 Business Center. Popularly known as “the Skullcap" for its distinctive roof ledge painted in the colors of Tatarstan’s national flag, the business center is clearly visible from anywhere in Naberezhniye Chelny. The construction of the tower began in the 1980s, but was later suspended due to economic instability. The incomplete “skullcap” had become a symbol of Motor city’s “return to the normal”. Residents were actively discussing the fate of this ambitious architectural project. One of the most unusual ideas was to redesign the tower as the world's largest beer can. The President of Tatarstan offered to have the building sold for the symbolic price of one ruble to a local businesswoman provided that she would complete the construction and commission the tower.

However, the city was found to have no need for so many hotel rooms or offices at this point. Things changed by 2006, when a team of British investors helped complete and restyle the hi-tech tower as the City Center Hotel. Since 2008, the tower has become an indelible element of Chelny skyline. No tour of the city can be considered complete without a visit to "the Skullcap", to take a breathtaking view of the city.

The young city lives a life rich in culture and sports. A lovely art gallery and 7 other city museums have opened their doors to all lovers of art. Connoisseurs of theater will appreciate the repertory of local Tatar and Russian theaters. Young audience are always welcome at the Kluch (Key) Youth theater, the puppet theater, and, perhaps, the best dolphinarium in the Volga region. People of Chelny can discover and develop their talents at the City School of Theatrical Arts, Children and Youth Creativity Center and a variety of other clubs and schools. A wonderful organ hall is everybody’s favorite concert venue.

Graduates of Chelny schools and colleges are now able to continue their education right in their native city, where the choice of universities and institutions is enormous. The list, by no means complete, includes Chelny Social and Pedagogical Institute of Technology and Resources, the state-run Trade and Technology Institute, Institute of Management, the Regional Institute of Advanced Technology and business, the Kama Institute of Art and Design and some others. The city has a dozen branch institutes of the most prestigious Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow universities, such as Kazan (Volga region) Federal University, the A.N. Tupolev Kazan State Technical University, Moscow Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities, Russian International Academy of Tourism.

The young city, as it is characteristic of youth, is focused on sports. The legendary KamAZ-Master rally team made the city internationally known.

The KamAZ-Master crews have 10 times won the Dakar (formerly known as Paris — Dakar) rally. But racing is not the only sport where to people of Chelny have made a contribution. FC KamAZ is one of the leaders of the National Football League. Ice hockey is one of the most popular and favorite sports. Its popularity goes back to 1970, when the Power Plant Township built a small ice rink in the local park. Long-time residents of Motor city remember the visit of the 1972 Olympic delegation, when the stars of Soviet hockey, including Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Shadrin, Boris Mayorov and Igor Romishevsky, gave an ice hockey master class in the Grenada Park. The first ice hockey rink was constructed over just a few days to honor the Olympic winners. The city gave their sporting idols a standing ovation and an impressive reception! Thousands of cheering spectators gathered in the open air. Today, the children and grandchildren of "people of the sixties" go to the training sessions and attend games in the brand new Ice Arena and prepare for new victories. Knowing the special character of Naberezhniye Chelny and its people, there are no doubts that the best achievements and victories for the city are yet to come!