"On the second day after our departure from Ekaterinburg, as we were passing through a rather open forest between the villages of Markova and Tugulimskaya, our driver suddenly pulled up his horses, and turning to us said, " Vot granitsa " [Here is the boundary]. We sprang out of the tdrantds and saw, standing by the roadside, a square pillar ten or twelve feet in height, of stuccoed or plastered brick, bearing on one side the coat-of-arms of the European province of Perm, and on the other that of the Asiatic province of Tobolsk. It was the boundary post of Siberia. No other spot between St. Petersburg and the Pacific is more full of painful suggestions, and none has for the traveler a more melancholy interest than the little opening in the forest where stands this grief -consecrated pillar. Here hundreds of thousands of exiled human beings — men, women, and children ; princes, nobles, and peasants — have bidden good-by forever to friends, country, and home. Here, standing beside the square white boundary post, they have, for the last time, looked backward with love and grief at their native land, and then, with tear-blurred eyes and heavy hearts, they have marched away into Siberia to meet the unknown hardships and privations of a new life.
No other boundary post in the world has witnessed so much human suffering, or been passed by such a multitude of heart-broken people. More than 170,000 exiles have traveled this road since 1878, and more than half a million since the beginning of the present century. In former years, when exiles were compelled to walk from the places of their arrest to the places of their banishment, they reached the Siberian boundary post only after months of toilsome marching along muddy or dusty roads, over forest-clad mountains, through rain-storms or snow-storms, or in bitter cold. As the boundary post is situated about half-way between the last European and the first Siberian etape, it has always been customary to allow exile parties to stop here for rest and for a last good-by to home and country.
The Russian peasant, even when a criminal, is deeply attached to his native land ; and heart-rending scenes have been witnessed around the boundary pillar when such a party, overtaken, perhaps, by frost and snow in the early autumn, stopped here for a last farewell. Some gave way to unrestrained grief ; some comforted the weeping ; some knelt and pressed their faces to the loved soil of their native country, and collected a little earth to take with them into exile ; and a few pressed their lips to the European side of the cold brick pillar, as if kissing good-by forever to all that it symbolized."
George Kennan. Siberia and the Exile System (1891)
Just in case you mistakenly heard that it was all ice and snow in Russia, take a peek at the Big Bikini Exposition. This is right on the river Moskva in Moscow!Moscow has been the capital of Russia for almost its entire history. The exception is during the period of the Russian Empire, which lasted from 1721 until the Russian Revolution 1917. For these two centuries the capital was St. Petersburg. The Russian Empire was the second largest contiguous Empire in world memory; only the Mongol Empire had been greater.Check out what's happening north of Mongolia these days, in ChitaAlthough you may not have heard of Sochi, on the Black Sea, they're building up quickly and hope to host the 2014 Olympics.Other periods of Russian history include the Tsardom of Russia, from Ivan IV to Peter the Great, and the Grand Duchy (14th-16th centuries).The earliest period of Russian history was ruled by the Novgorod Republic and Kievan Rus, which was the first Russian state dating back to 800AD in Kiev.Modern Russia remains one of the world's superpowers. They launched the earth's second satellite, called Sputnik 1, and were the first country to put a human being into orbit around earth. (The first one is called the Moon.)After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia became a federal republic of 83 states.Text by Steve Smith.