Astrakhan is one of the oldest Russian towns situated in the South of Russia, in the delta of the Volga River. It was founded in 1558 after being formerly the capital of Tatar khanate governed by Timur (Tamerlane) and Ivan's IV the Terrible conquest in 1556. Being located in the north of the Caspian Sea, it was a part of the Great Silk Way and played an important role as a meeting point for different civilizations connecting West and East. Astrakhan cathedral and castle (nowadays Astrakhan Kremlin with its magnificent tower-clock) that were built in 1582–89 still exist. There you can visit Pokrovsky cathedral, St. Vladimir cathedral, various catholic and Muslim churches. It’s a city of bridges and water channels; it has an important role as a river port, also famous for its fishing industry, caviar-preserving, ship repair and Astrakhan karakul furs.
Saray Batu, famous as the Golden Horde capital, is situated in the steppe, on the Akhtuba river, 140 km from Astrakhan. It was founded in the 1250s and from those times various Rus' princes pledged allegiance to the Khan and received his patent of authority (yarlyk) there. In other words, it was the most important political and afterwards economic center of the Golden Horde.
The travelers that visit Astrakhan during late spring/early summer can enjoy the opportunity to visit the world's saltiest lake Baskunchak and to swim in its salty water. It’s often called by the locals as “Holy Lake” or “the Lake of Tears”. It is said to have healing powers that are greater than those of the Dead Sea! The Big Bogdo is a unique mountain built up entirely of salt and it’s 151 meter tall! It has about 30 caves inside. Some of these caves can measure over 1 km in length and over 30 meters in depth.
A 1,5-hour drive from Astrakhan you can discover Altynzhar that is recognized as a historical center of Khazakh culture. There you will find the White Mausoleum and Kurmangaza house that serves as a memorial to the life and art of world-famous musician and poet Kurmangaza. All the other museums give insight into the lives and cultural traditions of local people with expositions that cover every aspect starting from national dresses and ending at interiors of houses.
Elista (capital of Kalmyikiya)
For inveterate travelers we can advise a 3-hour drive trip from Astrakhan to Elista which is the capital of the Republic of Kalmyikiya. This town is a world-wide famous place of buddhist pilgrimage, it’s also known as «chess-city» because of the 23-rd 26th Chess Olympiad that took place there. Amongst other sightseeing places are the central Buddhist cathedral with the tallest in Europe (9 meters!) statue of Buddha, also «the Golden Gate», various sculptures and architectural landmarks.