Illustrated Description Of Russia

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Throughout the whole of the Black sea there are scarcely any rocks, and almost everywhere are excellent anchoring-places. Storms are rare, and, when they do occur, are of short duration, seldom lasting more than twelve hours without considerable abatement. During the summer, north winds prevail, and south in the beginning of autumn and spring. The former frequently detain vessels from the Mediterranean in the Dardanelles and Bosphorus for weeks together. The currents of the Black sea generally have a tendency toward the Bosphorus or channel of Constantinople. There is no flow of tide in this sea, the slight difference of elevation that occasionally occurs arising solely from the winds and currents. The southern coast of the Crimea, and the coast of Anatolia or Asia Minor, and Caucasia, abound in lofty mountains, which rise up immediately from the margin of the sea, and afford excellent landmarks. On the northwest and north, the coast is generally low, and on this account dangerous, as it can be seen only from a very short distance. Harbors and bays are numerous, and many of them good; but there are none of any great extent. Those that penetrate deepest into the land are the gulf of Kerkinet on the north, between the Crimea and the mainland; the gulfs of Rassein and Burgas on the west, and those of Sinope and Samsoon on the south. There are no remarkable projections or headlands, excepting those formed by the western and southern extremities of the Crimea, and Capes Indjeh and Bozdepeh in Anatolia. The Black sea communicates with the Mediterranean by the Bosphorus (or channel or strait of Constantinople), the sea of Marmora, and the Dardanelles.

There are few fisheries of any importance carried on in the Black sea although it abounds with various kinds of fish, including porpoises, sturgeons, dolphins, mackerel, mullet, bream, &c. Seals, also, are numerous. One of the most extensive fisheries is at the entrance of the strait of Enikaleh, where considerable quantities of sturgeon are taken. The northern ports are frequently shut up by ice for three or four months in the year, or from about December to March.

The Black sea extended, at a remote period, much farther east and north than it now does, occupying the whole of the vast plains and steppes that surround the Caspian and the sea of Aral, in Tartary, neither of which had then a separate existence, being included in this great inland sea. The relative level of the Black sea, with the Caspian on the one hand and the ocean on the other, were, long undetermined points, but seem now to be pretty well ascertained. It has been found that the Caspian is one hundred and one feet lower than the Black sea, and that the latter is precisely of the same level as the ocean.

The Black sea was explored at an early period by the Greeks, who, from their ignorance of the arts of navigation and shipbuilding, represented it as beset with dangers of the most formidable kind; and who, it has been said, gave it the name of "Black" sea (Pontus Euxinus), as expressive of the dread and terror in which they held it—a feeling further manifested by their .placing the Cimmerian land of everlasting darkness on its northern shore. Having gathered courage from experience, the d-reeks, at a later period, formed numerous establishments along its shores, from which they carried on an extensive trade in slaves, cattle, and grain; and to this day their vessels are the most numerous in the Black sea, the greater part being employed in exporting the grain, hides, timber, iron, and furs, of Bussia, and in importing wine and fruits, and the manufactures'of England and France.

The sea of Azov (called by the Russians More Asowskoe, and by the Latins Palus Moeotis) forms the northern subdivision of the Black sea, with which it is connected by the strait of Kertsch or Enikaleh (anciently the Cimmerian Bosphorus). Its length, from southwest to northeast (from the strait of Kertsch to the mouth of the Don), is one hundred and sixty-eight miles; its average breadth, about eighty miles; and its area, about fourteen thousand square miles. The northern coast is, for the most part, bold and craggy, rising about one hundred feet above the water; the eastern coast, inhabited by Cossacks, is very low, chiefly sandy, and intersected with lakes and morasses; the western coast is formed by the tongue of sa,nd, called the Tongue of Arabat, which divides it from the Sibache More, or Putrid sea; while the Crimea, and the territory of the Cossacks of the Black sea, form the southern shore, on which, here and there, are some hills, visible a considerable distance. Its greatest depth, between Enikaleh and Bielosaria, on the northern shore, is about eight fathoms; and it diminishes considerably toward the gulf of Don, several banks extending a great distance from the shore. The water is muddy, and, from the numerous rivers running into it, almost fresh.

The sea of Azov has no remarkable current, the strongest never running more than one mile an hour; the navigation is generally stopped from November to March by ice. Perhaps no body of water of equal extent so abounds with fish; the principal fisheries are along the southern coast, between Cape Dolgava and the strait of Enikaleh, the sturgeon,- sterlet, and other fish, from which are prepared, in large quantities, both caviare and isinglass. The extreme western part of the sea of Azov, called the Putrid sea, is, during the greater part of the year, little better than a noxious quagmire, and, at all times, wholly useless for navigation. The strait of Enikaleh is about eleven miles long, and four broad, though the navigable channel never exceeds one mile in breadth. A new island was raised in the sea of Azov, in 1814, by volcanic eruptions. The chief towns on its banks are Taganrog and Marioupol, on the northern shore, and Kertsch, on the western shore of the strait of the same name. The commerce of the seaof Azov has been much hindered, not only by the impossibility of navigating it during four months of the year, but also by the extensive activity of Odessa, which has deprived it of much of its trade.

The Caspian sea (called by the ancients Mare Caspium, or Syrcanium) lies between the thirty-sixth and forty-eighth degrees of north latitude, and the forty-sixth and fifty-fifth degrees of east longitude. Its greatest length, from north to south, is seven hundred and thirty miles ; its greatest breadth, at its southern part, about latitude forty-five degrees north, is two hundred and seventy miles ; its narrowest part is between Cape Apsheron in Europe, and Cape Tarta in Asia, being one hundred and fifty miles. It is bounded on the north and west by Russia and Persia, east by the Kirghiz steppe and Khiva, and south by Persia. Its area is about one hundred and forty thousand square miles, draining, in Europe alone, an extent of eight hundred and fifty thousand square miles. Although, at some points, the Caspian attains a considerable deptr, Hanway having in one place found no bottom at four hundred and eighty fathoms, it is remarkable for its shallowness generally, especially along its shores, where it seldom exceeds three feet for a distance of one hundred yards from the land. Its eastern and western coasts, particularly the former, are deeply indented with bays and gulfs, while the southern shores are almost unbroken.

The Caspian contains numerous islands, but not many of any great extent. The largest are on the Asiatic side, the greatest number on the European, particularly about the mouths of the Volga, and along the coasts to the northeast and southwest of them, where they lie closely crowded together in countless numbers, most of them however, being mere islets.

The waters of the Caspian are salt, but not nearly so much so as those of the ocean. It has no tides, and no outlets, its superfluous waters being carried off solely by evaporation. Sturgeons and sterlets are caught in great quantities ; and there are also salmon-trout, perch, two kinds of carp, and porpoises. Seals abound in the upper coasts, and tortoises between the mouths of the Volga and the Ural. Many thousand persons are employed in the Russian upper Caspian fisheries, near Astrakhan, who take annually upward of seven hundred thousand sturgeons and about one hundred thousand, seals.

The only ports at all worthy of the name, on or near the Caspian, are Astrakhan, Bakou, Salian, and Astrabad. The navigation is at all times difficult, and often perilous. Steam-packets on it have recently been established by the Russians. Persia is bound, by treaty stipulations with Russia, not to equip or maintain any naval force on this sea.

The notices of early commerce upon or by way of the Caspian are few and uncertain. Even for several centuries after the Christian era, its authentic trading records are nearly a blank. The chief portion of the commerce between, western Europe and India was carried on partly by its waters, about the middle of the thirteenth century—Astrakhan, on the upper Caspian, and Soldaia, nearly in the same latitude, on the Black sea, forming the chief entrepots till 1280, when the latter was superseded, through the exertions of the Genoese, for their own establishment at Kaffa; which then became the transit station for the Asiatic-European trade, and so continued till 1453, when the Turks, having seized Constantinople, and barred the Bosphorus, the accustomed trade was forced into, other channels, and the Caspian deserted, except by the few vessels which carried on a small local trade between Muscovy, Persia, and central Asia.

About 1560, an English trading-company endeavored to open up connections, by way of the Caspian, with Persia and Turcomania, but with no good results. From that time till late in the seventeenth century, the annals of navigation give few notices of this sea. At the latter period, Peter the Great, partly in the hope of diverting the Indian trade into the direction of his southern dominions, caused the coasts of the Caspian to be explored by Dutch navigators in his pay. His intention was, as one means to his end, to found trading-stations on ground ceded by treaty, or taken by force, on the Persian seaboard. But this he delayed to do ; and when he died, his project lay dormant, and the Russians made no encroachment beyond what Peter had already effected, till the reign of Catherine II., whose conquests in its southern region were not secured till the present century, under the emperors Alexander and Nicholas.

The sea of Okhotsk, in the east of Asiatic Russia, forms a branch of the North Pacific ocean, and extends from the Kurile islands northwest to the coast of Siberia, about one thousand miles, with a breadth, between the northeast coast of China and the peninsula of Kamtschatka, of about five hundred and fifty miles. It contains several islands, the largest of which, Sagalin, is situated near its southwestern shore; forms a number of large gulfs, chiefly on the north, among others those of Tanish, Gijiginsk, and Penjinsk; and receives numerous rivers, of which, however, only one, the Amoor or Sagalin, if of great magnitude. The shores are covered with ice from November to April, but the main expanse continues open throughout the year, and being generally deep, without shoal or sandbank, affords a safe navigation, notwithstanding the fogs and storms with which it is often visited.

The rivers of Russia are usually divided into five groups, or systems, corresponding to the seas into which they empty, namely, the Arctic ocean, the Baltic, the Black, and Caspian seas, and the Pacific ocean. The first division is by far the largest. It comprises in Europe the Dwina, the Mezene, and Petchora; while in Asia it includes, among a host of others, the Obi, the Yenisei, and Lena, three of the largest rivers of that continent. All these rivers flow from south to north, and the last three have a course of from two thousand to twenty-five hundred miles.

The Mouths of the Dwina

The Mouths of the Dwina
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The Dwina is formed in the government of Vologda, by the union of the Soukhona and the Yychegda, and, after an indirect course of four hundred miles, falls into the White sea, about thirty miles below the port of Archangel, forming a number of islands, and branching off into several mouths. Its principal affluents are the Pingisha, the Keltma, and the Pinega, on the right, and the Yage and Emtza on the left. The Petchora is a large river which has its source in the Ural mountains, and, after a course of about nine hundred miles, falls into a bay of the Arctic oeean by a great number of mouths.

The Obi may be traced from the lake of Altyn, latitude fifty-one degrees north, if its source be not even followed along the Shabekan river to latitude forty-seven. The Upper Irtish flows into the lake of Saisan, whence it issues under the name of Lower Irtish, and, after a circuit of great extent, joins the Obi, below Samarov: it rises about the forty-fifth degree, and ought perhaps to be regarded as the principal stream. However this be, the Obi, piercing the Altaian chain, and having received many small streams, passes Kolyvan, and at some distance to the north receives the Tomm and other large rivers from the east. Below Samarov, as already mentioned, it receives the great river Irtish, and runs into the sea of Obi, a gulf of the Arctic ocean. The Obi is navigable almost to its source, that is, to the lake of Altyn, and abounds with fish, but the sturgeon of the. Irtish are the most esteemed. After it has been frozen for some time, the water becomes foul and fetid, owing to the slowness of the current, and to the vast morasses through which it flows; but the river is purified in the spring by the melting of the snow. The shores and channel are generally rocky, till it receives the Ket, after which the course is through clay, marl, sand, and morasses.

The Yenisei flows through the central part of Siberia, its basin lying between those of the Obi on the west and the Lena on the east, and is supposed to comprise an area of nearly one million of square miles. This river rises in the Chinese territories, not far from latitude fifty-one degrees north, longitude ninety-eight degrees east, and proceeds at first westerly for about five degrees of longitude, to near the point where it leaves the Chinese frontier. It then turns northward, and pursues generally a northerly course to the Arctic ocean, which it enters by a wide estuary called the bay of the seventy-two islands, the mouth of which is in about latitude seventy-two and a half degrees north, longitude eighty-five degrees east, about two hundred miles east of the gulf of Obi.

The entire course of the Yenisei has been estimated at twenty-six hundred miles. Its chief affluents join it from the east, its tributaries from the west being of much less importance. "Various towns in the upper, with Krasnojarsk, Yeniseisk, in the middle and lower part of its course, are on its banks; and Irkoutsk is on its great tributary the Angara, which flows out of Lake Baikal. As far as Krasnojarsk it runs through a mountainous country, and thenceforward to Yeniseisk (where its width, when highest, is about one mile) its banks are elevated and precipitous.

The last of these large rivers in Asiatic Russia is the Lena, which rises northwest of the sea or lake of Baikal, and pursues a northerly course till it is turned by a chain of hills, and thence till near Yakoutsk pursues a tortuous course to the northeast, a direction of considerable utility, and affording navigation to the remote regions. From Yakoutsk, the course is nearly due north, the channel being of great breadth, and full of islands. -The basin of the Lena covers an area of about eight hundred thousand square miles.

The rivers which fall into the Baltic, and its several arms, though of far greater importance, in an economical point of view, are of very inferior magnitude. The principal are the Neva (on which is built St. Petersburg, ten miles from its mouth), the Duna,* the Niemen, and the Vistula. The Duna rises not far from the sources of the Volga, and flows into the gulf of Riga below the city of Riga. It is navigable up to Velige, in the eastern part of the government of Vitepsk. The Niemen rises in the government of Minsk, and flows into the Ourische-haf below Memel; and the Vistula flows through Russian Poland, receiving in its course several considerable tributaries.

The rivers which fall into the Black sea and its adjuncts equal those emptying into the Baltic in commercial importance, and far exceed them in length of course and volume of water. Among others are the Dniester, Dnieper, Boug, Don, and Kouban. The Dniester has its source in the Carpathian mountains, in Galicia, and flowing in a south-southeast direction, along the eastern frontier of Bessarabia, falls into the Black sea, after a course of five hundred miles. It has no considerable affluents, and being in most parts shallow and rapid, is of little service to internal navigation, except during spring and summer. The Dnieper, which is one of the largest rivers in Europe, rises in the government of Smolensk, and, after a course of twelve hundred miles, falls into the Black sea at Kinburn, near Oczakow. It is broad and deep, and may be navigated with ease and safety from Smolensk as far as the city of Ekatherinoslav; but from the latter to Alexandrofsk it is interrupted by cataracts, which are impassable except for a brief period in spring and autumn. The Boug rises near the confines of Yolhynia, in the northwestern part of the government of Po-dolia, and at first proceeds east, and then southeast, through that government, to Olviopol, where it enters the government of Kherson, which it traverses almost centrally from north to south, and falls into the estuary of the Dnieper, near Kherson. Its chief affluents are the Ingul, Balta, Tchertal, and Salonicha. It has a course of above four hundred miles, but its navigation is greatly obstructed by rocks and sandbanks. The Don rises in the government of Toula, and flows south, east, and ultimately southwest. In its course east, it approaches so near the Yolga, that Peter the Great had undertaken to form a communication between them by means of a canal: this grand project, however, was defeated by the irruption of the Tartars.** This river, exclusive of its turnings and windings, discharges itself into the sea of Azov, about four hundred miles from its rise. The Kouban rises in Circassia, nearly fourteen thousand feet above the level of the Black sea, in the Caucasian mountains. It flows first north, then northwest, and ultimately due west; passes Ekaterinodar, and, traversing a level steppe, presenting to the eye only an interminable plain of reeds, falls into the Black sea, in the bay of Kouban. This river can scarcely be said to be navigable. The water at its mouth is so shallow as to admit only the smallest vessels. All the tributaries of the Kouban flow, like itself, from the Caucasus mountains, joining it on the left bank: the principal are the Zelentchuk, Urup, and the united streams of the Laba and Emansu. Its total course is about four hundred miles.

* The Duna is also sometimes called the Dwina; but, without presuming to decide which is the more correct orthography, we have deemed it better to designate it by the former name, to prevent its being confounded with the Dwina falling into the White sea.

** The following account of this and previous attempts to open a passage between the Volga and the Don, by means of a canal, we quote from a history of Russia published in the year 1710, during the lifetime of Peter the Great — in the same year, in fact, that the above enterprise by that emperor was suspended : " This passage was first endeavored to be cut by Sultan Selim, for the better transportation of his army to Astrakhan and the Caspian sea against the Persians, in 1560, but his design was defeated by the continual irruptions of the Cossacks and Russes. This enterprise lay dead till about 1693, when the czar employed an engineer, Colonel Breckel, to work on the communication ; but being very ill used by Prince Boris Alexewitz Galliczyn, governor of the province, who openly opposed the work, and who would neither furnish men nor materials in pursuance of the czar's order, the engineer, to avoid his persecution, fled away to Persia. In 1699, another engineer, Captain Perry, was employed in this service, but met with the same discouragement from Prince Galliczyn as his predecessor; notwithstanding which, the work was carried on with pretty good success till the end of December, 1710, when the czar ordered it to be laid aside till after the war, since he could not so well spare the number of men required in the present juncture. The digging work is about half finished; twelve thousand men, and about five years' time, would serve to perfect the whole. The channel was to be large and deep enough for ships of eighty guns to pass. It is to be dug through near three English miles, in which space there is a large mountain, between the rivers Lavala and Camishinka: the first falls into the Don, about one hundred and thirty English miles from the canal, and the last into the Volga, about nine English miles from the canal. Six sluices are begun, but none finished ; and six more are to be made in the Camishinka. In all, from the Lavala to the place where the Camishinka falls into the Volga, are sixty-two thousand three hundred English feet."

The undertaking, though only temporarily suspended, it appears, was never resumed. The first attempt, by Selim II., to connect these rivers, it would seem, was interrupted by the Russians themselves. Another account states that the laborers sent thither by the Turkish sultan w were surprised and killed by a body of men of uncouth figures, strange features, and barbarous language," and who proved to be the subjects of his Muscovite majesty Ivan the Terrible.

Among the rivers which empty into the Black sea is the Danube,* which originates in two small streams that have their sources in the eastern declivity of the Black forest, in the grand-duchy of Baden, at an elevation of three thousand feet above the level of the sea, and uniting at Donaueschingen. Its general course is from west to east, falling into the Black sea by three principal outlets, called respectively the Kilia, Sulineh, and the Edrillis mouths, as represented in the subjoined engraving.

The Mouths of the Danube

The Mouths of the Danube
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The extent of the basin of the Danube is estimated at two hundred and seventy thousand square miles; the direct distance, from source to mouth, upward of one thousand miles ; and its development—of course, including windings—eighteen hundred miles. From its source the Danube flows northeast to Regensberg (Ratisbon), in Bavaria; when it takes a southeast-by-south direction, to Waitzen, in Hungary, previously passing Vienna and Presburg. At Waitzen it suddenly bends round, and flows nearly due south to the point where it is joined by the Drave, near Esseg, in Sclavo-nia; thence it runs south-southeast to Belgrade, on the northern confines of the Turkish province Servia, of which it subsequently forms the boundary, separating it from Hungary. Continuing its general easterly course, though not without some marked deviations, to the point where it is joined by the small river Bereska, it abruptly turns to the northeast, and continues in this direction to Orsova, a distance of about twenty-five miles, when, by suddenly taking a southeasterly course, it fairly enters the Turkish European provinces, forming the boundary-line between Wallachia and Bulgaria. At Rassova, on the southeastern extremity of the former province, it takes a direction nearly due north to Galatz, when it bends round to the southeast, and, after a farther course of about eighty miles, falls into the Black sea, by the several mouths above enumerated.

* Although the Danube may not be considered strictly a river of Russia, yet it being for about one hundred miles from its embouchure the boundary between Russia and Turkey, two of its principal mouths being within the Russian territory, and the principalities lying upon its borders being the theatre of the commencement of hostilities in the pending contest between the above-named empires, seem to render a description of that stream too important and interesting to be omitted.

During its progress from its source, in Baden, to its embouchure, the Danube passes through Wiirtemberg, Bavaria, the archduchies of Austria, and Hungary, and forms the boundary between the Hungarian Banat on the north, and the Turkish province of Servia on the south; and between the Turkish province of Bulgaria on the south, and the Danubian principalities Wallachia and Moldavia, and the Russian province of Bessarabia, on the north.

The great basin of the Danube has been divided into four minor basins. The first consists of a vast plateau of a pentagonal form, sixteen hundred and forty feet above the sea level, one hundred and fifty miles in length, and one hundred and twenty-five miles broad, surrounded by mountains, and comprising a portion of the principality of Hohenzollern, part of the kingdom of Wiirtemberg, and the greater part of the kingdom of Bavaria. This tract is, by far, the most fertile and most populous through which the Danube passes during its entire career.

The second basis belongs to the empire of Austria, having Vienna nearly in its centre, and comprising the archduchy of Austria, Hungary as far east as Waitzen, and Styria. It is very irregular, and is- bounded on all sides by very high mountains. Generally it is well peopled, well cultivated, and the inhabitants industrious. The soil is rich in mineral products, and the climate one of the best in Europe. The Danube here passes through a succession of the most picturesque scenery, till it passes Vienna. Below Presburg it runs with great velocity, and is crowded with islands.

The third basin of the Danube comprises Hungary, east of Waitzen, and the principality of Transylvania, and consists of an immense plain, almost without undulations of any kind, and only about four hundred feet above the sea level. It is intersected by large rivers, with marshy banks, and interspersed with stagnant pools, saline and sandy wastes ; rich, however, in mineral products, in flocks and herds, and in wines. It comprises about one" half of the entire basin of the Danube. The climate is bad, especially in the vicinity of the marshes, which cover a space of about three thousand square miles.

The fourth basin comprises Wallachia, Moldavia, a portion of Bessarabia, and Bulgaria. This tract is flat, inundated, and marshy along the banks of the river; dry, mountainous, and difficult, on the borders of the basin. It is fertile in products of every kind, yet badly,cultivated; thinly peopled, with miserable roads and wretched villages. The principal affluents in this basin are the Aluta, Sereth, and Pruth. The latter tributary-rises in the east side of the Carpathian mountains, in the southeastern part of Gtalicia; flows circuitously east, past Czernowitz, then south-southeast, forming the boundary between Moldavia and Bessarabia, and, after a course of more than five hundred miles, joins the left bank of the Danube, about twelve miles below Galatz.


Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855