Population 1 million. Head of the Voronezhskii Oblast
Voronezh is a typical provincial Russian industrial city with a not so typical past, located in the south western region of Russia, not far from Moscow, Georgia, or the Ukraine. The city straddles the Voronezh river, a large slow flowing river which empties into the famous Don River about 18km outside of the city proper. The rich black soil of the region is the same as that of the extremly high yield Ukrainian soil, and the region produces some of Russia's best potatoes. It is also from this soil that the city gets its name - the word voron' carrying an old meaning of "black earth". The city houses one of Russia's best universities, Voronezh State University, which boasts, among other things, one of the country's few Spanish language programs.
Voronezh shows up in the chronicles as early as the 12th century, and has archeological records dating back further, but was officially founded in 1585 as one of many fortresses against invading Tatars. Its first real acclaim came however when Peter the Great chose Voronezh as the ideal place to construct his Russian fleet, and in 1696 the first Russian warship was turned out from the Voronezh dockyards. The building that Peter I stayed in when visiting Voronezh is no longer standing, as rising water levels in the river long ago swallowed it, along with most of the island on which it stood. The church that was built for him to attend, however, stands nearby and still functions.
During World War II Voronezh was the southern German front for nearly a year, and the residents will proudly tell you about how the Fascists couldn't advance past Voronezh. During this time a shocking 90% of the city's buildings were destroyed. Since 1943 the city has been rebuilt, but mostly in a drab mid-Soviet architectural style, and it is certainly no longer the pretty little provincial city you would find in Yaroslavl or Suzdal.
There is a war museum in a low building on the bank of the river. It is a strangly quiet place, poorly lit and smelling of mildew. The basement is painted white with low white blocks for exhibit pieces. These include helmets, rifles, boots, canteens and various other debris left behind by the soldiers from both sides. There are also twisted burned out carcasses of fighter planes, and empty shellcasings. There are white billboards with pictures of local heros and newspaper clippings that divide the space up. Mildew creeps everywhere and it feels forgotten and lonely - somehow fitting. Upstairs is slightly better lit, and there are more empty shells, and soldiers uniforms from various periods, all behind glass.
There are quite a few famous Russian poets and artists who were born in Voronezh, or lived here at some point in their lives - and yes, even Pushkin visted at some point in his life. On the list are Bunin, Nikitin, Koltsov, Anna Akhmatova, Mayakovsky, Venevitenov, and painter Kramskoy (the city art gallery is named for him and carries a modest collection of his works).
The city is said to be a stronghold of the communist party, and this is evident in the fact that unlike a lot of other cities, most of the street names and random sculptures proclaiming the superiority of the soviet way of life have remained. The city consists of 7 main neighborhoods, or raioni, the Central, Komintern, Northern, Soviet, Lenin, Left Bank, and Railway (it's kind of like Monopoly). The Northern Raion and the Left Bank Raion are the two newest, the city expanding to the Left Bank during the rebuilding period after the war, and most recently moving northward, where most of the "New Russians" are building extravagant homes. But the heart of the city remains firmly in the Central Raion, which centers on Prospect Revolution (yes, the Great October Revolution) and Ulitsa Plekhanaskya, which intercept at Lenin Square, repleat with a statue of Lenin saluting and looking intently into the sky. Of course this is balanced by a monument to Pushkin right across the street at the Opera House, and this is where newly weds bring flowers and have their pictures taken.
Things To Do
As I say, this is still a primarily provincial city. Despite the population of 1 million, it retains a very "townish" feel. The central neighborhood is small and tree lined. The shopping isn't great, and a lot of it is still done in Rinki, or open air Markets. There isn't much of a nightlife - transport goes onto it's night schedule at 10pm. As far as clubs and bars go, the pickings are pretty meager, and asking a Russian just seems to make them uncomfortable. Sto Ruchyov (100 Little Rivers) is a pretty good dance club, located a few blocks past Lenin (away from Prospect Revolutsii). It has three levels: the bottom bar like, the top a dance floor, and the middle for private parties. But it's pretty small and on a Saturday it's absolutely packed by 11:30, and even the bar section turns into a dance floor between the tables, with music too loud for regular conversation. Casino Flamingo is not highly recommended as it's become a bit sketchy in the past year, with a student getting knifed (and killed) on the street outside.
Of course, Voronezh isn't exactly a tourist town, so if you're coming here you're probably here to live or study, and have plenty of time to figure this out on your own, or you're visiting someone, and they probably already know all this.
History of the Voronezh Region, with Tatiana Iurevna
Lonely Planet Russia