Tver: historical highlights

The city of Tver is one of the most ancient cities of the Russian state. Back in the early 20th century, researchers were inclined to believe that Tver (given its name) sprang up at the confluence of the Tvertsa and Volga Rivers, and then, most likely, in the first half of the 13th century, was transferred to the cape where the Tmaka River flows into the Volga. This hypothesis was dismissed based on the results of archaeological research conducted in the 1930s.

There are all reasons to believe that the city of Tver was not moved from one place to another.

The foundation of the city of Tver is related to 1135, however, there is no universal agreement on this date. The written sources other than chronicles refer to the settlement in 1127−1135. In chronicles, however, the city was first mentioned in 1209. Birchbark manuscripts found during archaeological excavations on March 26, 1983 and August 23, 1985 at the territory of the Tver Kremlin date back to the late 12 - early 13 century.

Some researchers believe that the word Tver is of Finno-Ugric origin coming from the name of the Tvertsa River (rivers had been named before the cities were), as Finno-Ugric tribes populated the banks and the mouth of the Tvertsa at the time. In the early years of its existence, Tver nestled within the Tver Kremlin that protected residents in those turbulent times of constant Tatar-Mongol raids and looting. But as the city's population expanded, posads near the Kremlin emerged: Zagorodsky, Zatmytsky and Zavolzhsky, including Zatverchie.

The year 1247 is deemed the starting point for the history of Tver Principality, Tver being its capital. According to the chronicles, Yaroslav Yaroslavich (1223-1271), brother of Alexander Nevsky, was the first Prince of Tver. Being also Grand Prince of Vladimir from the late 1260s to the early 1270s, Yaroslav laid the basis for the Tver state sovereignty. Like other Russian princes, Yaroslav Yaroslavich did his best to turn Tver into a military, political, spiritual and cultural hub of the principality. In 1264, Yaroslav Yaroslavich, Prince of Tver, was made Grand Prince of Vladimir. As Yaroslav lived in Tver, the city de-factor became the capital of northeastern Rus'.

During the reign of Mikhail Yaroslavich (1271-1318), son of Yaroslav, the city of Tver was actually the unofficial capital of Rus'. The white-stone Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky Sobor) of Otroch monastery (1269) was erected reflecting strengthening of Tver. Thus, Tver resumed stone construction interrupted by Mongol-Tatar invasion in 1238 (Rostov Veliky resumed it in 1287 only and Novgorod Veliky, in 1292). In 1285, dilapidated church of Kozma and Demian was demolished and Transfiguration of the Lord Church - Saviour's Transfiguration Cathedral - was erected in its place. Under Mikhail Yaroslavich, Tver prospered behind the fortress wall surrounded by a water-filled moat. Crafts developed, churches were built, chronicle writing began, the icon painting school was opened, trade, military and political ties with other cities were established.

In 1327, a rebellion broke out in Tver against the Tatar yoke. Moscow Prince Ivan Kalita volunteered to help the Golden Horde to subdue the uprising. The punitive expedition left Tver burnt and plundered. This is when Tver's political influence began to dwindle. It was only during the reign of Mikhail Yaroslavich's grandson, Mikhail Alexandrovich (1333—1399), that Tver rivaled Moscow for supremacy again. Under the rule of the son of Mikhail Alexandrovich, Ivan Mikhailovich (1357—1425), Tver flourished culturally and economically, keep abreast of Moscow.

The last period when Tver thrived was under Boris Alexandrovich who succeeded in turning it into a strong economic and political center. This is when the world-famous merchant Afanasy Nikitin, the first European to visit India, was born. We can still enjoy his fascinating narrative known as "The Journey Beyond Three Seas".

In 1485, Moscow troops occupied Tver and Michael Borisovich was forced to flee to Lithuania. Principality of Tver lost its political independence forever and became part of Muscovy. 

In 1564, the White Trinity Church, the oldest surviving church of the city, was built.

In 1612, the city of Tver was completely devastated by Polish-Lithuanian troops. It took much time for the city to emerge from desolation, it was not before the turn of the century that crafts and trade in Tver took off again.
In 1701, by the order of Peter I, a pontoon bridge was built over the Volga, which was there until 1900. In the 18th century, Tver saw booming development; Voznesenskaya Church the city, Church of the Resurrection in Zavolzhie, the Assumption Cathedral in Otroch Uspensky Monastery, and the Church of Great Martyr Catherine in Zatverechie were built.

In 1763, disastrous fire accompanied by hurricane wind broke out in Tver and devastated the city. The wooden Kremlin and houses inside it burned down, Zagorodsky Posad and part of Zatmatsky Posad were completely destroyed. Even Zavolzhsky Posad was damaged, as firebrands and sparks flying across the Volga reached it.

The fire prompted the newly founded commission for the Masonry Construction of St. Petersburg and Moscow headed by Ivan I. Betsky to apply its standards empire-wide. Petr R. Nikitin, Chief Architect of Moscow, a prominent figure in the 18th century, headed the "team of architects" appointed to develop the general plan of the city and to supervise construction work.   

  Nikitin's team included his best followers and assistants, a promising young architect Matvey F. Kazakov among them.   The general city plan was quickly drawn up. The new layout was based on a three-ray system, the main ray being the main street parallel to the Volga River, and two other rays being the streets diverging from the modern Sovetskaya Square. The three main street were supposed to be leading to high-rise Kremlin structures that were planned to be restored. The central ray - the modern Sovetskaya Street - was oriented towards the main stone Vladimir tower of the Kremlin and the cathedral with a high-rise bell tower behind it. The side rays were leading to Tmatskaya and Volzhskaya towers of the Kremlin. Three street-rays met on Polutsirkulyarnaya (modern Sovetskaya) Square - the then border with the Tver suburb.

The three-ray composition was directed towards the city center. Side rays, Kosaya Novotorzhskaya and Kosaya Novgorodskay (modern Novotorzhskaya and Volny Novgorod streets) were leading across the Tmaka and the Volga. The middle ray - Ekaterininskaya (modern Sovetskaya) street - left a wide room for perfectly planned squares to wrap up with a group of buildings forming certain stylistic harmony.   Petr R. Nikitin assisted by his aides succeeded in creating major architectural ensembles, such as the modern Lenin Square, Sovetskaya Square, Stepan Razin embankment.

In 1764-1766, the Imperial Road Palace, which became Tver's main landmark, was erected. The Road Palace was built in the classic style with some elements of the baroque style upon the project of   Matvey F. Kazakov, and the public garden was laid out between the Road Palace and the Volga. The Road Palace was intended as a resting place for the members of the imperial family as they traveled from St. Petersburg to Moscow (hence the name). Carlo di Giovanni Rossi revamped the Road Palace in the early 19th century. 

Rossi also participated in other construction projects in Tver.   It was in Tver that he made his first steps towards world fame.

Thus, while other old Russian towns abound with remarkable buildings - monuments of ancient architecture, the main Tver monument is the city layout itself. It was exemplary for the 18th century, Tver was the first provincial town where it was brought to life. And nowadays its elegance and originality still impress the guests of the city. Therefore, the central part of Tver is classified as Heritage Protection Area.
We can trace a certain system if we analyze names of streets of old Tver. Some names reflected occupation of citizens: Rybatskaya Sloboda (fisherman settlement), Pivovarsky (brewery) Lane, Mednikovskaya (brass) Street, Yamskaya Sloboda (coachman settlement), Kuznetsky (blacksmith) Lane. Some names were related to social categories of the citizens: Dvoryanskaya (nobleman), Meshchanskaya (philistine) streets.

Most street names repeat the names of churches and monasteries: Trekhsvyatskaya (three holy saints) Street, Arkhangelsky (Archangel) Lane, Khristorozhdestvenskaya Sloboda (Christmas Settlement), Ilyinskaya (Prophet Elijah), Znamenskaya (Sign of Our Lady), Voskresensky (resurrection) Streets, etc.

Some streets were named after Tver factory owners, manufacturers, rich merchants: Morozovskie, Kaulinskie, Nobelevskie and other streets.

In the early 19th century, Tver was a bustling trading city. Cabmen and blacksmiths were never out of work, as the most important Petersburg-Moscow route passed through the city. In addition, the Volga River, one of major river routes in Russia, created many jobs for Tver citizens. However, when the Nikolayevskaya (modern Oktyabrskaya) railway was built in 1851, the waterway faded in importance, and in the second half of the 19th century, Tver inhabitants lost their related earnings.
The new stage in the city development as an industrial center began with the construction of textile factories. Enterprising dealers, and, above all, merchant of the first guild Abram Morozov, took advantage of abundant spare workforce. During 1850-1860, three textile factories were launched in Tver.

The twentieth century has arrived. Tver welcomed it with a prominent bridge across the Volga (1900), an electric tram (1901), and the first "cinematograph" (1904).

In 1931, Tver was renamed Kalinin after local Mikhail Kalinin.   In the 1930s, during the anti-religious campaign, dozens of churches, monuments of architecture of the 17-19 centuries were demolished. The Cathedral of the Transfiguration of our Saviour, the 13th century monument, was torn down in 1935.

During the Great Patriotic War in October 1941, Tver was occupied by the Nazi invaders and was liberated on December 16, 1941. Tver was severely damaged during its occupation and heavy fighting.

In 1990, the city reverted to its old name.