(7 November Old Style)
285th anniversary of Ekaterinburg, a legendary city near Urals mountains.
As it often happens, the date is conventional, but not totally arbitrary. The first village, Shartash, was founded there in 1642 by Starovery. Now a district of Ekaterinburg is called Shartash. In 1704 copper processing facilities were built on river Uktus. In 1720 Vasily Tatishchev inspected the facilities and proposed to relocate them to Shartash. In 1721 preparatory works began. The exact dates are not clear, but somewhere in January-March 1723 a regiment of soldiers arrived from Tobolsk and the construction works on the new factory were started. By November the first factory floors were ready and on 18 November the first two hammers were put to test. This day became the birthday of Ekaterinburg.
Since 1726 Ekaterinburg became the primary source of gemstones for the Russian Empire. In 1807 the city officially became the first and the only "mining city" and was granted certain freedoms and privileges.
The area was extremely rich in metals and gemstones: copper, gold, malachite, amethyst and all other kinds of quartz, agate, aquamarine, beryl and so on. When I was a boy, I was interested in geology and visited the a hobby group at the city Pioneers Palace. By the way, these palaces were a wonderful thing, a brilliant invention of the Soviets. We had a very good teacher, geologist Yuri Melkozerov (two years ago by sheer chance I found his grave on the local cemetery :( ). I don't remember when exactly it was, perhaps in 1981-1983, we went to Ekaterinburg (it was called Sverdlovsk then, after Yakov Sverdlov). I brought from that trip a lot of interesting minerals: jasper, quartz, tiny garnets and many others. A piece of raw, uncut and unpolished malachite from that trip is stil lying right now on my table. As far as I remember, I was not deeply impressed by the city: it was just another industrial town, just like Samara, a bit dirty, with its own little attractions, but the nature of the Urals was magnificent.
Ekaterinburg was the home town of Pavel Bazhov, Russian writer. In childhood, he lived not far from Ekaterinburg, in a little town called Polevskoy. In 1939 he published his wonderful collection of Urals legends and fairy-tales, The Malachite Casket. These legends are absolutely different from any other folk tales. They somehow remind of Die Bergwerke zu Falun (The Falun Mines) by E.T.A. Hoffmann, but at the same time they are in a class of their own. The stories of the Mistress of the Copper Mountain or the Stone Flower are just amazing. Unfortunately, they are written in such a vivid folk language that it's very difficult to translate them into English preserving the charms of the text. Anyway, here's a brief retelling of the Mistress of the Copper Mountain (please, disregard the awful pictures :)).