Znamensk — location of a major Russian missle test site, Kapustin Yar Cosmodrome (spaceport), and frequent UFO sightings, leading the town to be known as Russia's Roswell; Znamensk is currently a closed town due to its military significance
Astrakhansky Nature Reserve — located along the giant Volga River Delta, this reserve is a bird-lover's paradise
Astrakhan Oblast is a region steeped in the history of Central Asia. Before the arrival of Russian power, this area was at times ruled by the Jewish Khazar Khaganate, the Golden Horde, and the Astrakhan Khanate (centered on the present day city). In 1556 Ivan the Terrible conquered the region and annexed most of its territory at a time when Russian-allied Kalmyks were attacking and displacing the Muslim Tatars of the region. In 1580, having seen off Ottoman challenges to Russian rule, Russia constructed Astrakhan's magnificent Kremlin, which is a mix of traditional Russian and Baroque styles. Astrakhan's nature as a pivotal region for Central Asia continued when Peter the Great established a major shipbuilding yard on the Caspian Sea and established the region as the base for Russian expansion into the great Khanates of Khiva, Samarkand, and Bukhara, located in present day Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Today Astrakhan Oblast is a relatively sleepy, sparsely populated region near the confluence of the Volga River and the Caspian Sea, notable for its large gas reserves. The region retains sizeable Kazakh and Tatar minorities.
Despite its multicultural past, nearly everyone in Astrakhan Oblast speaks Russian as a first language.
Astrakhan Oblast is served by rail from Volgograd.
Volga River Delta
The natural companion to an Astrakhan visit is its western neighbor Kalmykia. Probably the most convenient way to get there is to take a minibus (marshrutka) from Astrakhan to Elista.
It is also possible to relive your dreams of Russian conquest of Central Asia by taking the train west from Astrakhan to Altyrau, Kazakhstan.