Tobolsk: Siberia’s first capital

Although Tyumen is now the capital of the vast territory that bears its name, this region was for much of its history ruled from Tobolsk, whose citadel overlooked the high right bank of the Irtysh River. Of the many rivers that run through Siberia, none has more historical and emotional resonance than the Irtysh, a tributary of the mighty Ob River and a critical artery for Russian movement into Siberia.

It was near the Irtysh that a hardy band of Cossacks, led by the legendary Yermak and supported by the Stroganovs from their fortress in Solvychegodsk, defeated the Tatar troops of Khan Kuchum in 1582. Although the precise dates are questioned by historians, it seems that in the fall of 1581, Yermak captured Chingi-Tura (later Tyumen), but abandoned his conquest in order to proceed straight to Kashlyk, capital of Khan Kuchum, where there occurred the epochal battle memorialized in a painting by Ivan Surikov. Yermak was himself killed in a surprise raid in 1584 and his conquests remained temporarily unconsolidated after his death. But Tsar Boris Godunov was aware of the enormous significance of Siberia, and launched an aggressive campaign to establish settlements. Tobolsk was founded in 1587 by the Cossack leader Daniel Chulkov at the confluence of the Tobol and Irtysh Rivers, near the site of Yermak's victory....

Russia Beyond the Headlines


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