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Oryol – A City of History and Natural Beauty

The Russian city of Oryol is situated on the banks of the Oka River, about 360 kilometers south-west of Moscow. Oryol, or Orel, is the Russian word for “eagle”, so it is fitting then that an eagle is a prominent feature on the city’s coat of arms. The area surrounding Oryol is lush and green with the Krom, Tson, Orlik and Rybnitsa Rivers meandering through the countryside on their way to meet the Oka River. Huge broad leaf forests dominate the landscape, with the national park of the Oryol forest area boasting a wide variety of fascinating flora and fauna.

There is significant archeological evidence which points to the fact that a fortified settlement existed in the area between and Orlik and Oka Rivers as far back as the 12th century, at a time when the land was included in the Grand Principality of Chernigov, a state of Kievan Rus. In the 13th century the fortress came under the jurisdiction of the Zvenigorod district of the Karachev Principality before being conquered by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the early 15th century. The fortress was abandoned soon after, possibly due to being sacked by Lithuanian invaders. In the 16th century, the territory became part of Muscovy.

In 1566, Ivan the Terrible ordered that a new fortress should be built on the site of the abandoned settlement, to ensure that the southern borders of Muscovy would be defended. The fortress was built in a short space of time, being completed in the spring of 1567. However, although building on the foundations of the old fortress served to speed up the work, its location on the low ground, which was affected by seasonal flooding, was less than ideal. Also the new fortress could be easily targeted from the surrounding high ground.

After twice being invaded by Polish forces, in 1611 and again in 1615, the population abandoned the town, which continued to exist on paper. Oryol was rebuilt in 1636, but the fortress was eventually seen as unnecessary and was dismantled in the 18th century. After the 1917 October Revolution, Oryol remained in communist hands, finally becoming the administrative center of the Oryol Oblast in 1937. The nearby Medvedev Forest became famous for being the execution site for more than 160 political prisoners who were shot on 11 September 1941 by order of Joseph Stalin. During World War II the city was occupied by the German Nazis for a period of time, with the city nearly being destroyed during the historic Battle of Kursk.

Visitors to Oryol will find evidence of its long, and somewhat tumultuous, history. Places of interest to visit in the city and surrounding areas include the I.S.Turgenev Museum, the village of Kozyulkino and the town of Mzensk, which features an interesting museum and a number of churches which are superb examples of different architectural styles through the years. Although the city of Oryol and the Oryol region are not mainstream tourist destinations, visitors will appreciate the natural beauty and ancient history of this picturesque part of Russia.


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