Nizhny Tagil (Russian: Ни́жний Таги́л NEEZH-nee tuh-GEEL) is the second largest and most heavily industrialized city in Sverdlovsk Oblast. One of the cornerstones of metal production in Russia, Tagil is also known for regular military exhibitions showcasing latest examples of arms and ammunition. While the city is in no way pretty, it has its own charm, vibrant atmosphere, and a bunch of interesting museums, as well as fine examples of Soviet architecture.
Nizhny Tagil stands at the confluence of the Vyya (Выя) and Tagil (Тагил) rivers on the eastern slopes of the Ural ridge. The city name, colloquially shortened to Tagil, is literally translated as Lower Tagil and reminds of another, Upper Tagil (Верхний Тагил) that appeared around the same time, although never developed into a huge urban area. The High Mountain (гора Высокая) in the very center of Tagil was continuously exploited and eventually razed to the ground in the course of ore mining. The hills west from the city evaded extensive excavation and remained excellent vantage points, with impressive panoramic views of wooded hills, large ponds, and an intimidating industrial landscape in the background. Population: 372,000 (2010).
The promising ore deposits were discovered in mid-17th century, but the mining and production were not launched until early 18th century, when Demidovs family settled in the Urals. Nizhny Tagil originates from two disparate factories, Vyyskiy copperworks (1723) and Nizhny-Tagil ironworks (1725) that shortly merged into an urban settlement Nizhnetagilsky zavod (Нижнетагильский завод) and acquired the city status in 1919. Similar to Yekaterinburg, the foundation of Nizhny Tagil was the second step in the development of the Urals. Other factories, such as Nevyansk and Alapaevsk, appeared 25 years earlier but rapidly diminished due to the lack of suitable ore deposits. The iron production in Tagil was way more robust, with the ore supplies lasting for nearly 300 years and still not fully exploited. The factories of Tagil were owned by Demidovs until the revolution of 1917. However, the first and most prominent members of the family preferred to stay in Nevyansk, thus depriving Tagil of its own Leaning Tower (see Nevyansk) and other exotic buildings. The 19th-century Demidovs were not as keen in technology as their ancestors, and spent most of the time in Italy. Their only contribution to the city is the strange foreign name San-Donato (Сан-Донато) in one of the northern districts (now also the train station).
By the end of 18th century, Nizhny Tagil developed into the leading center of ferrous metallurgy, and accumulated all existing types of metalworks: smelting of copper and pig iron as well as casting, forging, and rolling. The factories implemented the most recent innovations and created own technologies. The Cherepanovs family, keen engineers (although still serfs of the Demidovs), built the first Russian locomotive (1833) and contemplated the construction of a full-blown railway that was eventually commissioned in Saint Petersburg only few years later. In the second half of 19th century, the steelmaking was launched. The diverse metal production triggered the development of related crafts, such as tray painting. Altogether, the 19th-century Nizhny Tagil was arguably the leading city of the Urals.
The development of Tagil was seriously retarded at the turn of 20th century, when the old factories based on the serf’s toil could not withstand rapid technological progress. The city got a new impetus only in 1930s, after the Soviet government commissioned the construction of new factories, the Nizhny Tagil Iron and Steel Plant (abbreviated as НТМК) and Uralvagonzavod (УВЗ, machine factory). These new factories were essential to support the Soviet army during WWII. They were also strongly reinforced by the plants evacuated from the west in 1941. Particularly, Uralvagonzavod, which was originally designed for manufacturing train cars (vagony), launched the production of tanks and remained one of the main tank manufacturers ever since. After 1945, the industrial area was extended by incorporating the third big factory, Uralkhimplast (production of plastic), and a plethora of smaller side plants manufacturing refractory materials, concrete, boilers and radiators, etc. The whole industrial area eventually exceeded the residential part of the city.
Present-day Nizhny Tagil is not just a city standing next to the big industry. It is a city merged with the industry, which is tangible in the history and architecture, and even in the air: once you don’t see the smoke, you sense the smell, and once the smell vanishes, the smoke re-appears. Many people deem Tagil an intimidating city, and you may even notice Russians (outside the Urals) using “Nizhny Tagil” as a synonym for an awful and disgusting place. This is in fact the wrongest attitude to be conceived. Nizhny Tagil is a unique place where you can stand on the hillock, which was once an important supply of iron ore, see the old factory (museum) at your feet, and the full-blown modern industry in a short distance. It is an absolutely genuine city that did not get any clean and fragrant enterprises to replace the hard-core and somewhat stinky industry. The essential basis of the Russian economy for nearly 300 years, this city can not be exactly pleasant: it is a bit gloomy, very stern, and nevertheless beguiling.