A City of Bridges and Caves

A City of Bridges and Caves

Published: October 5, 2011 (Issue # 1677)


Oryol has 17 bridges scattered across the city. When you walk the streets, you’d hardly think that you are passing over kilometers of caves.

ORYOL — A city of bridges, Oryol is spread out on the banks of the Oka River and its tributary, the Orlik, which flow through the city center and are dotted with fishermen.

But there’s another Oryol associated with legends and mysteries that are known to just a handful of residents. Walking along the compact and tidy streets, with red-and-yellow trams passing by squat houses, you would hardly think that you are walking above kilometers of underground caves and lakes.

There are two major caves under the town, which the adventurous visitor can access through narrow holes, while a number of other caves remain undiscovered, said Mikhail Sakharov, a speleologist who also teaches history at a local school.

The caves and tunnels were dug in the 18th century, when locals started to mine limestone for construction works. But few Oryol residents dare to explore the underground landscapes.

“There are very few romantics who want to see them,” Sakharov said.

Still, there are adventurers like him who are ready to spend hours wandering along the dark underground passageways with a flashlight, despite mysterious legends associated with the place.

One legend, which dates back to the early 20th century, says a young woman dressed in white suddenly appeared in front of a man on the street and tried to seduce him. When he refused, he found himself in the underground passageways.

Another mystery, which puzzles local speleologists, are the unidentified white spots floating in the air of the caves that are invisible to the human eye but can be seen in photographs taken underground.

But no one questions Oryol’s origins. The city was founded in 1566, when Ivan the Terrible ordered a fortress built at the two rivers’ meeting point to protect Muscovy’s southern boundaries.

Most people believe the city got its name from the Orleya River, which was subsequently renamed Orlik. But romantics argue that the name, which means “eagle” in Russian, is associated with the proud bird. One old legend says Ivan the Terrible decided to call the town Oryol after a large eagle flew off the top of an oak tree when peasants started to cut it down to make way for the foundation of the fortress.

The bird is the unofficial symbol of the city, and a large statue made of branches and depicting an eagle with its wings spread stands near the railway station.

No matter how Oryol got its name, the city has repeatedly proved its ability to block the country’s enemies. Severe battles broke out here during World War II when Oryol was occupied by Nazi troops in 1941 and badly destroyed during bombings.

The city was liberated two years later during the famous Kursk Bulge battle, with Moscow celebrating the victory with fireworks for the first time in the history of the Great Patriotic War. Oryol, which subsequently was awarded the title of “city of war glory,” has frequently been called “the city of the first fireworks.”

The city acquired its current appearance largely after the war, with many of its destroyed houses reconstructed in the 1950s. Indeed, with its two- and three-story pale-yellow houses with wooden staircases inside, Oryol has preserved the atmosphere of that time, making visitors feel like a character in a Soviet movie.

The old houses stand next to newer apartment buildings built in the 1970s that resemble cardboard boxes. But some corners of the city bring you back to the pre-revolutionary era when Oryol saw outstanding writers of the 19th century walking along its leafy, green streets.

The town where Ivan Turgenev and Leonid Andreyev were born and where Nikolai Leskov spent his early childhood has rightly earned the reputation of a literary mecca, with thousands of tourists visiting local museums devoted to the writers every year.

Ivan Bunin, who came to the town in 1889 to work at a local newspaper as a copy editor, later provided a precise description of Oryol in one of his novels. A public garden with an arbor on the left bank of the Orlik is widely believed to be part of the former estate described in Turgenev’s novel “Home of the Gentry.” The garden is a favorite place for Oryol residents to take a walk.

Meanwhile, preserving historical traditions has not prevented the city from moving forward in its economic development.

The city’s economy largely relies on manufacturing, which provides almost a quarter of all jobs. Among the key industries are the production of machinery and equipment, food production and metalware manufacturing.

Big domestic companies represented here include the diamond monopoly Alrosa, dairy producer Unimilk and one of Russia’s biggest steelmakers, Severstal.

Oryol is also attracting big foreign companies. Among the city’s oldest investors is Coca-Cola, whose local plant opened 15 years ago and is one of the company’s biggest facilities in Russia. In 2009, French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis acquired a local pharmaceutical plant to produce and pack insulin. Italian tile maker Marazzi Group and Greek refrigerator producer Frigoglass also have factories here.

What to see if you have two hours

Oryol has 17 bridges scattered across the city that provide breathtaking views, particularly from locations in the city center. One of the best is from a small bridge near the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, currently under reconstruction, where you can watch the Orlik quietly flowing in the cradle of its steep banks.


Fishermen are talkative and can give you hints on where to get a bite.

Another church — the majestic Mikhail Archangel Cathedral, with its huge golden dome rising above the surrounding trees and reflected in the waters of Orlik — is located almost on the riverbank.

Walk down along the embankment to have a short chat with the local fishermen and then across the big Alexandrovsky Bridge decorated with eagle figures to get to Ulitsa Lenina, where local artists display their paintings. The still-life paintings and landscapes sell for an average of 3,000 rubles ($90), although the price for some reaches 12,000 rubles.

On a hot day, take a trip along the Oka by river taxi, which departs from the central lifeboat station just a short walk from the city center. The river taxi passes by the junction of the Oka and Orlik — the place where the city started, locals like to relax on the weekends and where a huge stele erected for the city’s 400th anniversary in 1966 commemorates the most important events in its history.

The 40-minute trip costs about 150 rubles. Tickets are available from a small blue booth near the quay, but note that the river taxi only departs if 10 passengers are willing to take the trip.

What to do if you have two days

For those interested in Russian literature, there’s no better place to learn than in Oryol, which has five museums devoted to the famous writers Turgenev, Leskov, Andreyev and Bunin. You can easily spend a day moving from one mansion to another and looking at the writers’ personal items.

But if you want to spend time outside the town, one option is to visit Turgenev’s ancestral home in the village of Spasskoye-Lutovinovo located 50 kilometers northeast of Oryol. The estate, where Turgenev spent his childhood and where he later came in search of inspiration, is now a museum preserving the writer’s belongings.

A wooden mezzanine house with carved terraces — the heart of the estate — has hosted many notable guests, like writers Nikolai Nekrasov and Leo Tolstoy.

Check out the original interior and a Turgenev family heirloom — the Vernicle Icon — and take a walk in the park surrounding the house, with its linden alleys and romantic paths leading to a pond.

(Spasskoye-Lutovinovo Museum-Reserve, 3 Muzeinaya Ulitsa, Spasskoye-Lutovinovo village, Mtsensk district, the Oryol region, +7 4864-66-72-14, spasskoye-lutovinovo.ru. To get there, take a bus from the Oryol bus station to Mtsensk (departs every 30 minutes), and daily buses from Mtsensk to Spasskoye-Lutovinovo are available at 5:40 a.m., 6:40 a.m., 8:15 a.m., 1:50 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6:50 p.m.)

Another possible out-of-town destination is the Orlovskoye Polesye National Park (polesie.ru). Walk around the forest, rent a boat for a ride across one of its lakes, or sit quietly with fishing tackle. Accommodation is available in the Dom Lesnika hotel located on the park (Dom Lesnika, Radovishche village, Khotynetsky district, the Oryol region, +7 9208-15-11-51. Prices start at 3,500 rubles ($110) per night for a double. Fishing equipment and boats are provided for free).

Cultural tips

With its four theaters, Oryol boasts a rich cultural life. The Oryol State Academic Theater of Ivan Turgenev (2 Ploshchad Lenina, +7 4862-76-16-39, theaterorel.ru) and the theater Svobodnoye Prostranstvo (2 Ploshchad Marxa, +7 4862-44-25-52, teatr.orel.ru) offer a wide range of classical plays, as well as those by modern playwrights like American Ken Ludwig.

The repertoire of the local Philharmonic Hall (23 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 4862-76-49-63, philharmusic.ru) includes pieces from Russian and foreign classical music performed by local and visiting musicians.

Where to eat

Among the restaurants recommended by locals is Riviera (86 Naberezhnaya Dubrovinskogo, +7 4862-55-66-01) focusing on Mediterranean cuisine. For that reason, the place is favored by Italians working in town, together with visiting actors and local officials. The venue, located in the city center, also claims to be Oryol’s only restaurant where waiters remove the bones from your dorado filet before serving. A meal for one costs 1,000 rubles ($30), including alcohol. For a slice of pizza, visit the Italian restaurant Mezonin (4 Kromskoye Shosse, +7 4862-20-12-22, grinn-corp.ru/content/view/324/122/). Although located on the city’s outskirts, the restaurant is frequented by foreigners. One nice thing about the place is a complimentary glass of Italian lemon liqueur Limoncello from the owner, who hails from Sicily. The average bill for one is 700 rubles to 1,000 rubles without alcohol.

Local expats also like Labirint (6 Ulitsa Pushkina, +7 4862-42-65-32), a three-story cafe that was the first in Oryol to offer business lunches. Among foreigners’ favorite dishes are beef carpaccio and pork steak served in a champignon sauce. Labirint, which is a popular venue for the local business elite to hold negotiations, also boasts a grill menu. A meal for one costs between 700 rubles and 1,000 rubles, including alcohol.

Where to stay

Oryol has a couple of hotels that claim to provide business-class accommodation and are popular among visiting show-business celebrities and regional officials.

Hotel Oryol (4 Ploshchad Mira, +7 4862-55-05-25, +7 4862-55-15-60, orelhotel.ru), which opened in 1956 and is located in a Soviet-era building with a dominating crown-shaped terrace, looks monumental. This downtown hotel is close to the city’s major places of interest and is about 10 minutes from the railway station by taxi. Prices range from 2,000 rubles ($60) per person per night for a single to 6,400 per person per night for a luxury suite and include breakfast.


The junction of the Oka and Orlik — the place where the city started.

The Grinn hotel (4 Kromskoye Shosse, +7 4862-44-01-94, hotelgrinn.ru/en) is located on the outskirts, but it only takes about 10 minutes to get to the city center by taxi. Add an extra 10 minutes for a trip to the train station and prepare for an hourlong ride during rush hour. The hotel is part of an entertainment complex with several restaurants, a shopping center, a bowling club and a covered skating rink. Prices range from 2,500 rubles per person per night for a single to 20,000 rubles per person per night for the presidential suite, including breakfast.

Conversation starters

You can’t go wrong talking about fishing, which is the locals’ passion. Oryol fishermen are very talkative and can give you a tip on the place to get the best catch.

“There’s plenty of fish, up to here,” one fishermen on the bank of the Orlik, told a reporter, pointing to his tanned chin in a symbolic gesture. “The banks are packed on the weekends. Bream and carp bite best in June through September.”

Literature is also a sure bet for conversation.

Other helpful hints

Oryol residents keep their town clean. On a recent visit, no beer bottles or food wrappers could be seen lying around on the streets. Unlike in some provincial towns, it is easy to find a trash bin.

How to get there

The city’s only airport is currently closed for modernization in line with the government’s program to upgrade a number of airports in central Russia, with the city administration looking for an investor to implement the project as a public-private partnership.

The fastest way to travel the 1,050-kilometer route to Oryol is by train. There are no express trains from St. Petersburg, but seven trains heading to a number of cities like Simferopol, Sevastopol or Feodosa pass through Oryol, with prices starting at 1,300 rubles one way for a third-class ticket.


Population: 317,854

Main industries: manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade, services sector, construction and agriculture

Mayor: Viktor Safyanov

Founded in 1566

Interesting fact: Oryol was among the first Russian cities where electric trams appeared in the late 19th century. The first line opened here in 1898, and Tsar Nicolas II visited the city to test the new transportation system.

Sister cities: Razgrad, Bulgaria; Nokia, Finland; Offenbach am Main, Germany; Kerch, Ukraine

Helpful contacts:

• Nadezhda Leonova, a spokeswoman for Oryol’s mayor (speaks English)


Oryol’s role in WWII earned it the name ‘city of the first fireworks.’

(+7 4862-43-29-74, orel-adm.ru);

• Svyatoslav Komarov, president of the Oryol Chamber of Trade and Industry (+7 4862-73-66-02,

+7 4862-73-66-07, palata.orel.ru)

Major Factories

• Coca-Cola HBC Eurasia,

(6 Italyanskaya Ulitsa,

+7 4862-42-12-34; coca-colahellenic.ru) produces Coca-Cola,

Fanta and Sprite, as well as the local brand Fruktaim.

• Oryol-Alrosa, (24 Ulitsa Gorkogo,

+7 4862-43-71-13; eng.alrosa.ru) is a gem-cutting unit of diamond monopoly Alrosa.

• Severstal-Metiz, (105 Razdolnaya Ulitsa, +7 4862-36-20-77; severstalmetiz.com/eng) is one of the three metalware plants of Severstal-Metiz, a subsidiary of steel giant Severstal.




Q: Why invest in Oryol?

A: First, because it has a good location in the center of European Russia at a distance of 368 kilometers from Moscow and 1,024 kilometers from St. Petersburg. Oryol is a big transportation hub, with goods being shipped to Central and Eastern Europe via Ukraine and Belarus. Second, because we have six available production sites with an overall area of more than 123,000 square meters that can be used to implement investment projects.

Q: Which industries have the best investment prospects in Oryol?

A: We welcome investment aimed at developing the manufacturing and services sector that will create new jobs and improve the living standard. Investing in energy efficiency projects and modernizing the city infrastructure are also good options.

Q: What makes Oryol unique?

A: Oryol is one of Russia’s literature centers associated with the names of Turgenev, Bunin, Leskov, Andreyev, Fet and Apukhtin. You can attend museums devoted to these writers. Few know that Oryol has also earned fame thanks to its caves, which were formed in the 18th century to mine limestone for construction works.

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