Volga River. Yaroslavl'. Волга. Ярославль.
The Volga (Russian: Во́лга) is the largest river in Europe in terms of length, discharge, and watershed. It flows through central Russia, and is widely viewed as the national river of Russia. Out of the twenty largest cities of Russia, eleven, including the capital Moscow, are situated in the Volga's drainage basin. Some of the largest reservoirs in the world can be found along the Volga. The river has a symbolic meaning in Russian culture and is often referred to as Volga-Matushka (Volga-mother) in Russian literature and folklore.
The Russian hydronym Волга derives from the Proto-Slavic *Vьlga "wetness", "humidity", which is preserved in many Slavic languages, including Russian (во́лглый – волога – влага). Polish and Czech names of rivers Vlga and Vilga speak in favor of this version.
For less probable version, hydronym is akin to the old Mari name of the river – Volgydo, meaning "bright". Presently the Mari call the river Юл (Jul), meaning "way" in Tatar. The name volgydo descends from Proto-Uralic *valkita, meaning "white" or "bright". Another possible origin of the name is from the name of the largest community that occupied large areas around it in the past – the Proto-Bulgarians.
The Russian name is transliterated as Volga in English and Wolga in German.
The Turkic people living along the river formerly referred to it as Itil or Atil. In modern Turkic languages, the Volga is known as İdel (Идел) in Tatar, Idyll in ancient Bulgar, Атăл (Atăl) in Chuvash, Idhel in Bashkir, Edil in Kazakh, and İdil in Turkish. The Turkic peoples associated the Itil's origin with the Kama River. Thus, a left tributary to the Kama River was named the Aq Itil ("White Itil") which unites with the Kara Itil ("Black Itil") at the modern city of Ufa.
Under the Asians, the river was known by its other Turkic name Sarı-su ("yellow water"), but Mongols used also their own language name: Shar mörön ("yellow river").
The ancient and modern Mordvin name for the Volga, Рав (Rav), apparently reflects the ancient Scythian hydronym *Rhā, supposedly cognate with the ancient Avestan and Sanskrit names Rañha and Rasah for a mythical river, which was said to flow around the Earth. It has been suggested that the name Russia may have been derived from Rasah/Rosah, the Iranic name of the Volga River (F.Knauer, Moscow 1901). These Iranic words are all connected in their primary meaning of "dew, liquid, moisture".
The Volga is the longest river in Europe. It belongs to the closed basin of the Caspian Sea. Rising in the Valdai Hills 225 meters (738 ft) above sea level northwest of Moscow and about 320 kilometers (200 mi) southeast of Saint Petersburg, the Volga heads east past Lake Sterzh, Tver, Dubna, Rybinsk, Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod, and Kazan. From there it turns south, flows past Ulyanovsk, Tolyatti, Samara, Saratov and Volgograd, and discharges into the Caspian Sea below Astrakhan at 28 meters (92 ft) below sea level. At its most strategic point, it bends toward the Don ("the big bend"). Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, is located there.
The Volga has many tributaries, most importantly the Kama, the Oka, the Vetluga, and the Sura rivers. The Volga and its tributaries form the Volga river system, which drains an area of about 1.35 million square kilometres in the most heavily populated part of Russia. The Volga Delta has a length of about 160 kilometres and includes as many as 500 channels and smaller rivers. The largest estuary in Europe, it is the only place in Russia where pelicans, flamingos, and lotuses may be found. The Volga freezes for most of its length for three months each year.
The Volga drains most of Western Russia. Its many large reservoirs provide irrigation and hydroelectric power. The Moscow Canal, the Volga–Don Canal, and the Volga–Baltic Waterway form navigable waterways connecting Moscow to the White Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. High levels of chemical pollution have adversely affected the river and its habitats.
The fertile river valley provides large quantities of wheat, and also has many mineral riches. A substantial petroleum industry centres on the Volga valley. Other resources include natural gas, salt, and potash. The Volga Delta and the nearby Caspian Sea offer superb fishing grounds. Astrakhan, at the delta, is the centre of the caviar industry.