Smolensk Region was established in 1937. It is 49 800 km2 in area with the population of 974 100 people; 71% are urban residents (the population gradually goes down). The region is within Moscow Time Zone and shares its borders with Byelorussia.
Smolensk is the center of the region. The city is located 378 km south-west of Moscow. It is first mentioned in the year 862 as the krivichi Slavic tribe area. Apparently, the city’s name comes from the word «Smolnya» — the name of the river flowing nearby («Smolnya» stands for black soil).
The region’s topography is hilly with deep river valleys. The major rivers are the Dnieper, the Vazuza, the Western Dvina and the Ugra. Water is supplied from the two water reserves — Vazuzskoe and Yauzskoe. The area is rich in lakes including glacier lakes (the Kasplya and the Velisto) and sink lakes (the Kalyginskoe), the biggest one is the Akatorvskoe — 655 hectares in surface.
The climate is moderately continental with rather warm winters (average temperature in January is —9°С) and mild summers (average July temperature is +17°С).
The largest nature-protected area is Smolenskoe Poozerie National Park of 150 thousand hectors in area. It features over 35 lakes, several rivers and old coniferous woods. The park offers a number of environmental routes. One of the routes called «Fairy tales of a Russian forest» is rated at children who fancy visiting defense outposts and «homes» of folklore characters — Baba-Yaga and Leshy. One may choose bike or boat tours over water channels laid between the lakes and follow old battle routes of the days of Polish invasion. The route called «Russia’s Necklace» features Smolensk fortifications (the XVI century); an excursion to Katyn forest is dedicated to the memory of Soviet and Polish totalitarian age victims buried there.
Tourists interested in archaeology would be attracted by Gnezdovsky archaeological complex with sites of ancient settlements and burial grounds. This treasury was revealed by chance, during Moscow — Warsaw railroad construction. Today, archaeologists agreed that Gnezdovo is the predecessor of ancient Smolensk. It appeared in early 10th century in the on the busy trading route «from the Varangians to the Greeks». Today, it is the biggest barrow burial ground in Eastern and Northern Europe; it occupies the area of 16 hectares with 1500 barrows around it. The barrows hide burials of noble warriors and ordinary urban settlers together with their armaments and amulets. Many cult subjects are very similar to the ones found in Scandinavia.
Another historic attraction is Vyazemi fortification with the old settlement remains, the defense wall tower, Trinity Cathedral and Arkadievsky Monastery. All the constructions belong to the 17-19th centuries.
Another historic place is Katyn forest known as a burial place of Soviet and Polish victims of totalitarian regime. So far, historians have not arrived to common vision regarding the past events, yet the place annually attracts people from Russia and abroad.
Smolensk city also enjoys plenty of monuments which have witnessed the rich history of the land: the fortification wall, the Dormition Cathedral seen from any point of the city; churches of 11 — 12th centuries and numerous museums. Russian Antique Gallery demonstrates the works of Roerich, Aivazovsky, Levitan, Repin and European artists of the 15 — 20th centuries. An example of an unusual museum is the local Smithy of the 17th century with authentic labor instruments of the 17 — 19th centuries (keys, locks, arms and household subjects). Another specialized collection is Smolensky Flax Museum with ancient tools used for growing and processing of flax and works of weaving art. One of the wall towers houses the famous Vodka Museum.
For more detailed information on the Region, please refer to Internet resources of governmental authorities of the constituent entity of the Russian Federation.