On our tour of the Urals, there are many contrasts.
The climate, the people, the landscape, nature all surprise visitors. One thing which has shaped modern Urals is metallurgy.
Metallurgy began in the Ural in the 2nd millenium BC, bronze and copper, and later iron. At that time there were Uralic and Mongoloid tribes occupying the area. Uralic languages today remain in Finland, Hungary and Estonia. At one point similar methods of metallurgy were used right across from Finland to Thailand, suggesting that rapid migrations took place over massive distances around 2000BC, including via the Ural area.
Much of the Ural area later was occupied by the Mongolian State until it broke down in the 14th century. Bashkirs and the Siberian Khanate controlled the area until Ivan the Terrible took Kazan in the 16th century. Bashkiria then became a part of the Russian Empire. From the 17th century Slavic Russians, Cossacks, began to occupy the Ural area, and discovered the rich mineral deposits. Smelters began to appear across the region, mostly family controlled. One famous family dynasty was the Demidov family
In the 18th and 19th centuries a significant export began. Many steel roof structures built in London during the 19th century used steel which was rolled at the Verkhny Ufaley steel factory. Many wrought iron structures in Europe were also built using Urals steel.
In the late 19th century various joint stock companies were set up and the industry further flourished.
However due to the tough labor conditions and weak political situation in the early 20th century, labor protest actions impacted on production in the early 1900s. After the 1917 revolution, production fell even more dramatically and was fully restored only by the 1930s, once investment was made by the Soviet regime.
During WWII, some steel factories prone to German occupation in Ukraine and western Russia were re-located to the Urals. The UralWagonPlant in Nizhny Tagil, which continues to be a significant producer of tanks in Russia was re-located in such fashion. Other existing Ural factories were boosted. Every second tank during the war was poured from steel from just one factory in Magnitogorsk. By the end of the war, the Urals were producing massive quantities of steel and other metals for the war effort.
Todays Ural still has an impressive range of metallurgy. The area has many mines, some of which are now disused. In some they simply ran out of resource, or became too deep to be economical to raise the ore out to the smelter. We visit two of those disused mines on our Ural tour. In one we have an opportunity to collect some stones – all manner of various colors. It is a former nickel/cobalt/marble open cast mine.
It is incredible to see so many different types and colors of stones in one place.
During the tour, we visit a knife factory, one of the end products of course. They make knives for all kinds of functional purpose, including military, but also a vast array of ceremonial knives. We drive past several metallurgical factories, smelting an array of metal products. You will witness not just the scale, but also the side-effects of their output.
Despite all the mines and metallurgy factories, there is plenty of nature left too. The Urals are vast, beautiful, abused in places, but always manage to surprise.