Nizhny Novgorod has been home to several prominent figures throughout its long history. Perhaps the one of the most influential for Russia as a whole was Kuzma Minin. Kuzma was a native of Nizhny Novgorod, making his living as a powerful merchant during the Time of Troubles, a sordid period of Russian history that began with the death of Tsar Fyodor I. His death marked the end of the Rurik Dynasty, leaving a void in Russian politics that inspired Russia’s enemies, both internal and external, to take action. In the midst of impostors to the throne, famines, and domestic revolts, the Polish-Lithuanian Army occupied Moscow in the early 1600s. Several localities, including Nizhny Novgorod, organized armies to defend themselves. Kuzma Minin was elected to oversee the funding of this army. His activity drew the attention of Prince Pozharsky, who joined his forces with Minin’s and marched on Moscow to expel the Polish-Lithuanian invaders. In 1612, they reached Moscow and turned the tide of the Polish-Muscovite War. Minin and Pozharsky had liberated Moscow from foreign clutches.
Their feat was commemorated by the construction of the Monument to Minin and Pozharsky, which was commissioned in 1812 to mark the bicentennial of this event, and was to be placed in Minin’s hometown of Nizhny Novgorod. However, Tsar Alexander I felt the statue was more appropriate for Moscow, where to this day it sits in Red Square, in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Luckily for the citizens of Nizhny Novgorod, a copy of this statue was erected in 2005, finally giving the city the recognition it had long been due.
The statue is situated on the aptly named Minin and Pozharsky Square, across from the Cathedral of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Located in the center of the city, the square is an excellent place to begin your exploration of Nizhny Novgorod. The city’s main pedestrian zone begins shortly after the square, where you can enjoy many shops, restaurants, and street performers. Some of these specialize in folk products, such as handmade matryoshka dolls. The restaurants offer a wide array of cuisine, with Mir Pizzi (Pizza World), the Starbucks-esque Shokoladnitsa, and some sushi restaurants. Perhaps most importantly, the square is not far from the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, which is the focal point of the entire city. All in all, this monument and its square are the perfect place to familiarize yourself with what Nizhny Novgorod has to offer.