Russia is such a vast country that it spans two continents – Asia and Russia – and there is a clearly defined border between the two in the shape of the Ural Mountains. The Urals are a spectacular range of mountains that run in a spine from the north to the south of the country, making an ideal location for a border between two great continents.
The Urals are believed to be the oldest mountain range on the planet and their location has posed problems for settlers and traders throughout the centuries.
The barren areas of the Urals were transformed by industry over the years and as the area became more industrialised, various settlements grew up here. In the 1930’s, the major Russian city of Magnitogorsk was established in the southern Urals and this became a major national centre for iron smelting and steel making.
By the 1930s, the routes to and across the mountains were much more accessible with roads and a railway system firmly in place.
The Ural range as a whole is a long range of impressive summits but the tallest of all is Mount Narodnaya. It isn’t the tallest mountain in Russia – that accolade goes to Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus – but Narodnaya rises to an impressive 6,214 feet at its highest point.
Mount Narodnaya has its saddle in Kazakhstan and while it can be easily climbed on two sides by experienced mountaineers, the south face is excessively steep and has yet to be conquered.
Other impressive peaks in the Urals include Telposiz at 5,300 feet and Konzhakovsky Stone which rises to 5,144 feet at its highest point.
A rich bounty
Although the formation of Magnitogorsk in the 1930’s emphasised how abundant the area is for certain minerals, the notion of Urals mining wasn’t a new one and it is believed that mining took place in the Urals as far back as the 9th century. The Greeks were the first to become aware of this rich bounty and the subsequent exploitation carried on at a steady pace for many centuries.
It was Peter the Great who really accelerated the work here when he was responsible for commissioning several iron works, although the fortunes of the Urals really exploded with the discovery of gold in 1745.
The present day
While mining activities have decreased to an extent over the years, the Urals remain a rich source of minerals and in fact, many pure Russian mineral waters are found across the range as a whole.
Overall, the Urals are a beautiful and fascinating range and they are steeped in a rich history just like many of the natural wonders of Russia. They are the answer to the question ‘What mountain range separates Europe from Asia’, but that isn’t even half of their story.