Barnaul (1989 pop. 602,000) is the capital of Altay Territory, south-western Siberian Russia, on the Ob River, one of the oldest cities in Siberia.
A port and major railway junction, Barnaul is in the heart of the Kulunda steppe, an agricultural area where wheat, corn, and sugar beets are grown.
Barnaul was founded in 1771 as a silver-smelting centre.
Rich copper deposits discovered at the foothills of the Altay mountains and the construction of the first copper-smelting works in Kolyvan preceded appearance of Barnaul. Later, in 1730 the people of Akinfy Demidov, the factory-owner from the Urals, who were busy prospecting for a suitable site for a new and larger metal-works, selected the one in the mouth of the Barnaulka River.
This choice proved to be a success. The place was close to water (the metal-works at that time depended on it immensely as it put machinery into operation) and to forest to get the necessary charcoal for copper-smelting. And though the future work site was rather far away from the essential raw material (copper) and its delivery was rather toilsome and costly, the choice had to be accepted as rivers and forests in the mine vicinity were very scarce.
But copper was not the only thing that attracted Akinfy Demidov. The explorers of the Altay foothills supposed that silver might also be present in that area and numerous silver ornaments from the Altay ancient barrows prompted that idea. At that time Russia did not possess rich deposits of silver.
A thin stream of this metal flowed to the state treasury only from the Nerchinsk factories. That is why when silver ore was discovered in the Altay, in Zmeinaya (Snake) mountain region, the fate of Demidov's mines and metalworks was predetermined. On May 1, 1747, they were taken over by the crown in a special decree of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna to become the major silver centre of Russia.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries 90% of Russian silver - 16.5 tons annually - was produced in the Altay. The Barnaul silver-smelting works with 13 of its furnaces was considered to be the largest one, the silver production amounted there to 7.4 tons a year. No wonder the small works settlement kept growing and in 1771 it acquired the status of a mining town that was one of the largest in Siberia. The name "mining town" was not haphazard - all the aspects of the town's life were focused on mining production.
Russian history records only two mining towns - Ekaterinburg and Barnaul.
The latter was not noted for its size alone. In the 18th century it became a centre of the advanced scientific thought and cultural life in Siberia. In 1753 a Junior Mining School attached to the works was opened in the town.
In 1779 it was followed by a Senior Mining School similar to the one in St. Petersburg. The best graduates of the School could continue their education in the capital. To meet the demands of the mining experts a unique scientific and technological library started functioning in Barnaul in 1764. In the early 19th century the number of its books in various European languages came to 7000.
Today the city's chief industries produce cotton textiles, chemicals, artificial fibres, and machinery.