AN INTRODUCTION TO KAMCHATKA
Kamchatka is without exaggeration one of the most spectacular regions in Russia. It occupies the area of 470,000 sq. km, which equals the size of France, Belgium and Luxembourg combined, and separates the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean. One should not confuse Kamchatka with Siberia; this name is used for the peninsula itself and the closest part of the continent, including Karaginsky Island and the Komandorsky Archipelago. The mountain ridges - Sredinny, Valaginsky, Ganalsky and Kumroch - stretch from the north to the south giving the peninsula the shape of a giant fish. There are more than 160 volcanoes on the peninsula (29 of them are active), due to the fact that it lies on the Great Pacific ring of fire. Volcanoes and volcanic peaks, cyclones and underground heat created here a mixture of twenty climate zones and a great variety of flora and fauna. But the main attractions of Kamchatka are volcanic calderas, stone sculpture parks and lakes in craters, geysers and mineral springs, all in pristine condition.
The Cossack, Vladimir Atlasov, apparently "discovered" Kamchatka in 1697. He built two forts on the Kamchatka River, which became Russian trading camps. The native Koryak, Itelmen, Chukchi and Evens tribes were beaten down by these traders, and their population greatly diminished. Out of the few that remain, the Chukchi live in the northeast, Evens are in the central part of the peninsula and the Koryaks live on the west coast. They still live by traditional reindeer herding and sea fishing, which provide both food and clothing, and still preserve their culture and traditional lifestyles, which is the reason why one of the most remote regions is visited by so many people every year.
The famous marine explorer Vitus Y.Bering discovered it in 1740, when he chose the Avacha Bay as a base for sailing across the Pacific Ocean to the shores of future Russian America. From that time, Petropavlovsk was the main base for all subsequent round-the-world expeditions. The ships of Captain James Cook, La Perouse, I.F.Krusenstern, Captain Clark and other expeditions all visited Kamchatka.
Until the late 19th century, when the Imperial lands in Alaska were sold, Kamchatka was considered to be the least hospitable place in the Russian Empire. Nobody bothered visiting the region as it took six months to get there - only to face vast wilderness and a diminishing supply of fur. Around 1920, it nearly ended up in American hands. Washington Baker wanted to buy the province and was offered a 60-year concession by Lenin, but they couldn't agree on a deal.
Until 1990, no foreigners or nonresident Russians were allowed to visit. In 1991, the Russian Federation was established as an independent republic and Kamchatka was opened for visiting by foreign guests.
With a population of about 240,000 people, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is an important port as well as a center of industry, science and adventure tourism.
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