Astrakhan, Or Astrachan. I. A government of S. E. Russia, on the N. W. shore of the Caspian sea; area, 85,010 sq. m.; pop. in 1867, 573,954, including 134,000 Kirghizes. The Volga, flowing from N. W. to S. E., divides it into two arid steppes of nearly equal size, with a few fertile tracts, pasture lands, and grain fields along the banks of the river. The whole country seems to have once been covered by the Caspian, and the soil abounds with saline ingredients. Salt lakes and marshes are abundant. Rock salt and gypsum are found. There are few trees. The climate is extremely hot in summer and cold in winter, and unwholesome to strangers. Cattle, goats, and a poor breed of horses are raised, and the goat skins are used for the manufacture of morocco leather. The most valuable industry is fishing, the fisheries of the Volga being extraordinarily productive. The principal rivers besides the Volga are the Akhtuba, Sarpa, and Kuma. The most important towns, besides the capital, are Krasnoi-Yar, Tchernoi-Yar, and Tzarev. The population is composed of Kalmucks, Kirghizes, Tartars - these three being nomadic tribes - and Russians, Armenians, Persians, Hindoos, and Germans. Astrakhan was anciently a khanate of the Golden Horde of Tartars, and embraced, besides Astrakhan proper, Saratov, Orenburg, and the Caucasus. It was annexed to Russia by the czar Ivan the Terrible in 1554. II. The capital of the preceding government, situated on an island formed by one of the branches of the Volga, about 20 m. from the sea; pop. in 1867, 47,839. The houses are partly of brick, partly of wood, and the streets are crooked, unpaved, and dirty.
The population is composed of all nations of Europe and Asia, and of nearly all creeds. There are mosques for the Mohammedans and sanctuaries for the Hindoos, as well as Christian churches. The city has a naval academy, several public schools, a Greek theological seminary, Greek and Armenian archbishops, and a printing office for the Kalmuck language. About 100 small manufacturing establishments produce cashmere shawls, silk and cotton fabrics, furs, dyes, powder, and salt. The salt works are very extensive, and its fisheries in the Volga and Caspian are, next to those of Newfoundland, the most important in the world. Astrakhan is an entrepot of the Russian oriental trade, and the raw produce from the remoter regions, consisting principally of hides, sheepskins, and grease, is brought there. The Volga is its great channel of inland navigation, and in 1863 its imports were valued at §997, 976, and its exports at $215,448. The trade of the Caspian, with Astrabad and other Persian ports on the S. and Tartary on the E., belongs almost wholly to Astrakhan and Baku. The harbor of Astrakhan, however, is much obstructed by sand.