Founded in the late 16th century, Volgograd has been known by many names. Originally Tsaritsyn, then Stalingrad, then back to Volgograd, it has a history as turbulent as its name changes. It earned its first name due to its location at the confluence of the Tsaritsa and Volga rivers. It was founded as a fortress before being transformed into a popular trading outpost. During its life as a fortress the city experienced numerous uprisings, revolts, and skirmishes, a constant source of attack thanks to its prime standing on the Volga. This history of battle was perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come.
During World War II, Hitler and Mussolini targeted Volgograd because of its industrial power, oil fields, and important transportation routes. The battle that resulted (the Battle of Stalingrad) became a turning point in World War II, being one of the biggest victories over Axis troops on land and the first German defeat publicly announced on German radios. With the help of the fierce Russian winter which caused freezing and starvation as supplies dwindled, the Nazi troops were overpowered by the Soviets. The general in charge, Friedrich Paulus, surrendered to save his troops despite Hitler's orders to fight until death. Paulus became the highest ranking German officer ever to be captured and eventually defected to Moscow.
Nearly two million casualties came during this intense land battle, earning it the title of World War II's bloodiest battle and arguably the deadliest in history. The victory in the Battle of Stalingrad defines Volgograd.
The entire city is a historical sight and a war memorial, the pride of its citizens in the bravery of their countrymen can be felt in every building, monument, and relic. One of the most popular attractions is the Mamayev Kurgan memorial complex, a hill overlooking Volgograd. This hill experienced some of the most intense parts of the battle due to its strategic ability to have control over the town. The entire city is a living testimony to one of the darkest times in Russia's history. From that darkness, though, rose incredible good, and it is that good that is celebrated in every corner of Volgograd. Atop Mamayev Kurgan you will find a beautiful war memorial with an eternal flame and ruined walls from the actual battle.
Though there are many museums and monuments in Volgograd, one can't-miss site is the majestic allegorical statue of Mother Russia. 82 meters (279 feet) tall, it stands atop the Mamayev Kurgan. In 1967, when The Motherland Calls was built, it was the tallest sculpture in the world. Two hundred steps leading to the foot of the monument symbolize the 200 days of the Battle of Stalingrad.