Zlatoust: the home of Russian steel

Zlatoust city

Old and historic, Zlatoust is one of the most beautiful and visited towns in the southern Ural Mountains. It is the heartland of weapons manufacturing, the art of steel engraving and features one of the highest mountain trams in the world, ferrying people through forests and alongside alpine peaks.

Zlatoust (1,631 kilometers east of Moscow) was founded in the heart of the Ural Mountains in 1754. Today this town (population: 170,000) is surrounded by natural parks and the remarkable mountain massifs of the Taganay, nicknamed “the Ural Tyrol” after the beautiful ski area in Austria. Situated on the border between Europe and Asia it is considered the highest mountain town in the Urals.

Zlatoust has attracted notable travelers for more than three centuries. Russian leaders ranging from tsars Alexander I and Nicholas II, peasant commander Yemelyan Pugachev and the “Supreme Ruler of Russia” Alexander Kolchak, the White Army leader during the Russian Civil War, all passed through the area. Famous Germans such as zoologist Peter Simon Pallas and explorer Alexander von Humboldt have also been guests.

The birthplace of Russian damask steel

Saber made by a master from the city of Zlatoust, Ivan Bushuev in 1829. The Armory of the Moscow Kremlin. Pavel Balabanov / RIA News
Saber made by a master from the city of Zlatoust, Ivan Bushuev in 1829. The Armory of the Moscow Kremlin. Pavel Balabanov / RIA News

In Russia there are dozens of companies that produce decorative cold weaponry, but it was here that this technology was first mastered by Russian craftsmen. The first weapons factory in Zlatoust opened in 1815 to produce cold weaponry for the Russian army and navy.

Zlatoust remains one of the world-class centers of knife production to this day. There are about 60 cooperatives and workshops specializing in producing white weapons (a white or cold weapon is one that does not involve fire or explosives).

On the slope of the Urenga Range, which begins within the city limits, is the old “Berezovaya roshcha” (birch grove) cemetery where the graves of German weapon artisans have been preserved. Next to it is the Zlatoust Local History Museum featuring a collection of old damask steel weapons. The museum’s exhibitions display ancient icons, iron castings and the decorated weaponry of Zlatoust masters from the first half of the 19th century, as well as contemporary craft weapons in accordance with the Zlatoust school of metal engraving. The museum provides tours in English.


For lovers of unusual public transit: come to Zlatoust, home of Europe’s highest mountain tramway. Source: Lori/Legion-Media 

Getting around by tram is an excellent way to see everything Zlatoust has to offer. The tram here is said to be the steepest and highest mountain tramway in Europe: the slope of the tram reaches an incline of almost 50 percent at times. The idea to set up a tramway in Zlatoust, which lies in a valley, was worked out in the town’s 1928 general development plan; the network was launched in 1934.

The tram goes up and down an endless series of hills, it climbs the mountains’ slopes, zigzags along the foot of rocks, across ponds and forests’ edges and rolls through country landscapes.

The tram tracks circumvent the entire town and for 18 rubles for the ticket (less than $0.50) you can have an unforgettable excursion through the city filled with sharp impressions: in some parts of the railway the tram almost vertically climbs the slope. From the tram you’ll see the landscapes of the Taganay Mountain Range; the Alexandrovskaya mountain, one of the peaks of the Ural Range; Kosotur, the highest point in Zlatoust; the alpine river Ay; and all of the town’s main sights.

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