Capital of Saratov oblast (region), Russian Federation, situated on the right bank of the Volga, 315 km/196 mi north of Volgograd; population (2002) 873,100; (2006 est) 850,100. Saratov is a major centre of industry and transportation, containing engineering and gas works, shipyards, oil refineries, and flour mills. Oil is shipped here from the fields around Baku in Azerbaijan for onward rail distribution to the western Russian Federation; a natural gas pipeline also runs from here to Moscow. Saratov is the second cultural centre of the Volga region after Kazan.
Saratov was founded in 1590 as a fortress town on the site of a Tatar settlement on the Volga's left bank; the city was relocated to the right bank in 1674. From the mid-17th century it was an important centre of the fish and salt trade. In 1780 it became a provincial capital, and won renown as one of the best-administered cities in Russia. From the mid-19th century until the 1920s it was the most populous city on the Volga and the foremost centre of Russia's grain trade and flour-milling industry. Heavy industry began to develop after Saratov was linked by rail to Moscow in 1870, and grew considerably in scale during the 1930s. The city was the capital of the Lower Volga Region from 1928 to 1931, and was occupied by German forces in World War II.
Among Saratov's cultural institutions are a university (founded in 1909), a music conservatoire (founded in 1912), many scientific institutions, and an Art Museum (founded in 1885). There are an number of interesting buildings from the 17th to 19th centuries, including Trinity Cathedral. The city's German population was deported in 1941; an association of Volga Germans in Bonn is helping them to return.