Five hundred years on, Nizhny has another architectural gem to show off, a 45,000-seater stadium built in 2018 to host six matches of Russia’s first-ever FIFA World Cup.
Beautifully located next to the magnificent St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on the Strelka, or the Spit of Nizhny Novgorod, where the Oka runs into the Volga, Europe’s longest river, the brand new arena is vying to become another landmark of Russia’s fifth largest city.
"This stadium will give us the opportunity to turn Nizhny Novgorod into a football city. It’s incredibly beautiful. I think that it is the most beautiful building to have been constructed in the city over the past 20 years," Pavel Zanozin, who is a sport commentator and one of Nizhny Novgorod’s FIFA World Cup ambassadors, said.
Supported by a total of 132 tall triangular pillars, 88 of which form the stadium’s outside perimeter while the other 44 surround the pitch inside, the roof seem to be hovering over the stands. Both the roof and the wave-shaped stands are colored white, light blue and blue to evoke associations with the Volga and the sky above.
"For me it is one of the most beautiful stadiums both in Russia and in the whole world," Zanozin added.
Home Side's First-Ever Goal at New Stadium
The game could have finished in a bore draw as the best chance created by either team was denied by the woodwork, but, spurred on by a fervent crowd of 26,000 spectators, the home side picked up the pace in the dying minutes with defender and captain Yuri Morozov right on spot to drive home a long cross following a free kick – and send the crowd into raptures with just seconds to go before the final whistle.
"It is a very comfortable stadium. The big plus are the fans and their support, it turns you on probably by 200 percent, that is, we have to give our all 200 percent during the game. I want to say thanks a lot to everyone. I’m so happy that we have won," an ecstatic Morozov said minutes after scoring his side’s first-ever goal at the new stadium.
Life After the World Cup
Organizers have been gradually increasing attendance at the new arena to avoid piling too much pressure on the infrastructure right from the off. Up to 36,000 spectators will be allowed to attend the third test match to be held at the arena on May 6.
"Of course, the stadium attracts local residents; of course, it was hard to imagine as many spectators as we had yesterday [at the match] at any other sporting facility in Nizhny Novgorod," the region’s Sports Minister Sergey Panov, who also watched Saturday’s game from the stands, said.
The arena can hold a total of almost 45,000 people and one of the challenges the local organizers are facing is maintaining and finding more ways, other than football, to use the venue. Some of the ideas include clustering here all the sports organizations scattered around the city, creating VIP lounges that could be rented out for business meetings and staging pop concerts. But developing football is the top priority.
"A city with more than 1.2 million people deserves a [football] club that will not only play in the Russian Premier League but will also be noticeable in Europe. Our city deserves this and we will do everything to make it happen. The biggest key to success is a good stadium. Now, courtesy of the World Cup, we have such a stadium," the acting governor of the Nizhny Novgorod Region, Gleb Nikitin, said.
The local authorities also see the new stadium and the FIFA World Cup as a chance to raise the city’s profile and attract more tourists.
"The main thing that will remain after the World Cup is definitely the emotions and that millions, hundreds of millions of people will get to know about Nizhny Novgorod and will fall in love with the city," the region’s Deputy Governor Dmitry Svatkovsky said.
Uruguay's Home Away From Home
Some of the tourists who will visit Nizhny Novgorod for the first time this summer will be most likely hailing from Uruguay, as the Latin American football team will be staying at a brand-new base camp in the town of Bor just outside Nizhny Novgorod during the tournament.
"We expect that hundreds and thousands of Uruguay’s fans will follow the team … Of course we would like tourists and fans from Uruguay to come to Nizhny Novgorod and learn how hospitable our region is," Svatkovsky added.
According to the hotel’s manager, the Uruguayan footballers did not have any special requests but asked for table tennis tables to be put up in the lounge rooms – and for a barbecue. The Uruguayans plan to bring their own chef with them who will have a team of local cooks to help him or her grill meat.
Uruguay will play at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium should they win their Group A, which also includes Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and then reach the quarter-finals. But before that the arena will host a Round of 16 game and four group-stage matches, including the clash between Argentina and Croatia.
"Leo Messi, one of the best footballers in the world, against a very strong team, Croatia … It will be an awesome game. We’ll also have England with their barmy fans, with emotions and all that comes with it, who will play Panama, a team that have made it to the World Cup finals for the first time," Nizhny Novgorod’s FIFA World Cup ambassador Zanozin said.
In the other two group-stage games, Sweden will take on South Korea and Switzerland will go up against Costa Rica.
Nizhny Novgorod is one of the 11 Russian cities that will host the country’s first-ever FIFA World Cup from June 14 to July 15.