The Smolensk Region is located in western European Russia and has been described as the Gateway to Europe as trains from Moscow pass Smolensk on the way to Berlin, Prague, Paris and other European cities. This "gateway" however was also used by Napoleon and Hitler when they invaded Russia, bringing a great deal of devastation to the region and earning Smolensk the title of Hero City.
The administrative centre of the region is Smolensk which is one of the oldest cities in Russia and is famous for its kremlin which once surrounded the city centre. The stunningly beautiful Dormition Cathedral stands pride of place on the city's tallest hill. The cathedral once held the revered Our Lady of Smolensk Icon, sadly though the icon was lost without trace during the Second World War. The region's Smolenskoe Poozerye Nation Park has a wide range of walking routes and includes over 35 lakes.
One of the most interesting tourist attractions in the region is the Talashkino Estate, outside of Smolensk, which was a thriving centre of Russia art during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The estate was visited by many famous Russian artists including Mikhail Vrubel, Nicholas Roerich, Mikhail Nesterov, Aleksey Korovin and Ilya Repin. A more sombre sight is the Katyn Memorial, located just outside of Smolensk, which is dedicated to the victims of Stalinist repression, especially the thousands of Polish officers taken prison during the Soviet Union's invasion of Poland in 1939. Finally one of the most famous sons of the Smolensk Region is the first man to go into space - Yuri Gagarin - and the city near where he lived was renamed in his honour and has several museums dedicated to him and his historic spaceflight.