The year 1663 is considered to be the date Penza was founded when a fortress was established here on the orders of Tsar Alexis. At this period of time Russia had recovered from the Times of Troubles and was active in building defences on its south-eastern borders against the threat posed by the Nogais and other nomadic people. In 1666 Tsar Alexis gave his new city a copy of the Our Lady of Kazan Icon, which is considered the city's most-revered relic. Later a posad (an area outside a fortress) and slobodas (settlements) were established around the fortress and more Russian settlers started to arrive in Penza. In 1668 and 1680 Penza was subjected to raids by the Nogais and other tribes from the Kuban and although they devastated the surrounding area, especially in 1680, they were unable to capture the fortress.
Loss of Defensive Role
In 1717 Penza was raided for the last time by the Nogai and other nomadic tribes living along the River Kuban, during what is known as the Kuban Pogrom. As before the raiders were unable to take the fortress and the city's saviour was credited to the Our Lady of Kazan Icon. Afterwards Tsar Peter the Great placed four dragoon regiments between Penza and Saratov to better defend the region. Over time Russia's borders shifted and became more secure, meaning that Penza lost its defensive role but was able to flourish in terms of development as it turned its attention to trade, especially in bread and handicrafts.
Under an edict of Peter the Great, in 1719 Penza became the centre of the Penza Province of the Kazan Governorate. In 1774 Yemelian Pugachyov and his army of rebels were welcomed into Penza but the state regained control later in the year. In 1780 the city was elevated to the centre of the Penza Viceroyalty. The city's coat of arms was officially adopted in 1781 depicting three golden bundles of wheat, barley and millet on a green background to symbolise the fertility of the land in the area. In 1796 the city became the centre of a governorate with the establishment of the Penza Governorate.
The city continued to develop throughout the 18th century with the city exporting grain to other Russian cities via the River Sura and importing manufactured goods. According to a census in the second half of the 19th century there were 318 stone buildings, 3,360 wooden buildings, two monasteries, 26 churches and one mosque in Penza. The construction of the Ryazan-Ural Railway and the Syzran-Vyazma Railway through Penza further benefited Penza’s economic growth. The city also became a centre for education.
Soviet power was established in Penza in January 1918 and by May 1918 the city found itself as the stage of a bloody battle during the Russian Civil War. Elements of the White Guards and the Czechoslovakian Legion started a rebellion against the new Soviet regime. The Soviet victims who were killed defending the city during this uprising are buried in a mass grave on Soviet Square. In the 1930s the Soviets closed down Penza's churches and monasteries and blew up the Saviour Eparchial Cathedral.
Second World War
During the Second World War, Penza played a significant role in the home front as many factories were evacuated to the Penza Region from the western parts of the Soviet Union. The new industries meant that Penza was able to make a great contribution in producing weapons and ammunition for the front. Penza also made use of its already existing bread industry to help feed the nation during the war years.