A settlement on the site of present day Yelabuga is believed to have been founded in in the early 11th century and the site has from the earliest times been used as a point to cross the Kama. It is believed that the founding of the city could have taken place at some point during the time of Emir Ibragim I ben Mukhamad of Volga Bulgaria who reigned from around 1006 to 1026. The official date of foundation has been set at 1007.
A fortified mosque was constructed on highland overlooking the River Kama between the 11th and 12th century. Ruins of this citadel remain today. This settlement became known as the Yelabugzhsky or Chyortovo settlement. The name Chyortovo is derived from the Russian word for demon - 'chyort'. According to legend a demon appeared to a priest asking to marry his daughter. The priest naturally didn't want to give his daughter to a demon and so told the demon that he would only consent if the demon could build a church within a day. On the next day the priest was astonished to see a magnificent church had been constructed. However upon inspection the church was missing a cross as the demon couldn't make one and at that the church collapsed and the demon disappeared.
16th - 17th Century
After the Kazan Khanate was conquered by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1552, the settlement which existed on what is now Yelabuga became known as Tryokhsvyatskoe, possibly in honour of an icon of the Three Holy Hierarchs ('tryokh svyatiteley'). In the first quarter of the 17th century the Large Plot Book mentions the settlement of Tryokhsvyatskoe as being on the River Kama close to the city of Chertov or Yelabuga. The Troitsky Monastery was founded in 1616 on the site of the ancient settlement, but this was then dissolved in 1764.
In 1780 Catherine the Great issued an edict establishing the city of Yelabuga as the centre of the Yelabuga District of the Vyatka Governorate. In 1781 a coat of arms was adopted for the city depicting a dark red woodpecker on a black wooden stump.
In the 19th century Yelabuga became a centre for trade, especially the trade of bread. In 1850 a chemical factory was established in the city. As the city developed economically, merchant dynasties also began to grow rich and influential. Such families included the Uskov, the Shishkin and the Stakheev families. The most famous member of Yelabuga’s Shishkin dynasty though was not a merchant but the famous Russian painter Ivan Shishkin, who is especially known for his scenes of forests. Shishkin was born in Yelabuga in 1832 and lived there until he went to study in Kazan. The city today has a house-museum and a statue dedicated to him.
In the 20th century Yelabuga continued to develop as a successful merchant town and by the turn of the century there were over 600 merchants in the city and even 12 millionaires, with the Stakheev family being the most prominent merchant dynasty there. However this all changed in 1917 with the Revolution which saw the workers of the city’s factories taking power and handing it over to the Bolsheviks. By September 1918 the city had been captured by the People’s Army of Komuch – an anti-Bolshevik white army. Later this army was reinforced with the white army of Admiral Kolchak, and battles with Yelabuga workers took place in the city. In May 1919 the Red Army began shelling the city from its flotilla and out of fear of being surrounded the Whites abandoned the city to the Reds. In July 1919 Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife, visited Yelabuga on a propaganda mission to secure the newly recaptured city for the Bolsheviks.
In 1921 the southern part of the Yelabuga District of the Vyatka Governorate, which included Yelabuga, became the Yelabuga Canton of the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR. In 1930 the Yelabuga Canton was renamed the Yelabuga District.
Second World War
During the Second World War Yelabuga became the place of evacuation for many Soviet citizens from areas occupied or threatened by the Nazis. It was not just people that were evacuated but also factories to stop them falling into the hands of the enemy. The most famous evacuee in Yelabuga was the famous poet Marina Tsvetaeva. However Tsvetaeva’s time in Yelabuga marked a period of severe depression in her life. She arrived in the city with her son on 18 August 1941 and, although she visited Chistopol on 26 August 1941 and expressed her desire to move there to be with other authors, she ended her own life in Yelabuga on 31 August 1941. The poet was buried on the edge of the city’s cemetery although during the war the exact location of her burial was lost.
Alabuga Special Economic Zone
In 2005 the Government of the Republic of Tatarstan created the Alabuga Special Economic Zone to develop the industrial and economic sector of the city by creating a special regime for investors. Around the same time the city’s touristic sights were developed to encourage tourism and in 2007 the city’s millennium was marked with large celebrations and the restoration of historical buildings. This project was obviously a success as 2010 saw 130,000 people visiting the city and 173 cruise ships stopping there.