The Ural (Russian: Урал, pronounced [ʊˈraɫ]) or
Jayıq/Zhayyq (Bashkir: Яйыҡ, Yayıq, pronounced [jɑˈjɯq];
Kazakh: Jai'yq, Жайық, جايىق, pronounced [ʒɑjə́q]),
Yaik (Russian: Яик) before 1775, is a river flowing
Kazakhstan in Eurasia. It originates in the
Ural Mountains and discharges into the Caspian Sea. At 2,428
kilometres (1,509 mi), it is the third-longest river in Europe
after the Volga and the Danube, and the 18th-longest river in Asia.
Ural River is conventionally considered part of the boundary
between the continents of
Europe and Asia.
Ural River arises near Mount Kruglaya in the Ural Mountains, flows
south parallel and west of the north-flowing Tobol River, through
Magnitogorsk, and around the southern end of the Urals, through Orsk
where it turns west for about 300 kilometres (190 mi), to
Orenburg, when the
Sakmara River joins. From
Orenburg it continues
west, passing into Kazakhstan, then turning south again at Oral, and
meandering through a broad flat plain until it reaches the Caspian a
few miles below Atyrau, where it forms a fine digitate delta at
(46°53′N 51°37′E / 46.883°N 51.617°E / 46.883;
The bridge across the Urals in the
Uchalinsky District (Bashkortostan)
The river begins at the slopes of the Kruglaya Mountain of the
Uraltau mountain ridge in South Ural, on the territory of the
Uchalinsky District of Bashkortostan. There it has an average width of
60 to 80 metres (200 to 260 ft) and flows as a typical mountain
river. It then falls into the
Yaik Swamp and after exiting it widens
up to 5 kilometres (3 mi). Below Verkhneuralsk, its flow is
characteristic of a flatland river; there it enters Chelyabinsk and
Orenburg Oblasts. From
Orsk its banks are steep and
rocky and the bottom has many rifts. After Orsk, the river abruptly
turns west and flows through a 45-kilometre (28 mi) long canyon
in the Guberlinsk Mountains. After Uralsk, it flows from north to
south, through the territory of West
Kazakhstan Province and Atyrau
Province of Kazakhstan. There, the river widens and has many lakes and
ducts. Near the mouth, it splits into the
Yaik and Zolotoy
distributaries and forms vast wetlands. The
Yaik distributary is
shallow, with almost no trees on the shores, and is rich in fish;
whereas Zolotoy is deeper and is navigable.
Ural River has a
spectacular tree-like (or “digitate”) shape of the delta (see
image). This type of delta forms naturally in the slow rivers which
deliver a great deal of sediments and flow into a quiet sea. In the
delta, 13.5 kilometres (8.4 mi) from the mouth of the Zolotoy
distributary lies Shalyga Island, which is 2.5 kilometres
(1.6 mi) long, with heights of 1 to 2 metres (3 to 7 ft) and
maximum widths of 0.3 kilometres (980 ft).
The tributaries, in order going upstream, are Kushum, Derkul, Chagan,
Irtek, Utva, Ilek (major, left), Bolshaya Chobda, Kindel, Sakmara,
Tanalyk (major, right), Salmys, Or (major, left) and Suunduk.
The entire length of the
Ural River is considered the Europe-Asia
boundary by most authoritative sources. Rarely, the smaller,
Emba River is claimed as the continental boundary, but
that pushes "Europe" much further into "Central Asian" Kazakhstan. The
Ural River bridge in
Orenburg is even labeled with permanent monuments
carved with the word "Europe" on one side, "Asia" on the other.
Kazakhstan has some European territory and is at times
included in European political and sports organizations 
The "bird's-foot" ("digitate") delta of the Ural in the Caspian Sea
The river is mostly fed by melting snow (60–70%); the contribution
of precipitation is relatively minor. Most of its annual discharge
(65%) occurs during the spring floods, which occur in March and April
near the mouth and in late April through June upstream; 30% drain
during the summer and autumn and 5% in winter. During the floods, the
river widens to above 10 kilometres (6 mi) near
Uralsk and to
several tens of kilometers near the mouth. Water level is highest in
later April upstream and in May downstream. Its fluctuation is 3 to 4
metres (10 to 13 ft) in the upper stream, 9 to 10 metres (30 to
33 ft) in the middle of the river and about 3 metres (10 ft)
in the delta. The average water discharge is 104 cubic metres per
second (3,700 cu ft/s) near Orenburg, and 400 cubic metres
per second (14,000 cu ft/s) at the Kushum village, which is
76.5 kilometres (47.5 mi) from the mouth. The maximum discharge
is 14,000 cubic metres per second (490,000 cu ft/s) and the
minimum is 1.62 cubic metres per second (57 cu ft/s).
Average turbidity is 280 grams per cubic metre
(0.47 lb/cu yd) at
Orenburg and 290 grams per cubic metre
(0.49 lb/cu yd) near Kushum. The river freezes at the source
in early November and in the middle and lower reaches in late
November. It opens in the lower reaches in late March and in early
April in the upper reaches. The ice drift is relatively
The average depth is 1 to 1.5 metres (3 to 5 ft) near the source,
and it increases in the middle reaches and especially near the mouth.
The density of underwater vegetation also increases from the source to
the mouth, so as the richness of the fauna. The bottom in the upper
stream is rocky, with pebble and sand; it changes to silt-sand and
occasionally clay downstream. The basin is asymmetrical – its left
side from the river is 2.1 times larger in area than the right side;
however, the right side is more important for feeding the river. The
density of the tributaries is 0.29 km/km2 in the right and
0.19 km/km2 in the left side of the basin. The right-side
tributaries are typical mountain rivers whereas the left-side
tributaries have flatland character. About 200 kilometres
(120 mi) from the mouth there is a dangerous spot for shipping
called Kruglovskaya prorva (Russian: Кругловская
прорва meaning Kruglovsk abyss). Here the river narrows and
creates a strong vortex over a deep pit. The climate is continental
with frequent and strong winds. Typical annual precipitation is 530
millimetres (21 in).
Northern mole vole
The wetlands at and near the delta of the
Ural River are especially
important to migrating birds as an important stop-over along the Asian
flyway. They host many endemic and endangered species, such as
great white pelican, Dalmatian pelican, pygmy cormorant, cattle egret,
little egret, greater flamingo, white-headed duck, ferruginous duck,
Eurasian spoonbill, glossy ibis, houbara bustard, great black-headed
gull, slender-billed gull, squacco heron, common crane, demoiselle
crane, slender-billed curlew, black stork, red-breasted goose, lesser
white-fronted goose, lesser kestrel, whooper swan, tundra swan,
osprey, pallid harrier, short-toed eagle and many others. The pygmy
cormorant was observed sporadically before 1999 and more regularly
Cattle egret is observed since 1990 between April and
September (as most other migratory birds in this area), with the total
population of several dozen couples. It feeds on frogs, mollusks and
small fish. Upstream, there are more of the stationary bird
species, such as grouse, wild pigeon and partridge.
Ural River is also important for many fish species of the Caspian Sea
which visit its delta and migrate upstream for spawning. In the lower
reaches of the river there are 47 species from 13 families. The family
Cyprinidae account for 40%, sturgeon and herring make up 11%, perch
and herring 9% and salmon 4.4%. The main commercial species are
sturgeon, roach, bream, perch, carp, asp and Wels catfish. The rare
species include Caspian salmon, sterlet, white salmon and kutum.
In the delta of the river and nearby regions live about 48 animal
species belonging to 7 orders; most common are rodents (21 species)
and predators (12). Among them,
Bobrinski's serotine and marbled
polecat are endemic. Key species are raccoon dog, muskrat (appeared
recently), European hare, house mouse, brown rat, and wild boar. Wild
boars had a density of 1.2–2.5 per hectare in 2000 and are hunted
commercially. Others include elk, fox, wolf, dwarf fat-tailed jerboa,
great gerbil, northern mole vole and saiga antelope. The
Turkmenian kulan (Equus hemionus kulan) used to live at the Ural
River. It might be extinct from that region.
The reptiles are represented by bog turtles, common water snakes, rat
snakes and sand lizard. Bog turtles are found in all waters. Common
water snakes live on the banks of canals. Rat snakes and sand lizards
are few and inhabit relatively high areas of land. Two more reptiles,
Caspian whipsnake and Coluber spinalis, are extremely rare. Among
amphibians common are lake frog and green frog.
With an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 species, insects exceed all other
animals of the region by diversity and biomass. Terrestrial and
aquatic insects make up a significant proportion of the diet of birds.
Many species are parasitic on birds and transmit infection. Other
dominating inhabitants of the river are protozoa, rotifers, Cladocera
and copepods. Mollusks are mostly represented by gastropods and
Water from the upper reaches of the
Ural River is used to supply the
Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, built in
the early 1930s) and Orsk-Khalilovsk metallurgical plants, and the low
reaches are used for irrigation. Two reservoirs were created near
Magnitogorsk, and there is a hydroelectric plant near the village of
Iriklinskaya with the corresponding reservoir. Below Uralsk, there is
another reservoir and the Kushumsky channel. The river is navigated up
Uralsk and there is a port in Atyrau. Fishery is well
developed; the commercial fish species include sturgeon, perch,
herring, bream, carp and catfish. The delta of
Ural River accounts
for about half of the fish catchment in Kazakhstan. Also
widespread is agriculture, especially growth of melons and
watermelons. The city of
Atyrau is a major oil producing center of
The river was called Δάϊκος (Daïkos) by
Ptolemy in the 2nd
century AD. Yulian Kulakovsky reads this as Turkic "Jajyk" or
"Яик" and on this basis identifies the
Huns as Turkic speakers.
Gerard Clauson disputes that the name could be of Turkic
origin as early as the 2nd century, and instead attributes it to
Sarmatian origin. The name Яйыҡ (Yayıq) is currently used in
Bashkir language and Жайық (Zhayıq) in Kazakhstan. In later
European texts it is sometimes mentioned as Rhymnus fluvius and in
the Russian chronicle of 1140 as Yaik. The river was renamed Ural
Russian language in 1775, by Catherine II of Russia.
Bagrenye on the Ural River. Drawing by N. F. Savichev (19th century)
In the 10th to 16th centuries, the city of
Saray-Jük (or Saraichik,
meaning "small Sarai") on the
Ural River (now in
Atyrau Province of
Kazakhstan) was an important trade center on the Silk Road. In the
13th century, it became a stronghold of the Golden Horde. It was
destroyed in 1395 by the army of
Timur but then rebuilt to become the
Nogai Horde in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was finally
reduced to a village in 1580 by the Ural Cossacks.
The tip of an old pike pole
After the Russian conquest of the Ural basin in the late 16th century,
the shores of the Ural became home to the
Yaik Cossacks. One of their
main activities was fishing for the sturgeon and related fishes
(including the true sturgeon, starry sturgeon, and beluga) in the Ural
River and the Caspian. A great variety of fishing techniques existed;
the most famous of them was bagrenye (Russian: багренье, from
bagor Russian: багор, meaning pike pole): spearing hibernating
sturgeons in their underwater lairs in mid-winter. The bagrenye was
allowed only on one day of the year. On the appointed day, a large
number of Cossacks with pike poles were gathering on the shore; after
a signal was given, they rushed on the ice, broke it with their poles,
and speared and pulled the fish. Another fishing technique was
constructing a weir, known as the uchug (учуг) across the river,
to catch fish going upstream to spawn. Until 1918, an uchug was set up
in the summer and autumn near Uralsk, so that the fish would not go
upstream beyond the Cossacks land. While the uchug weirs were also
known in the Volga Delta, the bagrenye was thought to be a uniquely
Ural Cossacks (known originally as the
Yaik Cossacks) resented the
attempts by the central government to impose rules and regulations on
them, and on occasions rose in rebellions. The largest rebellion, the
Pugachev's Rebellion of 1773–75, involved not only the Ural, but
much of south-eastern Russia, and resulted in a loss of the government
control there. After its suppression, Empress Catherine issued a
decree of 15 January 1775 to rename most of the places involved in the
revolt, in order to erase the memory of it. Thus the
Yaik River and
the city of Yaitsk were renamed to the
Ural River and Uralsk,
respectively, and the
Yaik Cossacks became the Ural Cossacks.
(.. for the complete oblivion of this unfortunate event that occurred
on the Yaik, the
Yaik river, whose name the [Cossack] Host and the
city have previously borne, shall be renamed the Ural, as the
aforesaid river has its source in the Ural Mountains; therefore, the
[Cossack] Host shall be named the Ural [Cossack] Host, and shall not
be called the
Yaik [Cossack] Host; similarly, Yaitsk City shall be
henceforth called Uralsk.)
^ a b c d
Ural River Delta,
Kazakhstan (NASA Earth Observatory)
^ a b c Ural River, Encyclopædia Britannica
^ a b V. A. Balkov. Ural (in Russian). bashedu.ru
^ a b c d "Ural River" (in Russian). Great Soviet Encyclopedia.
^ a b c d e f 800 km on
Ural River (in Russian)
^ Zonn, p. 375
^ National Geographic Atlas of the World (9th ed.). Washington, DC:
National Geographic. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4262-0633-7. "Europe"
(plate 59); "Asia" (plate 74): "A commonly accepted division between
Europe ... is formed by the Ural Mountains, Ural River,
Caspian Sea, Caucasus Mountains, and the Black Sea with its outlets,
the Bosporus and Dardanelles."
^ World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.
^ Klement Tockner; Urs Uehlinger; Christopher T. Robinson (2009).
"18". Rivers of
Europe (Illustrated ed.). Academic Press.
^ Glanville Price (2000). Encyclopedia of the languages of Europe.
Wiley-Blackwell. p. 12. ISBN 0-631-22039-9.
^ Zonn, p. 178
Orenburg bridge monument photos". katjasdacha.com.
^ Progress aplenty in Kazakhstan, uefa.com
Europe plays against Asians (in Russian). sport.ua (2008-09-10)
^ a b
Ural River chelindustry.ru (in Russian)
^ a b c d e Фауна: Дельта реки Урал и
прилегающее побережье Каспийского
моря. wetlands.kz. (Fauna of the delta of Ural River, in Russian)
^ Zonn, p. 45
^ Ptolemy, Claudius (1843). "Book VI, chapter 14. Σκυθίας
τῆς ἐντὸς Ἰμάου ὄρους θέσις". In Nobbe,
Karl Friedrich August. Geographia (in Greek). Leipzig: Karl Tauchnitz.
p. vol. 2, p. 122.
^ McCrindle, John Watson (1885). Ancient India as Described by
Ptolemy. Bombay: Thacker, Spink. p. 290.
^ Yu. Kulakovsky. "Chapter 2. The map of European Sarmatia" (in
^ Clauson, Gerard (2005). Studies in Turkic and Mongolic Linguistics
(rev. ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 75–76, 124.
^ Philippus Ferrarius; Michel-Antoine Baudrand (1738). Novum lexicon
geographicum: in quo universi orbis, urbes, regiones ... flumina novis
& antiquis nominibus appellata, suisque distantiis descripta
recensetur (in Latin). p. 109.
^ B.A. Rybakov (1972). Русские летописцы и автор
Слова о полку Игореве (in Russian). Nauka.
^ Paul Brummell (2008). Bradt Kazakhstan. Bradt Travel Guides.
p. 316. ISBN 1-84162-234-6.
^ Zonn, p. 416
^ ""Багренье" (Bagrenye, i.e. Pike-pole fishing)".
Энциклопедический лексикон (Encyclopedic
lexicon) (in Russian). vol. 4. Saint Petersburg. 1835.
^ A.I. Poterpeeva & V.E. Chetin (1980). Revoliutsionnaia i
trudovaia letopis Iuzhnouralskogo kraia: 1682–1918. South
Zonn, Igor S.; Kostianoy, Andrey & Kosarev, Aleksey N. (2010). The
Caspian Sea Encyclopedia. Springer. ISBN 3-642-11523-3.
Oghuz Yabgu State
List of Kazakh khans
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Rivers of Kazakhstan
Bolshoy Uzen River
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