1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Smolensk (government)

SMOLENSK, a government of middle Russia, belonging partly to Great Russia and partly to White Russia, bounded by the governments of Moscow and Kaluga on the E., Orel and Chernigov on the S., Mogilev and Vitebsk on the W., and Pskov and Tver on the N. It covers an area of 21,632 sq. m. in the W. of the great central plateau, its N. districts extending towards the hilly region of the Valdai. The rivers being deeply cut in the plateau, the surface is also hilly in the W. districts (Smolensk, Doro- gobuzh), whence it slopes away gently towards vast plains on the E. and S. Carboniferous limestones, containing a few deposits of coal (in Yukhnov) and quarried for building purposes, occupy the E. of Smolensk; chalk appears in the S. extremity; while tertiary sands, marls and ferruginous clays cover all the W. The whole is overlain with a thick sheet of boulder clay, with irregular extensions to the N.; post-tertiary sands are spread over wide surfaces; and peat-bogs fill the marshy depressions. The soil, mostly clay, is generally unfertile, and stony and sandy in several districts. The rivers Vazuza and Gzhat, both flowing into the Volga, and the Moskva and the Ugra, tributaries of the Oka, are channels for floating timber. The two tributaries of the Dina—the Kasplya and the Mezha—are of much more importance, as they and their affluents carry considerable numbers of boats to Riga. The Dnieper takes its origin in Smolensk and drains it for more than 300 m.; but neither this river nor its tributaries (Vop, Vyazma, Sozh and Desna), whose upper courses belong to Smolensk, are navigable; timber only is floated down some of them. Many small lakes and extensive marshes occur in the N.W. More than one-third of the area is under forests. The climate is like that of middle Russia generally, although the moderating influence of the damp climate of W. Europe is felt to some extent. The average yearly temperature at the city of Smolensk is 45.5° Fahr. (January, 13.5°; July, 67.2°).

The estimated population in 1906 was 1,762,400. It is chiefly composed of White Russians (55%) in the W., and Great Russians (43%) in the E. Most of the inhabitants (98%) belong to the Orthodox Greek Church ; the rest are Nonconformists. The government is divided into twelve districts, the chief towns of which are Smolensk, Byelyi, Dorogobuzh, Dukhovshina, EInya, Gzhatsk, Krasriyi, Poryechie, Roslavl, Sychevka, Vyazma and Yukhnov.

Notwithstanding the unproductive soil and the frequent failures of crops (especially in the N.W.), the chief occupation is agriculture. Out of the total area 38½% is held by the village communities, 52% by private persons and 2½% by the crown; 7% is uncultivable. Nearly 30% of the surface is arable land, and over 20% is under meadows. The principal crops are rye, wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat and potatoes. Grain has to be imported. Improved agricultural implements are beginning to be manufactured within the government, and to be used by the landlords, and partly also by the peasants. Flax and hemp are important crops, and some tobacco is grown. The live stock of the peasantry suffer from a want of meadow and pasture land, which is chiefly in private ownership. The peasantry are mostly very poor, in consequence not only of the French invasion in 1812, the effects of which are still felt, but also of insufficient allotments and want of meadows. In the way of mining phosphorite only is extracted. The most important industries are cotton, oil and paper mills, distilleries and breweries. The timber trade and boat-building are important sources of income, but more than one-half of the male population of west Smolensk leave their homes every year in search, of work, principally as navvies throughout Russia. A lively traffic is carried on on the rivers, principally the Kasplya, the Obzha and the Ugra, corn, hemp, hempseed, linseed and especially timber being shipped. A considerable quantity of corn is imported into the W. districts. Smolensk is crossed by two important railways, from Moscow to Warsaw and from Riga to Saratov; a branch line connects Vyazma with Kaluga.  (P. A. K.; J. T. Be.)