Lighthouses of Russia: Caspian Sea

Russia has an extensive network of inland waterways. The Volga River, Europe's longest river, forms the backbone of this system as it drains southward into the landlocked Caspian Sea. The lower portion of the river is connected to the Don River and the Black Sea by the Volga-Don Canal, while the Volga-Baltic Waterway connects the upper part of the river to St. Petersburg (via Lakes Onega and Ladoga) and to the White Sea and Arctic Ocean (via Lake Onega and the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal). In addition, the Moscow Canal connects the river to the Moscow River and the national capital.

The Caspian Sea is the world's largest lake, with a length of about 1100 km (700 mi). It receives the waters of the Volga and Ural Rivers and many smaller streams, but it has no outlet to the ocean. Russia has only about one fourth of the shoreline of the Caspian.

During the Soviet era, more than a dozen lighthouses were built in Russia and in the Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, which are now independent. The Caspian lights definitely had a navigational purpose, and many of them remain in use. These lighthouses, like the Ostrov Chechen' Light at right, are among the least well known major lighthouses in the world.

In the Soviet Union, all lighthouses were closed to foreign visitors. Since the breakup of the Soviet empire, conditions have become much more free, and many of the lighthouses listed on this page are accessible to visitors.

The Russian word for a lighthouse is mayak (маяк); mys (мыс) is a cape and ostrov (остров) is an island. Since aids to navigation on these waterways and on the Caspian Sea are not listed on international light lists, we have very little information about them. More information certainly would be welcomed. Aids to navigation on the inland waterways are presumably maintained by the River Transport division of the Marine Board.

ARLHS numbers are from the ARLHS World List of Lights.

General Sources
World of Lighthouses - Caspian Sea Coast of Russia
Photos by various photographers available from Lightphotos.net.
Lighthouses in Russia
Photos by various photographers available from Wikimedia.
Russische Leuchttürme auf historischen Postkarten
Historic postcard images posted by Klaus Huelse


Ostrov Chechen' Light, Caspian Sea, August 2005
Panoramio Creative Commons photo by Nick Yakovlev

Astrakhan Oblast Lighthouses
* Lightship Astrakhanskiy (light mast)
Early 1960s. Decommissioned 2007. Round cylindrical steel lightship mast, with lantern. Mast and lantern painted white. The Astrakhanskiy was a 43 m (141 ft) single-masted steel lightship. It was probably the last lightship built by the Soviet Navy. The ship was stationed in the northern Caspian Sea east of Ostrov Tyuleniy and about 80 km (50 mi) south of the Volga entrance. Lightphotos.net has a historic photo of the ship on station. It was withdrawn and scrapped in 2007, but the mast was placed on display at the Russian Hydrographic Service Base in Volga-Kaspiysiy on the south side of Astrakhan. Google has a satellite view. Site status unknown.
* Vyshka (Chetyrekhbugornyy) (2)
Date unknown (station established 1761). Inactive for many years, perhaps since 1928 as mentioned by one blogger. 60 m (197 ft) octagonal brick tower with lantern and gallery. The lighthouse is unpainted brick, lantern painted black. Sergey Gruzdev's photo is at right, Lightphotos.net has a closeup by Andrey Senyushkin, a Russian blogger has an article with many photos inside and outside the tower, another blog has similar photos, Wikimedia has a photo, and Google has a satellite view. Peter the Great ordered a lighthouse built here in 1722 to mark the entrance to the Volga River from the Caspian Sea, but there's no solid evidence of a light until 1761, when a wood tower was built. We don't know the date of the present lighthouse. Due to falling water levels, the lighthouse is now about 25 km (15 mi) from the open waters of the sea, so it no longer has any navigational value. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the station was used as a border guard station; currently it serves as the headquarters of Russia's Caspian coast guard. Located at the south end of the village of Vyshka, on the west side of the Volga delta. Accessible by road from Astrakhan. Site open, tower status unknown. ARLHS ERU-291.
Vyshka Light
Vyshka Light, Vyshka, February 2009
Panoramio photo copyright Sergey Gruzdev; used by permission

Republic of Dagestan Lighthouses
Note: The Autonomous Republic of Dagestan, a subject (member) of the Russian Federation, has about 400 km (250 mi) of coastline on the northwestern side of the Caspian Sea. Makhachkala (formerly called Petrovsk) is the capital and the major port.
Ostrov Tyuleniy (Seal Island) (2?)
Date unknown. Active; light characteristic unknown. Approx. 28 m (92 ft) square pyramidal skeletal tower with gallery. Wikimedia has a photo, but Bing has only a distant satellite view of the island. The history of the station is unknown, but this is another location where Peter the Great ordered a lighthouse to be built in 1722. Tyuleniy is an island in the middle of Kizlyarskiy Bay, on the west side of the Caspian Sea about 60 km (40 mi) north of Ostrov Chechen' and 30 km northeast of Cape Suyutkina. The island is known for its wildlife, including seals and birds, and it is the site of a meteorological station. A Soviet-era fishing village is abandoned, so there is no permanent population. Accessible only by boat. Site status unknown. ARLHS ERU-313.
Chechen' (Ostrov Chechen') (2)
1863 (station established by 1830). Active; focal plane 41 m (135 ft); light characteristic unknown. 40 m (131 ft) round brick tower with lantern and gallery. The tower appears to be unpainted red brick; lantern painted white with a gray metallic roof. The station includes a 1-story keeper's house and several smaller buildings. Nick Yakovlev's photo appears at the top of this page, Yakovlev has another copy of the photo, a good 2008 photo is available, and Wikimapia has several photos, and Google has a good satellite view of the station. The lighthouse was designed and built by British engineers under contract to the imperial government. Ostrov Chechen' is a large island in the northwestern Caspian Sea about 80 km (50 mi) north of Makhachkala. There are small fishing villages on the island, and it was formerly the site of a prison and a leper colony. The light station is located on the sandy western side of the island. Accessible only by boat. Site status unknown. ARLHS ERU-293.
Sulak
Date unknown. Active; light characteristic unknown. Tall stone tower with lantern and gallery. No photo available, but Google has a satellite view. It appears that the tower has a red vertical stripe on the east face, so it may be (or may have been) the rear light of a range. Located on the north side of the entrance to the Sulak River, about 40 km (25 mi) north of Makhachkala. Site status unknown.
* Makhachkala (Petrovsk Port)
1866 (station established 1852). Active; focal plane 84.5 m (277 ft); light characteristic unknown. Approx. 30 m (98 ft) octagonal tower with lantern and gallery, painted with red and white horizontal bands. A photo is at right, another photo is available, Huelse has a historic postcard view, and the lighthouse is seen in a Google satellite view. A 2008 photo shows the lighthouse restored and covered with new siding. Makhachkala, the capital of the autonomous Republic of Dagestan, is the largest Russian port on the west coast of the Caspian. Founded in 1844, it was called Petrovsk Port until 1921. Located on a hill about 500 m (0.3 mi) south southwest of the port area. Site open, tower closed.
Makhachkala Breakwater (1)
Date unknown. Inactive. Approx. 24 m (79 ft) round cylindrical tower with several galleries and a round harbor control room at the second-floor level. A radar antenna is mounted on an extension of one of the galleries. The tower is painted with multicolored bands: red and white at the top; green, blue and red above the control room. The control room is white with a blue roof. Lightphotos.net has a photo, a more distant photo is available, Wikimapia has a photo, and Google has a satellite view. The active light appears to have been moved to a post at the end of an extension of the breakwater. Located at the end of the original breakwater of Makhachkala harbor. Site status unknown.
Makhachkala Light
Makhachkala Light, Makhachkala, September 2005
Panoramio photo copyright Pupsoid; used by permission
* Derbent
1853. Active; light characteristic unknown. Octagonal stone lighthouse, height unknown, with lantern and gallery. The lighthouse is unpainted white stone; lantern painted white with a red roof. Karina Suleymanova has a good closeup photo, Vladimir Korovkin has a photo, and Google has a satellite view. This is the oldest of the Russian lighthouses on the Caspian Sea. The lighthouse is reported to be in great need of restoration. Derbent, not far from the border of Azerbaijan, is the southernmost city in Russia. It is also the oldest city in Russia, dating from around the 8th century BC. The city's famous walls, known as the Caspian Gates, originally stretched for 40 km (25 mi) from the sea to the Caucasus Mountains. Located in the city, at the southeastern corner of Kirov Park. Site open, tower closed.

Information available on lost lighthouses:

Notable faux lighthouses:

Adjoining pages: North: Volga and Don | East: Kazakhstan | South: Azerbaijan

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Posted February 26, 2007. Checked and revised August 3, 2014. Lighthouses: 7; lightships: 1. Site copyright 2014 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.