by James Ellingworth, The Associated Press, May 9, 2019
MOSCOW (AP) — Best known outside Russia as the site of the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II, Volgograd's summer heat could prove to be a challenge for visiting teams.
Laid out along the banks of the Volga River on the flat steppe of southern Russia, it will play host to England's first game of the tournament — a match likely to be watched closely given the brawls between English and Russian fans at the 2016 European Championship.
Here's what you need to know about the city:
The 45,000-seat Volgograd Arena has been designed to blend into its surroundings as much as possible. That's because it's next to Mamayev Hill, a vast memorial complex to the Soviet Union's fallen of World War II.
The stadium was built on a battlefield, with workers uncovering more than 200 shells and other armaments during its construction, as well as the bodies of two unidentified Soviet soldiers. The stadium's foundations were dug deep to keep the roof line low and ensure it doesn't block views of the memorial.
WHAT TO KNOW
An industrial city, Volgograd has twice changed its name to reflect Russia's turbulent political history.
It was known as Tsaritsyn from its founding in the late 16th century until 1925, after the Russian Revolution. It was renamed Stalingrad in honor of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, a name which gave the city huge symbolic importance for both German and Soviet forces in World War II. The bitter house-to-house fighting for the city left at least a million casualties — perhaps many more — before the Germans were eventually defeated.
In 1961, Stalin successor Nikita Khrushchev named the city Volgograd — the "city on the Volga" — as he tried to dismantle Stalin's cult of personality. Some locals still want the Stalingrad name back.
WHAT TO DO
Volgograd is a long, thin city stretched out along the banks of the river. That means visiting fans have a wealth of options when choosing a riverside cafe or bar. Boat trips are also popular.
The vast memorial complex on Mamayev Hill is guaranteed to leave an impression. At each stage of the long climb up the hill, the vast metal "Motherland Calls" statue seems just over the next rise, only to be revealed as even bigger and further away.
WHAT TO WATCH
Volgograd will host four matches at the World Cup, starting with England's meeting with Tunisia in Group G on June 18.
Nigeria and Iceland will be next to visit for a Group D game on June 22, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt following in Group A on June 25. The last game in Volgograd will see Poland meet Japan in Group H on June 28.
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