Some of the largest reservoirs in the world can be found along the Volga. The river has a symbolic meaning in Russian culture and is often referred to as Волга-матушка Volga-Matushka (Mother Volga) in Russian literature and folklore.
The Russian hydronym Volga (Волга) derives from Proto-Slavic *vòlga "wetness, moisture", which is preserved in many Slavic languages, including Ukrainian volóha (воло́га) "moisture", Russian vlaga (влага) "moisture", Bulgarian vlaga (влага) "moisture", Czech vláha "dampness", Serbian vlaga (влага ) "moisture", Croatian vlaga "moisture" and Slovene vlaga "moisture" among others.
The Slavic name is a loan translation of earlier Scythian Rā (Ῥᾶ) "Volga", literally "wetness", cognate with Avestan Raŋhā "mythical stream" (also compare the derivation Sogdian r’k "vein, blood vessel" (*raha-ka), Persian رگ rag "vein") and Sanskrit rasā́- (रसा) "dew, liquid, juice; mythical river". The Scythian name survives in modern Mordvin Rav (Рав) "Volga".
The Turkic peoples living along the river formerly referred to it as Itil or Atil "big river". In modern Turkic languages, the Volga is known as İdel (Идел) in Tatar, Атăл (Atăl) in Chuvash, Idhel in Bashkir, Edil in Kazakh, and İdil in Turkish. The Turkic peoples associated the Itil's origin with the Kama. Thus, a left tributary to the Kama was named the Aq Itil "White Itil" which unites with the Kara Itil "Black Itil" at the modern city of Ufa. The name Indyl (Indɨl) is used in Adyge (Cherkess) language.
Among Asians,[clarification needed] the river was known by its other Turkic name Sarı-su "yellow water", but the Oirats also used their own name, Ijil mörön or "adaptation river". Presently the Mari, another Uralic group, call the river Jul (Юл), meaning "way" in Tatar. Formerly, they called the river Volgydo, a borrowing from Old Russian.
The Volga is the longest river in Europe. It belongs to the closed basin of the Caspian Sea, being the longest river to flow into a closed basin. Rising in the Valdai Hills 225 meters (738 ft) above sea level northwest of Moscow and about 320 kilometers (200 mi) southeast of Saint Petersburg, the Volga heads east past Lake Sterzh, Tver, Dubna, Rybinsk, Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod, and Kazan. From there it turns south, flows past Ulyanovsk, Tolyatti, Samara, Saratov and Volgograd, and discharges into the Caspian Sea below Astrakhan at 28 meters (92 ft) below sea level. At its most strategic point, it bends toward the Don ("the big bend"). Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, is located there.