Archaeology indicates that the site of Kursk was settled in the fifth or fourth century B.C. The settlement was fortified and included Slavs at least as early as the eighth century A.D.
The first written record of Kursk is dated 1032. It was mentioned as one of Severian towns by Prince Igor in The Tale of Igor’s Campaign: “As to my Kurskers, they are famous knights—swaddled under war-horns, nursed under helmets, fed from the point of the lance; to them the trails are familiar, to them the ravines are known, the bows they have are strung tight, the quivers, unclosed, the sabers, sharpened; themselves, like gray wolves, they lope in the field, seeking for themselves honor, and for their prince, glory.”
The seat of a minor principality, Kursk was raided by the Polovtsians in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and destroyed by Batu Khan around 1237. The city was rebuilt no later than 1283. Kursk joined the centralized Russian state in 1508, becoming its southern border province. It was an important center of the corn trade with the Ukraine and hosted an important fair, which took place annually under the walls of the monastery of Our Lady of Kursk.
The Soviet government prized Kursk for rich deposits of iron ore and developed it into one of the major railroad hubs in the Russian Southwest. During World War II, the village of Prokhorovka near Kursk was the center of the Battle of Kursk, a major engagement between Soviet and German forces which is widely believed by historians to have been the largest tank battle in history and was the last major German offensive mounted against the USSR.
The oldest building in Kursk is the upper church of the Trinity Monastery, a good example of the transition style characteristic for Peter the Great’s early reign. The oldest lay building is the so-called Romodanovsky Chamber, although it was erected in all probability in the mid-18th century, when the Romodanovsky family had ceased to exist.
The modern city is a home for several universities: Medical University, University of Technology, Kursk State University (former Pedagogical University) and Agricultural Academy, as well as the private Regional Open Social Institute (ROSI). There are also modern shrines and memorials commemorating the Battle of Kursk, both in the city and in Prokhorovka.
The Command Station Bunker & Museum was built specifically in memorial of the courageous Russian T-34 tank units that fought in the Battle of Kursk, where a T-34 tank is on display. Over 6,000 armored vehicles fought in close range over the open territory near Kursk in 1943. This battle stopped the German advance into the Kursk Salient, and was a turning point in WWII on the Eastern Front.
Kursk played a role in the Cold War as host to Khalino air base.
Nearby is Tsentralno-Chernozemny Zapovednik, a large section of steppe soil that has never been plowed. It is used for a variety of research purposes.