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Bringing Russia’s Rural Past to Life

Published: January 16, 2013 (Issue # 1742)



  • The wooden houses in Verkhniye Mandrogi are built in a traditional style and include a number of guesthouses that can accommodate about 150 people in total.
    Photo: FOR SPT

  • Nelya, a weaver, gives a demonstration of her ancient craft on a working loom.
    Photo: YELENA MINENKO / SPT

  • Guests to the village can enjoy traditional homemade food and drink.
    Photo: FOR SPT

Verkhniye Mandrogi, a cozy, peaceful village surrounded by water and woods, is connected to the rest of the world by just one bumpy earth road. The empty muddy streets of the village, its exclusively wooden houses and characteristic smell of woodsmoke recreate the leisurely rural atmosphere and peaceful way of life of an old village in Russia’s north.

The village, located on the banks of the Svir River some 300 kilometers northeast of St. Petersburg, was founded 16 years ago as an eco-stop (a stop in natural surroundings) for tourist cruise ships traveling between Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, northern Russia’s two largest lakes. The name Verkhniye Mandrogi was taken from an old village that was located on the site until the 1940s, when it was burned down during World War II.

Sergei Gutsait, the initiator of the project, was once on a cruise along the Svir River and found the conditions of the existing eco-stops rather poor. He then came up with an idea that would be advantageous both for tourists and for him as an entrepreneur.

“The village initially was planned as a Russian Disneyland, an entertainment center based on the fairy tales and operas of the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,” said Vitaly Vasilyev, director of the St. Petersburg Center for Humanitarian Programs, who was involved with the project in its early phase.

“But with time the idea transformed into something more global — not an artificial reconstruction, but a real modern village populated with real people,” he added.

Artisans and craftsmen from all over Russia were invited to live and work here, including one of the main creators of the village’s original style, woodcarver Yury Gusev. It is Gusev to whom Verkhniye Mandrogi owes its colorful, fiendish images of dragons and other unidentifiable fearsome creatures, which don’t really stem from traditional Russian art themes.

The atmosphere of a real Russian village from a bygone age was brought to Mandrogi a little later, when authentic wooden houses from the cities of Vologda and Arkhangelsk were delivered in sections and then reassembled. Nowadays this part of the settlement, called the Old Village, is the most interesting, since the interiors have been recreated with the addition of original Russian peasant paraphernalia.

The only stone building in the village is a mansion created in the style of a 19th-century landowner’s house — a residence for VIP guests.

“Now we’re also working on one of the most long-awaited projects — the transportation of an old village church to Verkhniye Mandrogi,” said reception manager Galina, who introduced herself only by her first name, saying that in their “rural, democratic way of life” they don’t use surnames.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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