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Bringing Russias 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 Russias 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 Russias 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 villages 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 dont 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 landowners house a residence for VIP guests.

Now were 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 dont use surnames.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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