Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Notice: My 'city tour' will last until January 8

Ryazan: Home to Russia's Stonehenge

Ryazan, a half-million city about 196km southeast of Moscow, is mostly known for its military bases (perhaps 3-4% of the population is employed by the military). Perhaps not so ironic given that Ryazan was the first Russian city to meet the Mongols of Batu Khan (1237)- and was wiped out. Kommersant, as usual, provides good background on the city/region.

Given its military bases, its perhaps not surprising that a paratrooper general from the nationalist Rodina (motherland) party just won a gubernatorial election in the province (though the communist party is still strong in Ryazan (pic)). Or that an outfit called Incredible Adventures offers Russian Special Forces training to civilians.

And most of all, its perhaps not surprising that a Ryazan apartments was supposedly a target of Chechen bombs in 1999. I say supposedly because many Putin critics strongly assert that bombs were planted as a way for him to get elected (more here and here)

Stonehenge article
"(A) parallel can be drawn to Stonehenge, which is close to our
monument in terms of the erection date and initially also was made of wood,"
Ahmedov told Pravda. "However, no blood relationship could have existed between
the peoples who erected Stonehenge and the Ryazan observatory. The latter
evidently indicates the influence of (an) alien population (the Iranian forest
dwellers) from the South-East of the Eurasian steppe."

More here from Pravda and an earlier Pravda article

Beautiful photos of Ryazan and here as well

Russian Church Architecture

Apparently, William Craft Brumfield never finds Russian church architecture boring- and it really never is upon closer inspection.

He has a listing of northern Russian church photographs, a text page on Vologda architecture, and best of all, a public radio interview with him.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Yaroslavl: I was there

Yaraslavl- named after Yaroslavl the Wise (11th century Rus ruler), pop. 650,000, 150 miles northeast of Moscow. Second largest city in Russia during the 17th century.

Yes, I was there in 2004 and enjoyed my visit, esp the Baltic Restaurant, walking the Volga embankment, strolling the downtown city park, viewing pastel-colored buildings on the side streets, and so on. While driving through the city, I saw a Chevy Impala which, upon closer inspection, had a NYPD logo on the sidedoor. Strange...

As usual, Kommersant provides a pretty good rundown of the city and its prospects, including this description:

During the planned reconstruction carried out in 1936-1937
and 1965, construction work went on mainly in the east and
south in order to preserve the historic part of the city.
New streets, parks, and squares were built and monuments
were improved and restored...

The central part of the city preserves the radial-ring
structure that formed spontaneously in the 17th century
along with the regular development according to the plan of
1778; thus, the main streets fan out from the central
square towards the former gates in the city wall. No other
Russian city has so many beautiful works of medieval fresco

Perhaps the city was able to save its churches because,

There is an anecdote that the Soviets had an
alphabetical list of towns slated for "reconstruction"
-- and they never got to the "ya's" (Yaroslavl begins
with the last letter in the Russian alphabet, the ya).

In 2010 the city will celebrate its 1000 anniversary. However, the centerpiece for the celebration, reconstruction of the Dormition Cathedral , is proving problematic (a UNESCO conflict). BTW, UNESCO has the city's historical center listed as a world heritage site.

Also, an interesting website: photographic documentation of churches in the Vologda region (just north of Yaroslavl).

Googling 'Yaroslavl', this Yaroslavl State University website describing the city always appears first. But I like this well-written history better.

Some familiar-looking pictures to me.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Ivanovo: City of Brides

Why City of Brides? Because the city (pop 455,000) has long been Russia's textile capital, an industry predominantly female.

Unfortunately, the city's heavy reliance on its textile industry has led it toward somewhat of a decline (reminds me of my hometown Detroit):
After 1990, however, the industry's monostructure became its downfall. Like many
other manufacturing plants, Ivanovo's large, fully-automated "8th March Textile
Factory" was closed down; its buildings were converted into a shopping mall.
These days, unemployment, partly overt and partly concealed, is high. The number
of its inhabitants, who mostly live in vast, pre-fabricated housing estates,
sank by 5.8 percent. In some towns and villages in the area, almost one-fifth of
the populace moved away.

This Shrinking Cities article is highly recommended, though quite sad. I'm guessing the village of Palekh, a well-known icon-painting center 60 km to the east, has a brighter future.

In the 19th century, Ivanovo was once known as "the Russian Manchester", however, as this a research paper (abstract) asserts, the similarities end where Russian serfdom's influence is felt (most often by hindering captital accumulation).

Kommersant provides perhaps a more detailed and objective view of Ivanovo's history.

wikipedia site. And not to be confused with a city in Bulgaria that houses very interesting rock-hewn churches (unesco site).

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