Saturday, May 4, 2013

Veliky Novgorod - a trip to medieval Russia

So I'm not going to let my tales of Veliky Novgorod take as long as I did with Kiev. великий (Veliky) means Great (this is to compare it to Lesser Novgorod, although often VN is referred to solely as Novgorod). Novgorod means "new city." It was one of the great Russian principalities before it came under control of the Duchy of Moscow at the time of the infamous Ivan Grozniy (terrible) and depending on which origin you believe dates back to somewhere between the late 8th to early 11th centuries. I think this origin also depends on what you call a city versus a fort, but I shall not digress. However, it was important during the time that Kievan Rus and Yaroslav the Wise saw to the construction of the main cathedral St. Sophia as one of his three projects, the first being St. Sophia in Kiev and I don't remember the third (fitting name calling him "the Wise" and his 3 cathedrals are all Sophia).

May 1-5 is a holiday so almost everybody is off work. The same for the 9-13th. The trip began early Thursday morning leaving the bus station at 8.15 am for a roughly 4 hour trip. The guy across the aisle from us provided a little early morning drama to keep the trip interesting as he thought it was a brilliant idea to drink at least 6 beers before 10.30. His friends in the seat in front of him shared the enjoyment for the first beer with a "yeah roadtrip/holiday" attitude, but they kept it to one. I don't think he felt it at first which is why he kept drinking, until it hit. He stumbled up to the driver (I think to ask to stop to get food or some other seemingly superb drunk idea; or maybe just the restroom). Eventually the lady next to him got up and sat on the step by the door, which later proved to be incredibly smart. He disturbed his friends and received a strong whack on the head from one telling him to shut up so he sat in his seat by the window listening to music until he pissed himself. Thankfully we arrived in VN shortly afterward whereupon we believe his friends bought him a return ticket back and went on their vacation on their own.

Veliky Novgorod also leads credence to the idea that it is possible to have green cities. Lots of open spaces (and I'll even say natural grass lots, not even planted and tended areas), lots of greenery (or soon to be green as spring continues on). Evidently it is also quite ritzy and quite poor depending on where you venture, and it's not really segregated by neighborhoods. Large modern gated house next to old wooden shacks and on the next block the 19th century imperial apartment buildings reminiscent to SPB, but much smaller in size (2-3 floors). I quite imagine that what VN looks like now, much of now-wealthier Russia (aka SPB and Moscow) looked like in the 1990s. It also gave me quite a good impression of what "other Russia" looks like, a style I'm intriguingly drawn to. The strange mix of wealth and poverty felt quite natural from both perspectives as nowhere was grotesquely opulent or destitute. Just very real. I think I was also drawn to the mix of natural and urban.

VN has many, many churches and monasteries, most dating back to some medieval period and in its heyday it had a strong relationship between church and state. Many of its churches have great frescoes beloved by art historians and many old buildings and it is considered an archaeological treasure in its current state as there are lots of digs happening. There is also some lovely, lush green areas surrounding many of these churches. I do not know if they were always surrounded by fields or if once paved roads were there, but I suspect the fields have dominated the landscape for a very long time. There is also a famous icon there called "Our Lady of the Sign" which in 1170 helped protect the Novgorodians from an invasion. Another icon recorded the event and is called "The Miracle of the Icon 'Our Lady of the Sign'" from the 1460s found about 3/4s down the page here. "Our Lady of the Sign" is housed in St. Sophia's, but is so popular and important to the city that it has been transcribed onto birch bark (a traditional Russian, but especially Novgorodian tradition of putting images into birch bark), for a souvenir.

We started Thursday by hitting up a few of the old churches near our hotel and meandered through the neighborhoods of mansion, shack, and apartment building and saw laundry out drying on a line. Near our hotel is a monstrous abandoned theatre from the 60s or 70s that looks as though it comes out of something post-apocalyptic like Mad Max. We went from there to the Kremlin (it has its own from the time before Muscovite rule), which was the social, political, and religious center of the city. It is still the center of the city for social life, like a large park where people stroll, and in the square outside the wall there are fairs and venders and animals (to keep the children's interest and not at all to distract the adults with monkeys -we shook one's hand, - anteaters, snakes, crocs and iguanas, you could hold a raven, peregrine falcon, or an owl, and there was even a llama). Maybe it was just the holiday, but the life seemed centered around here as the rest of the streets were pleasantly quiet. A Russian co-worker told me that the mead in SPB isn't as good as the stuff from smaller places. The mead in VN agrees with her statement.

We exited Kremlin on the opposite side of the entrance and we ventured across the pedestrian bridge over the Volkhov River to visit more churches and the old marketplace. Whatever was the marketplace is about 7 or 8 churches all centuries old. You can also see the shell of the old Gostiniy Dvor (a market), restored from a gift from SPB after the Nazis destroyed what little was left of it to begin with.

Friday we took a bus about 6 or 7 km south of the city to the oldest monastery in Russia, the Yuriev Monastery (for those who don't know, and I didn't, Yuri is the old Russian name for George when in the old tongue they couldn't pronounce it the same). Since it was Good Friday we couldn't enter all the buildings, but we were able to see enough and got some good views of the frescoes. The monastery is located on the bank of where the Volkhov River leaves a large, but shallow lake as it flows north to Lake Ladoga. A very beautiful place and if one doesn't desire to be in peace in the monastery, they can grill up some fresh fish (if they caught it) or whatever they brought in the parklike there.

After the monastery we walked a short distance down the road to the Museum of Wooden Architecture where they have houses and churches that were moved there from the surrounding countryside dating from the 14th-19th centuries. Mostly from peasant villages, all the buildings are built without nails but were extremely effective at providing all the needs of the people. Inside different houses were exhibitions of what life was like during each season and for large holidays. The main design of the house is a barn below, a garage on the side for your wagon and sled, some storage rooms on the first floor next to the garage and barn. You go up the stairs and in the big space which overlooks the barn is the hayloft and a large floor for which you prepare the conserving of the harvest in the summer and fall, the loom and other clothing things in the winter, and preparing the spring plant/wood needs in spring. There is a single room for living that is small, but serves all the needs and the children sleep in a shallow loft (maybe a foot - 18inches high), the parents are over the fireplace/clay stove, and a small kitchen. It is extremely functional and demonstrates why the Novgorodians were called "master carpenters"by everyone who visited during the medieval times (the Germans, Swedes, Muscovites, Kieven Rus people, etc).

It was a great couple days and I'll try and let the pictures do the rest of the telling. There are a lot of pictures posted since I took 426 in the span of 36 hours and while I whittled it down quite a bit, I just couldn't do it all.

A beautiful view of the countryside from our bus.

The Vokzal (train station, prettier than the bus station next door) and a statue of Alexander Nevsky (which according to something we read in VN is a descendent of Vladimir, baptizer of Rus, and Yaroslav the Wise).

The walk from the Vokzal to a small square which leads to another walk to the main square of St. Sophia and the Kremlin.

The small square with the Russian Column claiming the city as its own.

Around the column are 4 cubes depicting different war achievements. This is WWI and a Mandylion is flying on the flag on the left. I am not particularly happy with this use of Jesus' face and the Mandylion.

The Crest of Novgorod: A couple of bears.

The medieval earthen wall/barricade now goes through the city instead of around. Almost the entire wall still exists and is probably still about 4-5 meters high in many places.

Daria, flowers, St. Sophia's Square, and the Kremlin wall in the distance.

Boy Rachmaninov is tall.

Egads, someone didn't tell the city decorators that the Soviets left a couple decades ago.

The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (1406) is "within" the city and near our hotel. All that is left of the interior is brick and rafters. Note the wood roof made without nails.

On the other side of the lot from the above picture you can find the remains of another church. The four interior squares probably held the columns. This is small, perhaps 2-3 meters between the columns.

An "innercity" monastery. I chose this picture because on the right you can see that fields are on the other side. The monastery hails from at least 1399, when the main church was built.

A second church in the monastery, but someone mistranslated God-receiver as Godbearer (the term for Mary, who bore Jesus).

A short walk away from the monastery and Sts. Peter and Paul are a couple of churches from the 16th century. This is a big area for archaeological digging and there is a sign explaining all that is happening.  If you can, look at the intricate work in the roof. Also wooden without nails, yet held up all these years.

Two churches across the river from our hotel. Yeah, they really are everywhere.

I'm telling you this theater is post-apocalyptic. The fact that on Thursday night a bunch of motorcyclists exited the back lot as we were walking home added to the Mad Max effect.

The Kremlin, a dry moat, and a 19th century clock tower. The roofs of the wall towers are also wood.

A view from inside the Kremlin.

St. Sophia's in the heart of the Kremlin. A view from the south.

Through the pick passageway from the above picture, and a look at the west wall of St. Sophia's and this fresco remains near the top.

On the western door (the second oldest in the city, the oldest held inside the cathedral) is a view of the birth of Eve and a couple angles hanging down from heaven saying, "hey, what do we have here?" (Voices of the angels contributed by Daria)

Well now this is a different style bell tower than from Kiev.

A view of the Kremlin wall winding like a snake from atop the bell tower. Also the beach and river on the left.

A view of the river looking south toward the lake, monastery, and wooden museum.

Same view, zoomed in. I don't know if that's the monastery or a different structure.

And a view of the river, bridge, old marketplace, and the shell of the Gostiny Dvor (the white arches). Also notice that the river banks are still natural grass leading into the river instead of the granite embankments that run through SPB and Moscow and Kiev.

4 of the 8 churches dominating the old marketplace.

Third from the left in the above view is St. Nicholas' Cathedral from 1113-36. Notice the Byzantine style domes compared to the normal Russian "onion" domes.

This is an interesting design with 3 arches going below the main part of the church.

An empty street. I like that a brick and plaster pink building is next door to a wooden green building. As I said, compared to SPB these buildings are small.

And yet, another "inner-city" church.

From the above church, across the street to the right is a monastery that if it is still functioning is in desperate need of repair, but I doubt that it's still used. This fresco has a couple people holding up "Our Lady of the Sign" over the city.

Daria at the gate of the decrepit monastery.

Some of the fresco over Daria's head in the gateway.

I just thought this was a cool picture from the marketplace looking over the Kremlin wall.

Back on the Kremlin side of the city I don't think these tables and benches will be used anytime soon.

Inside the Kremlin is a monument with many famous Tsars of Russia. It is done by the same artist as the monument of Catherine the Great here in SPB. If memory serves me this stops with Peter since he was the last "Tsar" and first "Emperor" (although they still used the name Tsar).

A tour guide who we saw multiple time. I think he takes his job more seriously (certainly seemed more into it) than the other tour guides.

A cool view of the Kremlin wall at night. Well dusk. While VN is south of SPB the sunset was still quite late.

And a cool pic across St. Sophia's Square of the modern government building.

Let's start Saturday at Yuriev Monastery. I think there are officially 3 "cathedrals" and 5 "churches" within the grounds. Please note that the old cathedrals are much smaller than modern ones and many churches today are larger than some old cathedrals.

Daria, inside the monastery grounds, and blue domes with gold stars.

The main cathedral in the monastery, St. George's, has 3 domes for the Trinity, and dates to 1119.

A view inside the grounds.

Inside St. George's a fresco of Jesus washing the Apostle's feet.

Compare the restored fresco on the left and the non-restored on the right.

The Pantocrater in the central dome.

Entry into Jerusalem/Palm Sunday. I wanted to get the fresco that had St. George and the Dragon, but the light from the window in the middle of that outer-wall fresco made it impossible to get a good picture.

The Baptism of Jesus up top and John the Baptist in the middle.

The garden and orchard inside the grounds.

A fresco under the blue domed "cathedral."

Outside the wall of the monastery is a view of the river/lake. You can see the lake going into the horizon. Apparently the lake is only 33 meters deep on average and the surface level is normally 982km2, but can vary between 733 and 2090km2 because of the flatness of the land surrounding it.

A distant view of the wooden museum.

The house with the garage on the left and the living quarters on the second floor. Above the living quarters is more storage space (attic). This is a peasant's изба (izba), or home. Pretty nice digs for a peasant. This particular house is from the early 19th century.

The inside of the above house (I won't give inside pics of all the houses). This is fall harvest and preparation.

Horse cart (above) and sled below, in the garage, taken from atop the stairs.

Flat "landing" at the top of the stairs with an apple harvest barrel and some hay and many other things.

Inside the kitchen.

Resting space below and the loft above (I'm telling you, not much space).

Samovar on the dining table and like good Russian peasants, their icons in the corner.

How to put roof rafters on without nails: carve into one log and rest the other one.

A view from the garage with the stairs on the right.

Unlike the stone churches from Friday wandering through the city, here we find a 16th century all wood, no nails, church from the peasants' village.

Back to the house and the gutter. Nice lattice work too.

Another house.
A great cathedral from the 1500s.

Graffiti on the great wooden cathedral. Notice the church drawn in the bottom left.

And another small church.

Not the great cathedral with the graffiti, but another cathedral. Look at the people on the left.

Another view of some lattice work.

Skis in the winter garage.

Some harvest drying and a spinner for wool.

Sawdust and pitch packed tightly between logs to keep it warm (even though they're still about 15in thick logs).

The stone WC in the "village." It was worth noting.

Cobblestone you say? Here we have some cobble log or cobble trunk road.

The bus stop gave a better view for seeing how they put those logs together.
And while all the above pictures are in chronological order in the trip, I go back to inside Yuriev to see some Verba (pussywillow) growing to leave you with a sign of spring.

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