Driving into the countryside of Provincial Russia opens a new world. Simple houses with sophisticated satellite dots the highway to Novgorod, the birthplace of Christianity in Russia, the largest Orthodox country in the world. During our stay in late autumn 2015, I was amazed by the renovation of churches. Everyone appeared to be going to church services, being baptized in the Russian Orthodox faith and living in peace behind the leadership of their governmmuseum of woo was no garbage in the streets or homeless persons. Plastic bags littering the environment were non-existent. An adventure was traveling deep into Russia into a non-English speaking area with guide Olga and driver Oleg of expresstorussia.com and intourist.com “Our program includes seeing the Museum of Wooden Architecture (Open Air Museum), explained Olga. We passed through St. George Monastery famed from the birth of Christianity. We went off season, avoiding the crowds. Women dressed in Russian folk costumes gave us big smiles throughout the museum.
“In 1964, work began on the Open Air Museum of Vitoslavlitsy, named after the neighboring village. Wooden architecture has a rich tradition going back to the earliest days of Rus. Timber was the cheapest type of building material in this heavily forested area. Novgorod the Great was built entirely by unknown carpenters…..Archaeologists have been working for over forty years to locate and preserve interesting structures. Architect Leonid Krasnorechiev began a movement to identify and remove structures in villages. He relocated buildings to Viloslavlitsy.1
We entered an average peasant’s home. They were two storied structures. The lower floor served as food storage, animal stables, loft for hay and straw, household implements and workshop. The upper floor was for living and sleeping quarters, raised high for warmth and dryness. A dining table with a corner icon display was seen. In the wealthier homes, several icons were in the display.2
Signs in English/Russian explained Leonid Krasnorec Krasnorechiev (1932-2013) as the author of the Museum’s master plan. He was awarded Russia’s State prize for Arts and Architecture twice. Architect Krasnorechiev was declared an Honorary Citizen of Veliky Novgorod. His selfless work saved one of kind wooden structures from dilapidation. We visited the buildings of the Pritraktovo-Mstinsky sector. The buildings were relocated from the road connecting St. Petersburg, Moscow and the Msta river basin area of Novgorod. The houses distinctive features are high basements with shops, tea rooms and workshops. Picturesque balconies and porches adorned the houses.
The Pritraktovo-Mstinsky sector includes building from these villages: Log house, former owner Tunitsky, Pyrishchi village in Krestetsky District, 1870-1890: Log house, former owner Yekimova, Tyshevo village, Novgorod District 1882: Granary, former owner Alexeyeva, Khvoshnik village, Borovichi district, late 19th century; chapel, Kashira village in Malaya Vishera district, 18th century; Log house, former owner Shkiparev, Chastova village, Novgorod district 1880’s and Log house, former owner Tsaryova, Pyrishchi village, Krestetsy district, early 19th century.
The Churchyard Complex has three churches. They form a dominant part of the Museum. Churchyards used to be administrative and religious centers of rural areas. The churchyard restoration is based on studies of the Russian North. The churches are as follows: church of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin, Peredki village, Borovichi District, 1531; Church of the Assumption, Nikoolino village, Lyubytino District, 1599 and St. Nicholas Church, Vysoky Ostrov village, Ikoolovka District, 1767.
We had time to visit the vendors. They were tough business women. No bargaining. In Greece, our guides could bargain. Not here. The women merchants looked very serious. In October 2015, the ruble had fallen because of a United Nations confrontation between our governments. I bought several Russian shawl scarfs and a table cloth, mostly to give the merchants’ business. Later in New York City, I embellished them with sequins, pearls and satin flowers from
We visited the folk restaurant at the Museum of Wooden Architecture in Vitoslavlitsy. The restaurant had the feel of being in an old fashion environment. A samovar that boils water was at the entrance on display. I honestly did not see alcoholism in the streets or in dining areas. The entrée was a cabbage salad with oversized tea cups, punch and pork stew. Remarkably, I felt great after eating this luncheon. No chemicals in food.
I read “The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend”, that gave me an insight into Old Russia. Stories of ancient, legendary heroes, like the hero Sadko of this epic ballad, are known as Byliny. This means “what has been”. They are recited today by peasant narrators in the Russian Northwest. The Sadko legend was the subject of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, “Sadko”. Novgorod was the greatest commercial center of medieval Russia. It was built on both banks of the River Volkhov, a major trade route with Constantinople.3 As a CUNY Queens college student in the 1970’s, I read about Novgorod and the Byzantine Empire. We are all honored to have visited Novgorod the Great and the Open Air Museum. Above all, to meet persons like ourselves, working, going to church and attempting to build a peaceful future for their children.
- “Novgorod the Great” pp. 105-109.
- “Novgorod the Great” p. 119.
- Shepard, Aaron, “The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend” (Alladin Paperbacks: Hong Kong, 2001) p.30.