Bringing Russia’s Rural Past to Life
Published: January 16, 2013 (Issue # 1742)
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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