Monday, September 23, 2013

Yekaterinburg - walking through the city

Dawn in Yekatrinburg
the Cathedral of the Blood in the center
We took off for a few-hour city hike of Yekaterinburg - a city known as the place the last Czar and his family were murdered, but one with a far richer past as an early selection for the Great Soviet Industrialization.  It was actually closed to all foreigners until 1991.

We walked north over a wide transit and vehicular bridge leaving the new government and industrial center and over to the older cultural and religious center.  Ekaterinburg is a young city with young couples, young singles and young families everywhere, dotted with the occasional lumbering old large woman in a babushka and older men leaning on railings at bus stops smoking.

Cathedral of the (Spilt) Blood
We navigated down first to Voznesenski Cathedral – one dismissed by the guide book but rich in history and active in use by the locals.  The murals inside had been painted over during the soviet religious purges in the 1930’s but some have been recreated and restored.  These Russian Orthodox churches are different than European Catholic churches; no altar really, and more the feeling of a Buddhist temple with icons all around and prayers said at different stations.

Over to Cathedral on the Blood (many called it “Cathedral of the Spilt Blood”) and first to the Romanov memorial; allegedly on the site where the Romanov family was killed.  The memorial is inside a building that contains the Chapel of St. Nicholas and displays icons of the Romanovs everywhere as sacred martyrs.  We bought some local items… looked at photographs and even a film of the Romanovs.

It’s Saturday, and the main Cathedral on the Blood chapel is on the wedding tour. The bride and groom
On the Wedding Photo Tour
travel with a small entourage of family and friends and have their picture taken at key city locations.   Inside the cathedral there are  icons and Romanov photographs. We walked into an impromptu staged production with dramatic readings and singing.  Ave Maria…  the singers were getting up in years and their voices were beginning to show the signs.  Today, though, they sounded beautiful.

The Mill Owners Mansion
We wandered out to a dammed portion of the Iset River.  All Russian river towns have dammed rivers just upstream of a 19th century water powered mill; timber, steel, ore processing, etc. The mill owner usually had an elegant house on the dammed lake and gave generously to the local cathedral which was also nearby.  There are thousands of river mill towns across 18th and 19th century Russia; a single spectacular mansion, a single mill complex, a single spectacular cathedral, and the workers settlements.  Today on the dammed Islet, a sailing regatta was underway.  Times change.
Regatta on the Islet River

We walked down the street to some impressive city administrative buildings in search of the money changers!  Something we've been doing on these stops between train segments.  We were lucky to find an open bank changer on a Saturday.  She spent lots of time looking at my passport, remarking on the places I had been “India!  India!” and scolded me a little for not knowing any Russian.

OK...just a nice picture
We then met up with Konstantin Brylyakov, local and  English speaker and owner of Yekaterinburg Guides.
Tall, lean, late forties, fast-talking, green orientation, had his script of how things should be, fast walker, born and raised in Yekaterinburg… knew his stuff and loved his city.

We were driving in some sort of Japanese wagon that he had equipped with two tanks; one petrol and one CNG.  He is proud of it and this city is proud of favorite son Boris Yeltsin, proud of the past accomplishments of being a city designated for the great Soviet industrialization of the 1930s (and closed to all foreigners until 1991), proud of the Russian tanks manufactured here that were instrumental in the German defeat in World War II, proud of having the best universities, the best airport, the best growth plan, the best mix of people, the best, the best, the best of all of Russia! Konstantin described the earliest colonial architectures when Russian Cossacks came over the Urals to colonize the Tartars (Mongols), mixing agriculture with herding.  Next, the beginning of the 18th century small houses with their ornate window jambs and shutters, the industrialization phase of the 19th century – he sees the old abandoned brick mills now as historically charming and nostalgic, this included these ornate mansions of the rich industrialists and the cathedrals they sponsored. The revolutionary style (Soviet) that lead quickly led to the neo-Stalinist and “constructivist” architectures that were purpose-built to most effectively progress needs of the state as given from top down direction.  Ricky’s recollection:  Soviet style called “constructivism”; Stalinist architecture called Neo-classic.

A great time in a very attractive city -- but we were ready to get outta Dodge and walk in the Ural Mountains!

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