The Vitoslavlitsy Museum of Wooden Architecture

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[Photos at bottom of page.  All images are thumbnailed.]

00novg60.jpg (70008 bytes)00novg61.jpg (54025 bytes)South of Novgorod and not far from the outlying Iur'ev Monastery is an outdoor museum of wooden architecture.  It is one of several to be found now in Russia (others are in Suzdal and Kostroma), where often quite old buildings have been dismantled in their original locations, brought to the museum, reassembled and restored.    The "villages" which result are, of course, artificial creations, since they never existed in the given location with the same grouping of buildings that one now sees.   However, an obvious effort has been made to ensure authenticity at least in the houses, which have been furnished with genuine objects and in which items have been placed according to what is known from ethnographic surveys of still living traditions which can reasonably be assumed to correspond to those of the former inhabitants of the houses on display.  Granted, the houses have a kind of museum cleanliness about them that surely could not have been typical of homes actually being lived in.  The attendants dress in authentic regional costume (perhaps the Sunday best, rather than workaday clothes?), and at various times in the year there are folk festivals attempting to recreate the atmosphere of traditional holidays.  The Novgorod Museum web pages have some photos of such festivals at the Vitoslavlitsy Museum.

The Novgorod exhibit brings together churches of serveral distinct designs from as early as 1531 (a date one can hope is verified in written sources), houses from the nineteenth century, and a windmill from the early 20th century.  The districts represented are quite diverse, among them Novgorod, Liubotino, Borovichi Khvoinitskii, and Kresttsy. One can see where modern beams have replaced ones which had rotted away (as one of the attendants told me, the walls tend to be intact, but the ceilings and outbuildings often suffer from the damp).   One could not go inside the churches, where, in any event, presumably the original icon screens had not been preserved.  One interesting question about authenticity concerns the issue of whether the exteriors of the churches were always bare logs, or whether, as William Brumfield has noted on the basis of extensiveobservation in the Russian north, they may not in fact from early times have been covered with boards which later "restorers" decided were in-authentic and stripped away. 

One is struck by the substantial size of the houses, which indeed is true of many villages in the Russian north.  They were often intended to accomodate several generations of a family, birth rates were high, and many of the families in fact were quite prosperous.  The living quarters were confined largely to one room, with a partition dividing off the kitchen area, dominated by a stove on the top of which the elderly and young children would sleep.  Traditionally the benches around the side of the room doubled as beds (the metal bed in one of the displays is an admittedly late but authentic addition to the furnishings).  Most houses in earlier times lacked chimneys; so the stove was stoked, filling the room with smoke, then the windows opened to clear the air.   There is good evidence to suggest this practice contributed to serious health problems.  However, as with the bed frames, chimneys came with "progress," as one can see in the house built in 1882 that was in the village of Ryshevo.  The houses contain evidence of popular religion--naturally an icon corner, but also under it a display of rye or oat sheaves as a fertility "offering" and in one of the homes a sprig of field herbs in the beams (not shown in the photos) to ward off evil spirits. In this connection one might note as well the lone birch tree not far from the 1595 Church of the Dormition, whose branches are covered with strips or cloth or plastic, reminiscent of the numerous springs and shrines in the Muslim world where prayer "flags" are tied to branches.   The displays in the houses have ample evidence of the importance of flax cultivation and processing, something which still goes on in the Novgorod region--the last of the photos below shows high quality hand-made and hand-embroidered linens being displayed at a stand just outside the entrance to the museum.

An integral part of the houses was the shed/barn, where hay and other farm produce would be stored, where some of the processing of food took place, and where the farm animals would live in the cold months.   One of the photos displays the woven nests for chickens, a wooden harrow and a two pronged plow (sokha) that was typical in central and northern Russia.  Of course the museum setting lacks the authentic aromas of a working farm, where people lived side-by-side with the animals.

The pictures below are intended to document as many as possible of the buildings in the museum.  Identifications have been provided, but I am not in a position to offer specific ethnographic or architectural commentary.  All photos are thumbnailed; clicking on each image will bring up an enlargement.

00novg21.jpg (32071 bytes)
Soletskii dist.
20th c.
00novg22.jpg (70412 bytes)
Pyryshchy, Kresttsy dist.,
and Chastova, Novg. dist.,
19th c.
00novg23.jpg (46928 bytes)
Ch. of Nativity, Periodiki,
Borovichi dist., 1531;
house, Ryshevo,
Novg. dist., 1882
00novg24.jpg (52477 bytes)

detail of
Ryshevo house
00novg25.jpg (40347 bytes)

interior of
Ryshevo house
00novg26.jpg (43748 bytes)
interior of
Ryshevo house
00novg27.jpg (43080 bytes)
interior of
Ryshevo house
00novg29.jpg (43007 bytes)
farm implements
in shed,Chastova,
Novg. dist.
00novg30.jpg (54909 bytes)
ch., Kashira, Malo-
visherskii dist., 1745; house,
Chastova, Novg. dist.
00novg31.jpg (88748 bytes)
ch., Kashira,
Malovisherskii dist.,
00novg32.jpg (61775 bytes)
Ch. of Nativity of
Our Lady, Periodiki,
Borovichii dist., 1531
00novg33.jpg (48521 bytes)
Ch. of Nativity
00novg34.jpg (66247 bytes)
Ch. of S. Nicholas,
Vysokii ostrov,
Okulova dist., 18th c
00novg35.jpg (48165 bytes)
Ch. of Dormition
Nikulino, Lubytino
dist., 1599
00novg36.jpg (64936 bytes)
Ch. of Trinity,
Lubytino dist, 1672-1676
00novg37.jpg (36832 bytes)
Ch. of Dormition,
Kuritskoe, Novg.
dist., 1595
00novg38.jpg (39717 bytes)
Ch. of Dormition,
00novg39.jpg (71524 bytes)
Ch. of Dormition
00novg40.jpg (63744 bytes)
Ch. of S. Nicholas,
Miakishevo, Khvoi-
nitskii dist., 17th c.
00novg41.jpg (78254 bytes)
Ch. of S. Nicholas
from SE
00novg42.jpg (79366 bytes)
Ch. of S. Nicholas,
Tukholia, Kresttsy dist.
00novg43.jpg (81976 bytes)
Ch. of S. Nicholas
from SW
00novg44.jpg (66834 bytes)
Novgorod's fine linen
embroidery today

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2000 Daniel C. Waugh.  Last revised October 29, 2000.