Published: November 20th 2009November 20th 2009
On Wednesday, it was time for a trip to Novgorod, the medieval capital of Russia. A three hour bus ride took us out of pretty Saint Petersburg and into real Russia. I woke up literally in a different world. Out the window were not the posh, urban streets of a European city but instead the wooden, dilapidated shacks from the third world. I tried to take some pictures of these surprises, but the real sight can't nearly be caught on film.
Upon arriving in Novgorod, we started a tour of the medieval kremlin, which is Russian for fortress, of the city. We learned that Novgorod actually introduced a certain form of democracy in its medieval city-state years. It served as a large hub for a substantial north-western section of Russia. It was a commercial centre as well as military powerhouse. The citizens of Novgorod, having received the Prince of Kiev's brother to rule them, they struck a deal with the princes who wanted to rule them. They asked the princes, whoever wanted to bestow some decisions with the townsfolk and not wage war without their permission could rule them. One prince agreed, and the tradition continued for quite a while.
However, when Ivan the Terrible conquered and unified all the Russian territories, he made certain this democratic system was smashed, pillaged, and burned. It has been conjectured that if Ivan the Terrible had not conquered Novgorod, which actually was his hardest victory, that the Novgorod state probably would have survived and prospered as a separate entity, more liberal in its policies and roughly the size of present day Ukraine (aka sizable).
Inside the kremlin walls, as is typical all across Russia, there was an eternal flame to honor those lost in the Great Patryonic War (WWII). Also a large statue commemorates the 1000 year anniversary of the city, which of course happened back in the 1850s (we're talkin' ancient here people).
Inside were also a smattering of Russian Orthodox churches and some government buildings. You'll notice that as the pictures progress, there is more and more snow. There are a great before the storm (just a light, yet steady snowfall) and after the storm pictures of the souvenir stalls. It snowed hard, and was really, really cold.
We toured the famous St. Sophia's Cathedral, approx 1000 years old, no biggie. It's looking great for the age. The
charateristic Russian turrets on Russian churches are originally Byzantinian but we're modified to be more onion shaped...to let the snow escape! Fashion turned practical Russian.
Then we came upon the reason Novgorod was famous. Its location on a river system connecting, in essence, the Baltic Sea with the Mediterranean through the Russian/Asia Minor heartland was a huge trade advantage and kept Novgorod on the map.
Off to lunch where I absolutely fell in love with Russian music. Russian music is a mix of western music with Russian super dance hype mixes. I am enamored with European music in general but Russian music takes it to the next level. It makes you just want to dance. Oh, and more borsch. Love it.
No trip to the Russian heartland would be complete without a visit to a Russian monastery so we bussed off to St. George's Monastry, the Peryn Hermitage Monastry, and Lake Ilmen. At the first satellite monastery, we were introduced to monastic life by our professor's Russian monk friend. He described daily life and the role of Russian Orthodoxy in modern Russia. A very interesting religion in that it closely models Byzantinian religion in its worship as
Christianity. In the Western world, we tend to consider Roman Catholic as the conservative bedrock of Christianity (and so would they). Russian Orthodoxy considers Catholicism even to be a bit astray of the true faith, if that paints a somewhat clear picture of where this religion resides on the spectrum. Jesus Christ, in all his Russian Orthodoxy depictions, is chosen not to be shown as the Savior, the Redeemer, or the Holy Spirit, but rather in his role as ultimate Judge on Judgment Day. Our monk stressed that his role at the monastery was to study for the ultimate exam in life decided by Jesus Christ.
Russian Orthodoxy has some of the most beautiful buildings with the most gorgeous depictions of biblical scenes. They are true gems and treasures left standing during the mandatory, atheist state of the Soviet Union that connect present day Russians with their true and ancient heritage.
Being in the forest visiting the monasteries, I experienced what I think of / thought of whenever I thought about Russia--the most picturesque winter forest scenes. Enjoy these pictures.
Upon our return to Saint Petersburg, we returned to our confortable civilization and went in search of
food. After a half hour search of McDonald's we settled for train station cafeteria food (not bad but not a BigMac). Onto Moscow!
We boarded a sleeper train destined for Moscow at around 11pm. The train would arrive at 7am. When I say it felt like being in Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" I'm not joking. The train was fashioned in a decadent 1930's style that was like stepping into old Europe. The locomotive even had a gorgeous Soviet Star still on the front of it's steam engine like exterior. The cabins, supposedly serving four, were beyond miniscule. With our luggage, it still surprises me we were able to all successfully fit inside the box. And we even accommodated guests for evening chit chat. Beyond the beautiful carriage was the car's bathroom...also looking like it hadn't been touched since the 1930's: scary, scary, scary.
Welcome to Russia. Off to Moscow!
There are more photos below