Published: December 14th 2010July 28th 2010
the site of the original 1723 city centred round the dam (the rectangle emerging from under the bridge). On the bridge is the huge red sculpted Order of Lenin awarded to the city for its part in WW2
Yekaterinburg is so totally different to anywhere else we have been in Russia. It immediately feels like a big city full of grand European style buildings with lots of traffic driving in an organised and disciplined way. Technically we're still in Asia but it all feels very European and the people consider themselves European. All the other places have had a much more small town feel to them.
From the top of the original dam you can see all the eras of the city: Istoricheskiy Skver
; the site of the dam & 1723 city. A square crammed full of historical info that comes alive in the late afternoon with locals chilling out on the benches beside the river. Pre-Stalinist building
s: grand, intricate and colourful as befits the town presiding over a rich mining region. They are very proud of their rocks and minerals with giant lumps of Ural's rocks lining Geology Alley and 2 Museums containing amazing specimens that look more like intricate works of art than naturally occurring minerals. . The Soviet Era
; the Lenin statue and Stalinist City Hall topped with statues of “the workers” Modern Day Down-town
: the modern glass skyscrapers towering away on the far side
staute of the cities founders Tatishchev and de Gennin who were actually arch enemies. I particularly like the red star flower beds
of the lake created by the 1723 dam.
Its neat – turning in a circle and seeing the towns history revolving in front of you.
An unexpected highlight is the Afghan War Memorial. Its so different to what you expect. A solitary, weary soldier sat slumped over his kalashnikov. Its very powerful and raw, it just oozes a sense of futility, you want to reach out and comfort him.
And opposite the War Memorial is the Military Museum with the usual display of tanks and rocket launchers outside – only this time, somehow, you don't want to climb on them and press the buttons,. Instead you just see their destructive force.
Inside the Military Museum everything is in Russian but the attendants are providing amazingly animated explanations to try and get me to understand – its like a game of charades. Their proudest moment only requires 3 words and a very smug look - “Gary Powers” “USA”. After the smug looks comes laughter, they still find the whole U2 Incident very amusing and are very proud of their booty. (in 1960 a US U2-spy plane was shot down in Soviet Air Space near Yekaterinburg. The Soviet leaders
grand, pre-Soviet era, houses
the Sevastyanov House:built for an rich 18th century merchant who made his fortune during the Yekaterinburg gold-rush
got a lot of mileage out of the captured wreckage and pilot and totally humiliated the US who were trying to deny that it happened).
Anyway this is all very interesting but its not the reason we got off the train here. We did that to bring the Romanov story to life. You see the films about the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks, the last Tsar. You know it happened but it still seems like a story, well now we have a chance to stand on the spot and make it real.
It was here, in Yekaterinburg, that Tsar Nikolas II, his wife Alexandra and their children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Tsarevich Aleksei were held prisoner. Then on the night of 16th July 1918 they were taken to the cellar of the house and executed. There are several versions of what happened to the bodies. Initially they were dumped in a mine shaft in the woods outside town, then they tried to destroy them with acid and fire before burying them at an unspecified location.
The grandly named Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land now stands on the execution
Soviet era buidlings
the City Hall in the Stalinist Empire style
site. On the lower level, all dark and sombre, a simple alcove with a cross stands on the site of the basement. The upper level is brighter and filled with gold icons, a celebration of the lives of the now canonised Romanovs. There's a steady stream of pilgrims visiting the memorial chapel and surrounding monuments but a few streets away is the statue of Sverdlov with no visitors or tourists taking photos. One of Lenin's right hand men he is usually credited with ordering the execution of the Romanovs and during Soviet times Yekaterinburg was renamed Sverdlovsk. But now he stands alone and the once demonised Romanovs are now saints.
15km north of town is Ganina Yama the spot where the church believes the bodies were cremated. Around the pit they have built the Monastery of the Holy Martyrs and in amongst the trees are seven wooden churches, one for each member of the Romanov family (the main one burnt down just after we visited – as usual the blog is a bit behind the times!!). Around the pit is a covered board-walk with pictures of the family and the 3 servants who refused to leave and died with
Soviet era buildings up close
the Stalinist style architecture is more ornate than you imagine
the family. Its all very sombre, serious and respectful. When entering a Russian Orthodox church I always have to don a head scarf but its so sacred here that I have to don a wrap around skirt as well – no women in trousers allowed.
Finally a few km away on the edge of a wood is the stop where they found 2 graves containing the the remains of the family and servants in 1995 and 2008 (as confirmed by DNA testing). Its just a tiny clearing in the forest marked by a simple cross and a list of names – so simple and understated, for me it has far more impact than the grand monastery.
So we've seen everything we came to see in Yekaterinburg but as we're driving around out of town we sneak in one more stop beside a very busy motorway Doesn't sound very inspiring but actually it feels incredibly significant, far more so than I expected it to be. 3½ months ago we rode our bike across a bridge in Istanbul and crossed from Europe to Asia - now here we are about to step across the dividing line again and leave Asia
behind. It makes it feel like we really are heading home
There are more photos below