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Winter Chukhloma: three snowmobile routes from experts of the Russian Geographical Society

Bright sun, crisp frost, frost-covered trees, and no one for miles around. Only deserted villages, mute witnesses of ancient times, abandoned temples and towers remind us that once life was in full swing in these parts. Breaking out of the routine of the city and completely disappearing into the wild for three or four days is the main philosophy of the “Full Chukhloma”, a multi-day expedition trip through the off-roads of the Kostroma forests. Off-road lovers go here, who want to conquer off-road and get to remote places of the Russian hinterland.

This year, the local history expedition “Full Chukhloma”, which turns 15 years old, will be held from November 3 to 6 in the format of a car raid through hard-to-reach historical and cultural places in the north of the Kostroma Territory. The crews of all-wheel drive prepared cars will once again try to connect the points of the route, which civilization has never reached. To see, capture and try to preserve the sights of the Chukhloma forests disappearing from the face of the earth is the main goal of this event.

For everyone who wants to repeat the path of the local history expedition without spending on special equipment, experts from the Kostroma branch of the Russian Geographical Society have developed a series of snowmobile routes through the picturesque and ancient villages of the region. In a few days, participants will be able to visit monuments of wooden architecture of the 16th-17th centuries, temple complexes and even live in a real forest chamber. We tell you about the most interesting objects of our routes.

  1. Who lives in the towers?
    Duration: 2 days
    Length: 80 km

Terema as a special type of architectural structures were known even in pre-Mongolian Russia. They were a residential upper annex, where the master’s quarters were located. The towers were distinguished by a large number of windows on each of the walls, as well as openwork balconies or entire fenced terraces – the so-called amusement parks. Often, the towers were reserved exclusively for the female half of the house, hence the themes of many folk tales, where the princess is waiting for her prince, sitting in the tower.

Interestingly, in the Kostroma outback, two wooden towers built in the classical Russian style have been preserved. It was these two objects that became the central part of the snowmobile route. “Who lives in the towers?”. Despite the similar architecture, the fates of these buildings are very different.

A carved wooden manor of the end of the 19th century, now a house-museum, a hotel and an entertainment center in the Chukhloma region – the Astashovo forest tower, known to many travelers and connoisseurs of Russian baroque. The ornate lace of the turrets and spiers attracts the eye, while the historical interiors designed in the style of a noble estate create an atmosphere that the French call art de vivre (“the art of living”).

Astashovsky Terem is perhaps one of the few local attractions that have received a new life in our century. Transformed by the generous hand of young entrepreneurs into a museum-hotel, it has become a kind of starting point for many ethnographic and active adventure tours around the Kostroma region. It is comfortable to spend a night here, or even a week, trying on different rooms, even in winter. Thanks to well-hidden modern utilities: heaters, plumbing, access to hot water, the comfort of your stay is comparable to a good resort. Here you can not only touch the exhibits, but also open them, look inside, turn them around, play with them, and even lie down on some of them is not forbidden.

The repertoire of winter entertainment is also quite extensive: skiing, sledding and skating, dog sledding in the surroundings – you can visit a neighboring farm where deer are bred, or enjoy a walk through a snow-covered coniferous forest.

20 km north of Astashov, through impenetrable swamps, there is another Chukhloma tower. Unlike its architectural counterpart, the estate in the village of Pogorelovo is closed to visitors: today the owner and his family live here. However, the exteriors of the Pogorelsky monument are definitely worth all the effort spent on the road here. It is made into a tower by the built-on two upper floors, where the owners’ chambers are located. Semicircular bay windows, richly decorated pediments and mezzanines with figured roofs create a symmetrical composition, making the building look like a gingerbread house from a children’s fairy tale.

In winter, the tower in Pogorelov is a spectacle of special beauty. Against the backdrop of snow-white expanses, openwork architraves and cornices, a scarlet roof and bright eclecticism of grand country dachas look truly magical, as if a picture from a black and white daguerreotype has acquired color.

  1. Winter expedition to the 19th century
    Duration: 2 days
    Length: 100 km

At the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century, a road of great importance went south from Astashov: local residents used it to get to the Vyatka-Vologda railway, which could take them to St. Petersburg. Despite its apparent isolation from civilization, the Chukhloma district maintained close ties with the capital thanks to otkhodniks – local residents who went (literally – departed) to work in large cities. Joiners, cabinetmakers, and sometimes architects and artists returned to their native villages, bringing with them urban tastes in furniture and clothing, as well as the idea that a family home could be not a hut, but a dacha or city estate.

In addition, the ancient Ekaterininsky tract passed in these places, which led merchants from Novgorod straight to the Urals, which also became an incentive for the development of a large trading and transshipment point. Bushnevo, one of the oldest surviving villages in the Chukhloma region, became such a center. Its history dates back to the reign of Ivan the Terrible, when a monastery was located on this site, called Karpishcheva Hermitage. The heyday of the village came at the beginning of the 19th century: trading rows were laid out here, where weekly bazaars gathered, and the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, built on the model of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, was erected on the central square. A couple of decades later, the winter Trinity Church was built opposite.

The ancient ensemble of Bushnev churches has survived to this day and is the main attraction of the “Full Chukhloma”, as well as a key object of the snowmobile route “Winter Expedition to the 19th Century”. Fragments of stained-glass windows and frescoes, elements of ancient ceilings, as well as a magnificent wooden portal have been preserved in the Trinity Church. The Kazan Church has suffered greatly from time to time, but still represents an unimaginable monument of history for these places.

Nearby is another temple of the early 19th century – the Church of the Deposition of the Robe in Ozerki. Before that, there was a wooden monastery of the XIV century, known as the Great Hermitage, which was founded by the Monk Abraham Chukhloma, who lived for some time near the lake. The brick church with a bell tower was built on its own, at the expense of the parishioners.

To draw attention to the crumbling temple, the activists of the architectural festival erected the Stunned art object at the entrance, based on the story of the monk who founded the Great Desert. A group of wooden benches surrounded by a central cube symbolize the Monk Abraham and his disciples. The composition is built in such a way that the closer you get to the church, the more the view opens up to the depth of its internal space.

  1. Winter expedition from the tower to the estate
    Duration: 3 days
    Length: 110 km

Not far from the old highway from Soligalich to Chukhloma stands one of the largest estates in the Kostroma region – Neronovo. The well-preserved original layout of the park and the complex of buildings in the style of early classicism once belonged to the ancient Cherevin family, known from documents since 1515. This location is central to the tour “Winter Expedition from the Terem to the Estate”.

The estate, which has survived to this day, was built at the end of the 18th century, at the same time the Church of the Resurrection appeared, reflecting the originality of the transitional era from Baroque to Classicism in the provincial architecture of its time. In order for the temple to correspond to a complex idea, the landowner sent serfs to study in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Inside, a unique five-tier baroque iconostasis, frescoes and ancient ceilings have been preserved.

At the turn of the 18th-19th centuries, Neronovo turned into a major center of noble estate culture. There was a rich family archive of the Cherevins, a library of 4 thousand volumes and an art gallery with family portraits and a large collection of paintings, including the brushes of Grigory Ostrovsky, a provincial artist who left portraits of the inhabitants of the estate and neighboring landowners.

Today, on the territory of the estate, you can see the remains of the manor park, laid out according to a complex project with Masonic symbols popular at that time. Traces of a well-thought-out and developed estate economy are visible in the outbuildings that have survived around: the houses of the manager and his assistant, the church gatehouse, an outbuilding in the cellars and a bathhouse. Inside the main house are a suite of rooms, a ballroom with choirs for musicians, and solemn decoration of gold and mirrors. True, now all this is stored only in photo archives and memoirs of descendants.

Nearby is another historical building – the complex of the Chizhov School in Anfimov. This is one of the five craft educational institutions opened on the Kostroma land thanks to the will of the famous philanthropist, friend Savva Mamontov, economist and entrepreneur Fyodor Chizhov. The red stone buildings of the late 19th century were a kind of European educational campuses with houses for teachers, dormitories, workshops, factories, libraries and even hospitals. Moreover, residential buildings had electricity, running water and steam heating.

The Chizhov School in Chukhloma is a well-preserved complex of educational buildings in the eclectic style. Elongated facades, strict architecture and lancet windows evoke memories of English Gothic castles. Here they taught the main branches of agriculture and related industries and crafts, and the main goal was to divert the peasants from the seasonal trade and leave the labor force on their native land. However, despite the incredible conditions for that time, there were very few people willing to study. The peasants preferred to teach their children on their own or sent otkhodniks to specialties: builders, carpenters, cabinet makers, carpenters, painters – the entire economy of Chukhloma district was based on this.

Today in the Chizhovsky town there is a local technical school. Of course, the buildings can no longer be called an advanced educational building, but the excellent preservation of these unique architectural monuments is one of the rare examples of Russian reality.

Julia Gopius

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