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Nizhny is not Novgorod, guys!

A City Guide told in tales and legends.

You can come to the city of N, take a walk along the local "Arbat" - Bolshaya Pokrovskaya - take a picture with a statue of a goat and the Kremlin, inquire about the childhood and adolescence of Maxim Gorky, and then head back to Moscow on the “Strizh" (fast train) with the satisfaction of a fulfilled weekend. But you can discover Nizhny Novgorod in a completely different way if you explore it with several of the legends told in this guide. 



"You came to the wrong Novgorod!"



Sometimes local guides and hoteliers grumble. The cities of Veliky (Great) Novgorod and Nizhny (Low) Novgorod are often mixed up, sometimes even officially. Many people start to twitch their eyes nervously when during a conversation you accidentally say Novgorod, instead of Nizhniy Novgorod or call people Novgorodians. “We are Nizhegorodians,” the locals sigh. Nizhniy does not have the slightest relation to Veliky Novgorod. And this city is definitely not below the Great One. Nizhny Novgorod was founded in the XIII century, and in those days it was possible to be lower along the river. But the two Novgorods are not connected by one river, Veliky is located on the Volkhov river and Nizhny on the Oka river. It is assumed that it was originally called the New City of the Lower Land. But over time everything became simpler to say, and the city became known as simply the Low New City, which is in Russian - Nizhny Novgorod. The second version is more complicated. Nizhniy is further down the Volga than the older city Gorodets. In those times, naming cities was not done very well, when they founded a new city it was called “New City”. But funny stories constantly happen in this city because of this confusion. Once official World Cup Guidebooks were printed for Nizhny depicting the Novgorod Kremlin. Or the new governor of Nizhny addressed the residents as “Dear Novgorodians”. Sometimes tourists try to book  excursions to St. Sophia Cathedral in Nizhny and ask for stories about the Novgorod Veche...  Guys, Nizhny is not Novgorod!

Sergievskaya Street 



Nizhny Novgorod is a great mixture of architecture from different eras. And that’s why it’s so authentic. The best example of this eclecticism is Sergievskaya Street, where every 20 steps equals dozens of years. If you walk slowly, you can see crooked houses, cultural heritage sites, and former merchant houses. There are wide arches - so that carts loaded to the top could pass right into the yards through the brick firewalls to protect the houses from fire. The ground floor is made of stone and above there is a second floor made of wood. The merchants did not like living in a stone room, they believed that it was unhealthy; and it was less expensive to heat a wooden house. You can also see the house with fake columns, where during the war of 1812 they kept exhibits from the Armoury. When Napoleon approached Moscow, the treasures were brought to Nizhny Novgorod and carefully stored right in the barn. Not a single item was lost, not even damaged. And after the war they were all returned to Moscow.



A little further down Sergievskaya street, you can see another crooked house, but with a pompous cast-iron canopy. It once meant “double prestige”. The carriage stopped right under the canopy in bad weather and the owner of the house could get into the carriage dry and safe. Canopies were made according to a special design with the owner’s initials or the family crest.

Sergievskaya Church

During Soviet times, an art artel worked in the church, which produced Lenin statues.
“Lenins were of different sizes - large, medium, tabletop, bust or full-size - with a hand pointing to the bright future of communism. In the professional slang of sculptors, it was called ‘baking cakes’:
"How many cakes (Lenins) are baked?"
"Five large and three small."
In the 1990s, the artel was evicted, 'Lenins' were left unfinished in the local churchyard, and for some time locals were frightened of them, seeing their hands sticking out of the bushes. The Sergievskaya church itself is ancient, although it was rebuilt in the 19th century. Inside the church, there is a mysterious fresco that seems to be drawn by Mikhail Nesterov. There is no evidence, though, and who the actual artist was is in fact is unknown. Maybe it was one of his students who painted it according to his teacher's rules.

Residential Building of the 17th Century on 52, Gogol street 



You will immediately notice it - it looks like it’s from the boyar chambers. By the way, this is one of only about two dozen houses throughout Russia that have survived from that time. There is only one explanation for this - the house is made of stone. As the saying goes, "from the righteous works, you will not have stone chambers." It is immediately clear that the owners of this house had good and dirty income. The Pushnikov brothers lived there - the former founders of the tannery, which had twice burned down to the ground. They were very resourceful people, but not very honest. They convinced Peter the Great to give them a loan to open a manufactory in Nizhny Novgorod, where they would make lace and ribbons, no worse than the Dutch ones. The key word, of course, was Dutch. The Pushnikovs received a loan and a tax exemption. But they did not weave anything, except fables. When it was time to show the result, one of the merchants found a very radical way out of the situation - he suddenly died. The house is interesting and even the recently made expansions do not spoil it. The building is still empty, but there is a rumour that soon the Pushkin museum will take it under its wing. 

The Spit of Nizhny Novgorod - the Strelka



If you go down to one of Nizhny Novgorod’s Embankments (there are seven of them, by the way), you will definitely see the Spit of Nizhny Novgorod -  the confluence of the Oka and the Volga. The one that is dimmer and darker is the Oka and the grey-blue one is the Volga, the sharp cape right on the watershed is the Strelka. The panorama is beautiful. But the third largest cathedral in Russia - the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (which is right on the edge of the cape) - is still covered with scaffolding. It is noteworthy that the building stands not on a foundation, as it should, but on a raft made of huge pine logs. The soil is sandy; it is washed away every year. Over the years and being in the wet sand, the trunks have become as hard as rock. If there were wooden foundation piles, they would have been washed away a long time ago. A person with good eyesight will see warehouses on the Strelka to the right of the cathedral - this is all that remains from the trade and industrial exhibition that took place in Nizhny Novgorod in 1896. They were waiting for the tsar, and therefore they built a lot of beautiful things there. It was also a 'showcase' of the achievements of the Russian Empire. After the end of the exhibition everything was sold right away, and some cunning Nizhegorodian bought the constructions from the fair, brought them to the port and installed them in his warehouse, where he equipped the sheds. 

On the other side, across the river, you can see the grey building of the Main Fair House. The Nizhny Novgorod fair existed for all of one hundred years, from 1817 to 1917, after which it was closed as an alien event to Soviet ideology. Up to 4 million visitors and merchants came to the fair, it was the largest marketplace in Europe.
They no longer sell anything at the fair, today the building is used as an exhibition center.

Street Art by the Artist Nikita Nomerz

Most of the street artist's works don't last long. Sometimes they are painted over for ideological reasons, as was done with the graffiti about the pandemic. Or the buildings are simply demolished. But if you wish, you can find something, just follow the artist's official account.
As a matter of principle, Nikita only draws his works on abandoned objects, he never works on the walls of residential buildings, fences, or boiler houses. He never says where his next work will be. But I'll tell you about at least one. Nikita painted the old water tower and called it "Big Brother", you can find it near the Metro Bridge right on the Embankment. Other works by street artists often appear on Chernigovskaya Street and under the Metro Bridge.

Christmas Decorations from the 'Ariel' Factory

It would be nice to celebrate the New Year at least a couple of times for every 365 days. Repeatedly making another wish and rejoicing, while looking at a decorated Christmas tree. And who said that it is forbidden to do this? In Nizhny you can celebrate every day! At the Glass Christmas Decorations factory "Ariel". In Summer, the factory is quiet, there are only a few tourists, but the workshops are already in full swing, artists are painting herds of future bulls, the symbol of the year, painting figures of Nizhny Novgorod merchants and their ruddy young ladies. And there are several decorated Christmas trees. The 'Ariel' factory was founded in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, which became the birthplace of “Nizhny Novgorod Christmas Tree Decorations”. Back in 1936, a trade cooperative artel called “Children's Toy” was organised there. This small enterprise quickly took on the development of handmade glass toys and soon got the status of an “enterprise of folk art crafts in the Gorky region” (Soviet name of NN); it was the beginning of the future factory. The production of Christmas decorations itself began in 1936. 



Glassblowers still blow glass balls according to old traditions, and artists masterfully paint them with scenes of Russian winter and a merry fair. Do you think it’s just a small local business? Oh no it is not! 'Ariel' toys can be bought only in the best department stores in the country, and moreover, 'Ariel' exports its products to 21 other countries. I once managed to buy several toys in Germany, never suspecting that they were produced in Nizhny Novgorod! You can book a tour at the factory, see how masterpieces are born, study rarities in the Museum of the History of Nizhny Novgorod Christmas Tree Decorations, and buy figurines and balls at the “House of Christmas Tree Decorations”.

Kashirin's House and other Houses of Maxim Gorky



There was a time when Nizhny was not mixed up with Novgorod, since it was called Gorky during Soviet times. It was renamed in honor of the 40th anniversary of the literary experience of Maxim Gorky. Gorky (bitter) is a pseudonym, the writer’s real name is Alexey Peshkov, a native Nizhegorodian. Gorky himself said that when he wrote letters to relatives and friends in the city of Gorky, he felt a disgusting feeling of awkwardness. There is a sign on Kashirin's house stating that Alexey Peshkov lived there in his early childhood. Very early - he was three years old when he moved out with his parents. He lived there for less than a year, but got enough impressions for "half a childhood." He had to suffer under his sadistic grandfather Vasily Kashirin, who beat the boy and tortured the whole family. The family left for Astrakhan, where they all fell ill with cholera. Alexey survived, his father did not. The widow had to go back to her grandfather and start a dispute about her inheritance. There are three Gorky museums in Nizhny Novgorod. Walking through them, you can learn a lot about the writer who rose from zero to hero. It is nice to learn about how he helped the children of Nizhny Novgorod, arranged the Gorky Christmas events, collected money and other things so that 500 of the poorest children of the city could have a real holiday. He organised a club - a 'people's house' - where ordinary people were treated to tea, but not alcohol. He was a lady’s man and drove the most beautiful and bright young women crazy. 

Pechersky Ascension Monastery 



For some reason very few tourists come here although the place is beautiful and calm. The Pechersky Ascension Monastery was founded in the XIV century, initially it was located further up the river, but one night it disappeared from the face of the earth. A landslide came down and “ironed out” the monastery at the end of the 16th century. The parishioners decided it was a bad sign. The monastery was rebuilt in a new location, along with a temple and a bell tower, which were slanted in different directions due to the movement of the ground. But they did not disassemble the buildings, which have remained indestructible since then. Only about 20 monks live there now, but they manage to maintain the monastery in good condition.



In front of the entrance to the monastery there is kind of a churchyard with monuments. But in fact, it turns out that this is the Romanov's gallery. The busts of all rulers are on display - from the first to the last. Connoisseurs of history, especially those interested in the interpersonal relations between monarchs, chuckle in their moustaches when they see Catherine the Great and her son Paul I opposite her. They hated each other all of their lives, and even after their deaths they had no peace with each other. You can see from Catherine's face that she is unhappy. By the way, if you pay attention to her features, and not to her emotions, it can be seen that she looks miraculously similar to Peter the Great, whose monument was installed near the Kremlin. Did the master have one blank for all sculptures?

 

The Chkalov Stairs



They are built with some kind of Chinese scale; it is terrifying how many steps there are. It seems there are officially 442. But if you walk down them, it feels like there are many more of them, and when you climb up - even more. The stairs appeared in the city in 1943. They were built in honour of the victory of the Battle of Stalingrad. The original design was much more interesting, with a large number of statues of leaders and a cascading fountain. The stairs had to reach the river itself, so that the lower steps were washed by the water. But in reality, the stairs helped to hold the slope, which was sliding into the river. In 1942, in the depths of the slope, they began to dig a bomb shelter for the main command of the country. Inside, everything was covered with mahogany panels, air ventilation was invented, and there was even an elevator designed for a passenger car. Despite the fact that the best engineers worked on the shelter project, they did not foresee that the entire slope is riddled with springs. Groundwater started to flood the underground structure, no drainage could help, and the work was stopped. So they built a staircase to prevent the slope from sliding. All weddings in the city are celebrated on the Chkalov Stairs nowadays, the grooms consider it their duty to lift the bride up in their arms and climb at least a few steps. On the annual City Day, there is a marathon - running up the stairs from the very bottom.

Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin

A large hole near the Dmitrievskaya Tower appeared during the restoration work; it was left on purpose to show how deep into the ground the Kremlin walls were built. There you can still see the "grey" brick of the 16th century. In the Kremlin, as in all of NN, there is an architectural and exhibition hodgepodge. Just a few buildings from the 16th century survived, many were built in the 19th century and even more, furious looking ones, in the 20th century. The newest building in the Kremlin is the chapel. It looks ancient but was built in the 2000s.

The Kremlin was designed by Italians in the 16th century, Russian craftsmen built it. Some people even believe that Leonardo da Vinci himself had a hand in the Kremlin's drawings. But the chronicles have preserved the names of the participants of that process, and none of them were called Leonardo. But there are also interesting facts. First, no one knows what Leonardo da Vinci was doing during the years when the Kremlin was built. Second, he is the author of a treatise on casemates, where there are drawings of towers, surprisingly reminiscent of the towers of the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin. And there’s no signature. There is a story that the Italians who worked in NN were familiar with his works, let's say, they 'copy-and-pasted' the buildings of the great genius.

 

The Kremlin has an Arsenal, which is now a museum of modern art. Opposite it is the longest bench in Nizhny Novgorod. An art museum is located a little further from the Arsenal, there are paintings by Malevich, Kandinsky, Vasnetsov, Serov. There is usually not a soul in the museum and the ticket is inexpensive. Many paintings were brought to the Museum’s archives from private collections of merchants, and were requisitioned during the revolution, and some were evacuated during World War II. 

Tomb of Kozma Minin

In the center of the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin once stood the Transfiguration Cathedral, in which Kozma Minin rested in peace. I hope you know something about Kozma Minin - a hero, the saviour of Moscow from the Polish invaders. Before blowing up the cathedral in 1920, the authorities thought about what to do with his grave. It was decided to open it. The stone slab was removed from the grave, and a surprise awaited everyone! Under it were the remains of three people - a man, a woman and a teenager. Well, let's say it was Minin and his wife Tatiana. And who is the boy? Minin had a son who died as a very old man. They immediately came up with a theory that Minin probably had another son who died in his youth. But most likely it was not Minin at all. According to the chronicles, he died on the way from Kazan to Nizhny, first he was buried in the church of his native parish, then he was transferred to the Kremlin. The cathedral was rebuilt many times and the bones were probably lost. So, they seem to be somewhere under the feet of visitors walking in the Kremlin.

Well, the history of the Minin family has aroused interest before. Once Nicholas I instructed the Nizhny Novgorod police chief Makhotin to find Minin's descendants in order to invite them to the festivities in Moscow. Makhotin was one-armed, lost his hand in battle and wore an iron prosthesis instead. And he took bribes with it so cleverly that many two-handed people could not. He was too lazy to look for descendants, he simply decided to enrol everyone who wanted to be one of Minin's descendants. Direct descendant for 300 rubles; distant relative for 150. The Nizhny Novgorod merchants stood in line. Everyone wanted to be called to Moscow, and better to St. Petersburg. The chief of police got caught on the simplest trifle: he was too cheap to hire an archivist-scientist and he drew the Minins family tree himself. When the tsar saw it, he also wrote with his own hand: "The chief of police is a complete fool." After that, scientists came to Nizhny and found that the Minins did not have any living descendants.

  • The Monument to Minin and Pozharsky (size XS)
    One of the most famous monuments that stands on Red Square in Moscow was supposed to stand in the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin. Nizhegorodians collected money to make it and ordered it from the sculptor Ivan Martos. The activists chose the layout and the architect set to work. But then the war with Napoleon began and there was no time for monuments. When the enemy was defeated, Tsar Alexander I ordered the monument to be installed in Moscow - after it suffered so much, the city needed decoration and the sculpture was sent from the workshop along the river to Moscow.
  • Instead of Minin and Pozharsky, the people of Nizhny Novgorod were given a sword-monument that looked like a stele. A couple of centuries later in Moscow, a former mayor of Nizhny Novgorod, kindly reminded the mayors of Moscow that they have a 'debt'. The architect Zurab Tsereteli, famous for extremely huge statues, was instructed to sculpt a copy. At first, Nizhegorodians were scared that they would get a monument, for the sake of which the Volga would have to be turned around in order to install it. But the monument was a very convenient size.

One and a half buildings

 

If you look to the left on the square in the Kremlin, you can see a classic building with columns, there are many similar ones in Russia. Then look to the right - you will be shocked to see just half of a classic building with columns! The facade is interrupted in such an unexpected place, as if the building had been cut off. The plan of this square was supported by Catherine the Great, everything was initially beautiful on both sides: two buildings (a perfect example of pure classicism) stood opposite each other in a mirror image. After the queen’s death, the project fell into the hands of Paul I and he decided that there would not be enough space for military parades, the soldiers had nowhere to march, and crossed out half of this building on the layout. Nizhegorodians did not argue: the tsar commanded, they built it. Therefore, now in Nizhny Novgorod, a unique "one and a half ensemble" has been preserved. Everyone likes it, were it symmetrical, it would be no different from any square in St. Petersburg..  

The Monument to the Founders of the City



A twin monument also located in the Kremlin. On the left is the founder Georgy Vsevolodovich, on the right is St. Simon of Suzdal. George or Gyurga (he was a Varangian) at the time of the foundation of the city was 33 years old. An amazing event - the prince was canonised. The prince was supposed to fight and procreate, but not to take a vow of celibacy. He was known as a kind-hearted warrior, he often pardoned enemies, and rarely executed. He had just 18 military campaigns during his career, other princes had more busy work schedules. He donated a lot to churches, built temples and monasteries. He died in 1238, defending his land from the Mongol invasion. After that battle, the Mongols cut off his head, drove around the battlefield with it and threw it into the bushes. Local residents found the body, found the head and brought them back together. Further, as the legend says, the head and body have grown together. But the prince did not come to life, only raised his dead hand, calling everyone to peace. This episode became the reason for his canonisation. He rests in Vladimir, in the cathedral’s crypt. But his neck is covered with a lace scarf. 

The Cathedral of Michael the Archangel



This is the only temple that has survived in the Kremlin. This is a monument to the 17th century, in other words, a monument to the Nizhny Novgorod People's Militia (Narodnoe Opolcheniye). During the times of trouble, when there was confusion with False Dmitry and the Poles, when Kozma Minin saved everyone, Nizhny Novgorod received a special favour from Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich. A group of builders were sent to Minin's homeland, even though all the masons in Russia were called to Moscow to work on its restoration at that time. Moscow builders also erected a stone church instead of a dilapidated wooden cathedral. The church was consecrated in honour of Michael, the holy emperor. Perhaps Kozma Minin is buried in it, as well as many Nizhny Novgorod princes. 

Kremlin Towers



There are 13 of them, and there is something interesting about each one. But I liked the story about Zachatievskaya the most. It was built in the 16th century. One day all persons were invited to a prayer service on the occasion of the start of construction, even the "infidels" - Italian Catholic architects. According to tradition, everyone who attended this event had to take off their pectoral crosses and place them in the base of the future tower so that it would stand stronger. People tore off their crosses to the ringing of bells, the Italians only watched. One of them, Giovanni Tatti, who was nicknamed the Chewy Tat, looked at the girls, and specifically, was thrilled by Nastya. And as soon as the girl unbuttoned her collar, he took it as a signal and rushed to her with hugs and kisses. Right next to her was her fiancé Danila, who didn’t think for long and hit the Chewy Tat with a fist in his face. Giovanni pulled out a knife and stabbed Danila in the heart. Nastya's groom, bleeding, grabbed the Italian by the chest, dragged him to the boiling lime pit and threw him in there. The day was ruined by two corpses. The voivode (war leader) was indignant and ordered to bury each of them under the towers. Danila was buried under the Zachatyevskaya, and Tatti under the neighbouring one.

Poor Nastya was left alone and for some reason with a ruined reputation. She would come to the 'Danila's tower', crying, lamenting; then go to the next tower and cursing Giovanni and asking the Volga to take the filthy Italian bones from here. Did the river hear her? Well, soon it flooded the basement, the tower collapsed and the bones floated away. Nastya acted in an anti-social manner, don’t you think?



At this point, I will finish with telling you stories, even if there are so many more. I could also tell you about the young ladies - the 'cable girls' and coffins with telephones inside. About Fyokla the housekeeper who was in love with her master merchant Bugrov and poisoned him, about the difficult life the women in medieval Nizhny Novgorod had. About the corrupt government that accepted bribes. About the hidden city that was not marked on the maps, and about the mysterious building in the very center.  Even about sushi shaped like sausage. Even explain the saying "A Nizhegorodian's beard may look like Minin's, but his conscience is of clay”. But you'd better go on your own, call Nadezhda Filippova, the best guide from the "Not boring Nizhny" bureau, and go on a tour with her! She will tell you much much more.

The Not Boring Nizhny (Neskuchny Nizhny) project provides a unique opportunity to walk the unbeaten paths of Nizhny Novgorod and see this ancient city from a completely new point of view. We say "No" to the kinds of excursions that say "look to the right, look to the left”. We say "Yes" to non-trivial and not-boring walks! www.nenino.ru

he project "Four Seasons of Russia" is supported by the Russian Geographical Society www.rgo.ru
 trip to Nizhny Novgorod is recommended by the Russian Geographical Society.

 


Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1
Additional reading about other cities of Russia:
Velikiy Novgorod
Plyos: Exactly as it was during Levitan's Time

  

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