The river divides the town into two parts. No, not the Volga river, as one might think – the Shokhonka. It almost perpendicularly flows into the Volga, and if you look at the river’s mouth from above, it looks like a road sign that says "dead end”, which is almost true, because from this point on you can only use waterways. There are not many roads in Plyos - the embankment named after Lunacharsky (why not Levitan, by the way?) is about three km long, along which people walk back and forth past the piers and landing docks. Several streets head out from the square, the rest of the streets are cobblestone, winding between wooden houses, and crawling up the hills. The most beautiful one is Varvarinskaya, which leads to the temple of the same name with typical Plyos-style houses on both sides of the road.
You can leisurely walk around the historic centre in a couple of hours, including stops. Such as to stop and look at vintage items from the Soviet era in a local shop; to have a glass of fish soup and a fish pie; or even to talk to a local milliner selling her creations for an impressively high price at the park along the embankment, or "on the panel", as the residents of Plyos call this place. To read the local newspaper - "Plyosskiye Vedomosti", which is glued under glass to an information board every day. “Sold out" - all the hotels in Plyos are booked with vacationers during the summer. Everyone wants to walk along the Volga and talk about Levitan (Russia’s most celebrated landscape artist).
A visit by the then young Isaac Levitan in 1888 to the town is the best thing that happened to Plyos. Many people think of Plyos in connection with the artist’s surname and are very surprised that Isaac was not born here and never even lived there. He spent only three summers on the Volga, with friends - Moscow dandies, who annoyed the local bearded merchants in high boots just with their looks - and with his beloved woman, Sophia Kuvshinnikova.
Plyos did not accept visitors, most likely it did not "understand" them. Levitan, dressed in costumes with a white jabot, and his friends did not fit into the picture of the Plyos inhabitants - in the local’s opinion they were just sitting around and doing nothing, drawing some pictures. “They could have worked in trade, like everyone else. They bring only snipes from the hunt - they could have at least shot a boar. And why does that Sophia Pavlovna go hunting with them…“ - I can imagine that this is how locals gossiped about the visitors on a typical market day. Well, Sophia herself joked in her memoirs that “our reckless bohemian lifestyle made a strong impression on the locals of Plyos. We lived surprisingly well. Even Levitan stopped moping, and this mood began to be reflected in his paintings. "
Later there was even a dark PR for this place made by Chekhov. The writer wrote the mocking story "The Grasshopper", and then the gossip and speculation began. About adultery - that Sophia was a married woman; about this kind of misalliance - and Mrs. Kuvshinnikova was much older than her painting teacher. Well, in Plyos they prefer not to talk about it. And they really don't like to start this topic. Kuvshinnikova is very romantically called only a muse, who inspired the master to work.
The residents of Plyos also did not like the dubious story about how the merchant Groshev's young wife Annushka escaped when she was carried away by her new Mucovite acquaintances and her rich, bearded husband was left alone holding a bag. Levitan's companions helped to organise the getaway, the son of the patron Savva Morozov, Stepan, did his best. There is a sculpture of her, which is called “The Dachnitsa” (summer resident) that stands at the very end of the embankment, near the house from which she once escaped.
They only mention Chekhov's story in passing, as well as in the book "Developers" by Severtsev-Polilov, a friend of Levitan, on the pages of which Sophia Pavlovna was also presented in an unflattering light. They say that the entire circulation of the book was bought by Plyos merchants, who specially came to Moscow for that. But, what’s wrong with the fact that Levitan was obsessed with Sophia for three summers, and in total for 8 years, and that it was with this love for her that he could create? After all, it is love and that very "woundedness" that gives a powerful impetus to creativity.
In his letter to Chekhov, even before the story was published by the writer, Levitan wrote: “I have never loved nature so much, I have never felt anything so divine, diffused in everything so much ... it defies reason and analysis, but is comprehended by love…”; as a man in love in Plyos, Levitan painted more than 200 paintings - a third of his entire collection. Among them are the most significant and famous works: “Over Eternal Quiet”, “After the Rain”, “Silent Abode”, “Fresh Wind”, “Evening on the Volga”, and “Evening. Golden Plyos"
Of course, the name of Levitan is being exploited mercilessly in Plyos. Almost everything is named after Levitan: mountains, houses, halls, museums and dishes. They sell "his favorite" baked shortbread cookies in the shape of a Star of David - well, just try to find out if he really loved them. “Just like in Levitan’s time”, “These birches remember Levitan,” the guides tend to repeat themselves at various locations. There are a couple of monuments in the city - a somewhat weird bust on the Embankment, and a sculpture on Levitan Hill - an artist in a hat painting a landscape, for some reason very similar to Van Gogh.
Since the time of Levitan many things have changed. The church that is on painting ”Over Eternal Quiet" is no longer there.
At the beginning of the last century, the boarded-up temple was accidentally set on fire by boys, who were smoking out pigeons and throwing burning tow (fibre) inside. Instead of a burnt-out wreck, a new church was brought from the village of Belyukovo – and placed exactly where it had stood before. The Church of the Resurrection of Christ, currently operating, is subordinated to the women's Nikolsky monastery in Privolzhsk. Inside, you should pay attention to the graceful carved iconostasis.
By the way, there are two Churches of the Resurrection in Plyos, well, so that happened. The second temple is on the Market Square, erected in honor of the victory over Napoleon in 1817.
The most important things are concentrated around the square - shopping stalls with souvenirs, fish stalls (this is where you need to try smoked bream); merchants' houses; a "Beer House”, where the food is quite good, but the drinks are even better; a cathedral; the former building of the sobriety society - now the Tea house of Kosorylov; and the building of the former fire station. It looks just like in Levitan’s time.
For some reason, not all visitors climb the Levitan Hill (aka Petropavlovskaya Hill). Perhaps for many climbing the wooden stairs is too steep, but some prefer to limit themselves to another one - Cathedral Hill, where the history of Plyos began. The cobblestone street is again steep; one loses their breath at the top of the hill. There is only administrative building of the Public Places, in which there is an exhibition centre now. In front of it is a bust of Prince Vasily Dmitrievich, a little further off there is a wooden cross erected on the site of the destroyed church of the Kazan Mother of God icon and the Assumption Cathedral.
They say that Plyos is older than Moscow. The date of foundation was taken as 1411, mentioned in the Novgorod chronicle. It says that in Plyos, Mayor Yakun was caught, who escaped from the wrath of the Novgorodians. They say that on Cathedral Hill there once stood a snow-white fortress - not white-stone, but wooden, a log house, painted with lime. With high towers about 10 meters, and walls about six meters high. Plyos stood on the very outskirts of the Moscow Principality, border fortifications were needed. At the same time, a customs point was organized here, which clearly imposed tolls on all ships with goods that passed Plyos along the Volga. But in exchange for this payment, they provided a maritime pilot who escorted the ships past dangerous rapids and rocks.
Through the old birch grove, in the foliage of which the nightingales sing in the morning, you can go to the observation deck with a beautiful iconic view. One would think that the birches are the same ones from Levitan's canvas. But no, the artist began to paint his grove in Babkino near Moscow, and only finished it in Plyos, but he worked in the open air on a nearby hill. The trees there are already old, new ones are planted every year to preserve the grove.
We must pay tribute to the vastness that opens up here, it is wonderful. If you know the etymology of the word "Plyos", standing on the observation deck, it becomes clear that the city meets all the requirements. The straight section of the river is Plyos, a large sandbank that juts out far into the Volga - also Plyos. Fishtail is also Plyos.
If you go around the hill, you will see a beautiful view again - on the other side of the river you can see Zarechie district, Shokhonka river and Levitan Hill. If you arrive at the beginning of Summer, breathe in deeply and you will sense an incredible wild strawberry aroma. The wild strawberries that grow here are extremely difficult to pick, even just a handful, because of the steepness of the slope. I'm sure Levitan also inhaled this wonderful aroma.
The best way is a six hour drive by car from Moscow. All other routes are much more difficult - by train to Ivanovo, from there by bus or taxi, or by bus from the Shchelkovo bus station.
The project "Four Seasons of Russia" is supported by the Russian Geographical Society www.rgo.ru
The trip to Plyos is recommended by the Russian Geographical Society.
Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1
Additional reading about other cities of Russia:
Additionally read about cities of Golden Ring of Russia:
Suzdal: to the Boyar Pancakes
Pereslavl Zalessky: The fæger of antiquity
Kostroma: Things to do in the heart of The Golden Ring of Russia