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Forest palaces

I recently discovered a great website by a Russian photographer, Andrei Kuzman, or Qzmn. He specializes in travel photography, the Russian wilderness, and its architecture. It’s really worth exploring the site, whether you’ve ever been to Russia and long for the birch forests (I’m a city girl but the Russian countryside definitely speaks to me), or just want an impression of what provincial and rural Russia are like. There’s a lot of stuff on the website, and I haven’t yet had time to go through much of it yet, but a couple of favourites so far are A New Year Trip to Arkhangel’sk Province, and a trip from Krasnoyarsk to the Mongolian border. His photos give an amazing sense of the space of Russia, and they’re not just picturesque.

But the pictures that really struck me are the ones of the ‘forest palaces’ near Chukhloma in Kostroma province, north east of Moscow.

They are the most extraordinary buildings. I’ve seen houses in this style before, obviously, but never quite so lavish or beautiful. They really made me appreciate, in a way that perhaps I hadn’t before, the ‘other’ Russia – its traditional, non-European side. I look at these houses and think of Russian fairytales, works featuring merchant life by Leskov and Ostrovsky, and Sergei Aksakov’s marvellous memoir, A Family Chronicle. It’s not a side of Russian literature I know terribly well, outside the most famous texts, such as Lady Macbeth of Mtensk and The Storm. I neglected Aksakov for a long time as I didn’t think it was my cup of tea, but then read it in an idle moment and discovered it’s really amazingit’s out of print in English but you can pick up second hand copies (Oxford World’s Classics, translated as A Russian Gentleman), and I’d strongly recommend it. In other words, it’s a very rich seam of Russian literature that’s very different from the usual Dostoevsky-Tolstoy-Chekhov line (for all that I love it), and one that’s well worth exploring.

My thanks to the photographer for allowing reproduction of the pictures. To see more of the trip to Kostroma, click here.

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