|On my last day before my final evaluations and farewell events, we took an International Department field trip to Great Novgorod. This year, 2009, Novgorod is celebrating it's 1150th anniversary. Yes, it was founded in the year 859. My town was founded in 1904. We celebrated 105 years. That's not even one tenth of the time that Novgorod has been around (although it was very nearly wiped out during World War II. Less than 100 citizens survived in the entire city). Novgorod was one of the ancient princedoms (for lack of a better term) that kind of avoided the Mongolian conquest, largely because it is surrounded by a massive forest. Here much of the souvenirs for sale were made of birch, and there was a model village (reassembled original houses, not replicas!) of wooden structures. This was the land where the famous Alexander Nevsky was a prince. There was also a beautiful river, and the structures inside the Kremlin were so amazingly old. Even Moscow only first appeared in history annals in the twelfth century, about 300 years after Novgorod is known to have been established. It is a fact that I still have trouble wrapping myself around. Russia really is a land of extremes. Inside the Kremlin, we saw some large holes being excavated, and I immediately got jealous, since I originally planned on studying archaeology in college. As much as I love the rather privileged life I lead as a tourist/historian, I sometimes would rather be doing than observing. On top of the church inside the Kremlin is a pidgeon made of iron (or something like that), which is a replica. The original is inside the church, and was only returned to the church quite recently; it had been on display in Spain I believe, because Spanish troops stole it during the war. We got to see the old bellfry with all the bells- the 'tongues' had been cut, which was symbolic of the end of the days of the veche (the proto-democratic popular assembly). Later, Dmitry and Boris got me a little souvenir of a birch horseshoe with a mini veche bell attached to it. It is hanging from the curtain rod above my window in my dorm room as a lovely little reminder.
After we saw the main part of ancient Novgorod, we drove to another part of town, also on the river, but very rural looking. I felt like I was in upstate New York. We went to a small but beautiful monastery that was only just being reconstructed. Dmitry said that when he went there two years ago, most of what we saw was not even there yet; it was completely destroyed. All of the monks were new, since Orthodoxy was banned during the Soviet era, and they raised money and got a lot of physical help from kind neighbors to rebuild barracks and a garden and the main church. We could not go inside the larger church with the fantastic blue and gold onion domes because it was not finished. I noticed that about half of the windows in the upper levels were actually skillfully painted on to the white stucco. This was a powerful reminder of the destruction that the war and revolution caused, and that not everywhere had acquired enough funds to rebuild yet.
After the monastery, we went to what could best be described as a model village. The structures in it are all authentic, but were originally in all different locations. They were reassembled in this one spot to better preserve them. The churches were much smaller and much simpler in design, but were also surprisingly detailed. The details were in the gingerbread trim rather than mosaics and paint, and the domes were less onion-y and more cone-y. I liked the houses. It seemed that often the lower level of a house would be kept as a shed/workshop/warehouse/barn, and the family lived and cooked in a loft.