Libmonster ID: RU-17224
Author(s) of the publication: Olga BAZANOVA

by Olga BAZANOVA, journalist

The city of Cheboksary (Shupashkar in Chuvash) rising on, the picturesque right bank of the water storage lake of the same name dates back to the year 1469. According to an official register, that year the Moscow voivode Boyar Ivan Dmitriyevich Runo made a stopover out there during his war campaign against Kazan. However, archeological findings of the 1960s and 1970s showed that a big settlement was there as early as the 13th-14th centuries, as proved by maps drawn by two Venetians, Francesco and Domenico Pizzigani in 1367.

Ahmed ibn Fadlan, an Arab traveler, who in 922 visited Volga Bulgaria*, left a detailed description of this territory, local customs, everyday life and social activities of the lieges, including the Suvaz people. He was the first to put down this tribal name-the origi-

* A historical state in the Middle Volga Region and the Kama river basin established by Turkic tribes that migrated from the Northern Black Sea Region and Caucasia in the 7th-8th centuries.-Ed.

nal name of the Chuvash as well as establish similarity of their native tongue to the Bulgarian languages*, and pointed to their refusal to convert to Islam that by that time had been the established religion of the country.

* Bulgarian (Bulgar) languages, the Turkic linguistic group of long ago. Its constituent languages, with the exception of Chuvash, are now dead.-Ed.

Church of the Presentation of the Virgin.

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In 1237-1240 Volga Bulgaria was devastated by Mongols and Tatars who forced Suvaz people to migrate northwards, upstream the Volga, where they naturalized and lived together with local Finno-Ugrian tribes, the Mari. This is how the ethnographic group of "upstream" Chuvash (Viryal) came to be; but direct descendants of Bulgar tribes that moved south and found shelter in the forests along the Sura (Volga tributary) and inflowing rivers were named "downstream" Chuvash (Anatri).

Both "upstream" and "downstream" tribes were under the dominion of the Golden Horde before 1391 when it was smashed by the army of the Central Asian conqueror Tamerlane. After this defeat the once great state, eroded by domestic rivalry and territorial disputes of local governors, could not recover and broke down (mid-15th century) into a several independent khanates; both ethnic groups, the Virgal and the Anatri, became part of the Kazan Khanate.

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In 1546 Viryal and Anatri people together with Mari turned against Tatars and asked the Russian tsar Ivan IV for help. The following year Russian troops liberated their territories from the invaders and in 1552 captured Kazan. After that vast territories-the present-day central European part of our country-acceded to the Moscow state. Modern Chuvashia is one of the densely populated Russian regions with Cheboksary its administrative, industrial and cultural center on the right bank of the Volga between its tributaries-Sura and Sviyaga.

In 1555 a fortress, the present-day historical center of Cheboksary, was built uphill on the tsar's orders. This place was chosen due to its vantage defense position: the northern and southern slopes of the hill were very steep, the western slope had a deep moat, the eastern slope-a settlement, the first defense barrier in case of attack. The place had fine prospects for trade-it stood on the Volga bank, "the main street" of Russia.

The same year a newly appointed archbishop of Kazan and Siyazh, Gury, consecrated the town and, by agreement with local voivodes, chose a place there to construct the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple; all that was done pursuant to the order of Ivan IV who took the pagan tribes "under his arm" in a bid to convert them to the Orthodox belief. At first the church was a simple canvas tent, then a wooden structure, but in 1559 it burnt down, and a stone church was erected in its place in 1651-1657.

A federal monument of culture, the Presentation Cathedral, is not only the earliest house of worship in Chuvashia, but is also the only church in Cheboksary dating back to the 17th century. Both the cathedral and the nearby hip-roofed bell tower have retained their original look: a massive cube of the building constructed of stones and large bricks is almost devoid of exterior decor and is crowned with five silvery helmet-shaped heads.

The interior of the church is very simple and neat-four solid columns supporting corner head drums divide the space into three parts, with the clerestory located above the western entrance. The cathedral was repaired several times, the iconostasis gold-plated, with new icons installed there; wall paintings were restored as well. In the 1830s, the ancient wall paintings were covered with new ones made in the classical style; but in 1971-1974, during the most large-scale restoration works ever undertaken, the new murals were removed and the ancient decor uncovered.

Experts say fresco paintings on the walls, arches and columns of the Presentation Cathedral have no match among similar masterpieces of the 17th century in the Volga Region for the diversity of scenarios and high technology of execution. You can see canonical orthodox multifigure compositions; separate images of prophets, martyrs and enlightener of the Chuvash land, including the first archbishop of Kazan, Gury, canonized among saints; a bright floral decor-bright red, white and blue flowers on the dark background. Carved wooden pieces-unique holy doors and pillars of a five-level iconostasis with icons looking down for three centuries-are amazing in their elegance and delicacy.

In 1555, by order of Tsar Ivan IV, Prelate Gury chose a place for the first monastery consecrated to the Holy

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Trinity. Its corner stone was laid in 11 years; in 1584 the construction works were completed. However, in 1609, in the Time of Troubles*, all monastery structures (wooden, like elsewhere in the town) were burnt down and destroyed. As the local cellarer Isaiah put it in 1641 in his letter to the tsar, "Kozmodemyansk archers, Chuvash and Cheremis people captured Cheboksary and killed to death Hegumen Gelasy by throwing him off the tower."

The monastery was rebuilt in stone by the middle of the next century. Its first building was the Church of the Icon of the Virgin of Tolga (1713) that still keeps one of the main relics of Chuvashia, a carved wooden statue of St. Nicholas. In 1759 the Church of Theodore the Stratelatus of Heraclea was rebuilt as the entrance to the monastery. The whole architectural complex-the monumental Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (1748), monks' cells, and chambers of the Father Superior (mid 18th century), the hip-roofed Belfry above the gate (1859) are still there. In 1946 it was listed as a historic monument protected by the state. In the 1990s the monastery was renovated, and monastic life was reinstated there.

In the 17th-first half of the 18th century trade and crafts, especially foundry, developed actively in Cheboksary: local bells were well known both in Russia and in Europe. Economic development fostered a construction boom: brick Orthodox churches and monasteries were erected even in the suburbs, including public, municipal (financed by town residents) buildings, private houses of merchants.

The house of Kadomtsev is one of the earliest and most striking examples of local civil architecture: it was built in the early 18th century and represents a mixture of ancient Russian architecture and the Baroque style*. The ground floor was assigned for household needs, the first floor was residential, and the second floor served as mansard. A decorated porch was placed in the center of the facade, the windows encased with fancy, elaborate frames. In 1979 the mansion was dismantled since it stood in the territory of Cheboksary water reservoir, and in 1988 it was assembled in another place-on Sespel Street. Nearby was the house of Igumnov (The Salt Office) put up in the first half of the 18th century; it was also moved elsewhere from the drowned territory and reassembled in 2005-a one-floor stone building on a basement remarkable for its rich decor of cut bricks.

The most significant structures of the 19th century are associated with the well-known dynasty of manufacturers and entrepreneurs of those times-the Yefremov family (their wood-working plant ranked among 5 major enter-

See: A. Bogdanov, "All of Us Should Be in Chime and Union...", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2007.-Ed.

See: I. Terekhova, "Russian Baroque", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2009.--Ed.

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prises of this kind in Russia). Almost all 11 buildings they constructed were located on Blagoveshchenskaya Street, later renamed to Merchant Yefremov Boulevard in honor of the patriarch of this family, Prokopy Yefremovich, a Chuvash of peasant stock. In 1884 he built a 22-room brick house with an undercroft and a mezzanine above the second floor, and lush interior decor (color marble, forged iron stairs, glued-laminated parquet, sculptures). In 1991 the mansion was occupied by one of the departments of the Chuvash National Museum.

The house constructed by Nikolai Yefremov (1910), senior son of the family head, is also of high interest. It is a mixture of different styles, dominated by the Moderne*; it is a triplex of buildings of different height supplemented with a semicircular sun-parlor. In the late 20th century the facade was changed a little; now the house is tenanted by the "Chuvash National Congress" public organization.

Townfolk say the most remarkable house in decor in the Yefremov block is one built in 1911 by the younger son Fyodor, a "jerkwater-town miracle". A stone two-story building noted for an elaborate spatial design and

See: T. Geidor, "Russian Architecture of the Silver Age", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2009.--Ed.

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asymmetry typical of the Moderne style; all elements are well balanced and match this style, including the fence around the estate grounds, the front and the wicket gates. Inside, the house comprises a suite of rooms (rooms with doors located on the same axis); its ceilings decorated with stucco moulding and floors made of oak glued-laminated parquet with different patterns in each room; a castiron stairway decorated with a floral ornament takes you to the second floor.

Ornamental stoves and fireplaces, especially a fireplace in the living-room-vase-shaped, decorated with polychrome glazed tiles made by order of the house

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owner at Lysovsky's Majolika-Tile Plant in Vitebsk (Republic of Belarus)-add more luster to the interiors. The mansion was very comfortable for those times: there was a telephone, electricity, and running water; it had an enamel cast-iron bath, the only one in the town. In 1976 this building was turned over to the Chuvash State Art Gallery.

After Prokopy Yefremov died, in 1907-1911 his sons built a white-stone vault for the parents designed in the Neoclassical style, one of the Moderne trends that became a unique example of memorial architecture in Chuvashia (the Church of John of Kronstadt today). In the early 20th century all structures associated with the Yefremov family stood out amidst the shabby cityscape, and decorate Cheboksary even now. Today the city counts 97 architectural and cultural monuments, with twenty-three of federal significance.

A great role in the renovation of the inner city belongs to the Chuvash architect Feofan Sergeyev, who in 1934 to 1965 put up as many as 30 buildings using classical elements* dominating in the architecture of those times. For example, in 1950-1952 he was in charge of the renovation project of the Volga embankment and the adjacent park; he designed a balustrade (a fence in the form of figure pillars-balusters) and an elegant rotunda. Besides, he put up the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and designed the building of the municipal administration (1956); in 1959 the local phil-

See: A. Firsova, "The Empire Style in Soviet Architecture", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2010.--Ed.

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harmonic hall (Russian Theater of Drama now) was erected to his design.

After the creation of the Cheboksary dam lake (1980-1982), a bay was formed in the city center with an embankment, one of the most beautiful places in the capital of the republic. In 2003 a monument named "The Protecting Mother" (by Vladimir Nagornov)-a symbol of Motherland, fire keeper and progenitrix-was erected on its high bank. The inscription on the pedestal says in Russian and Chuvash: "Blessed are my children living in peace and love". There is a park around the monument with white marble stairs and fountains going down the slope and a cast-iron pedestrian bridge having rails adorned with Chuvash ethnic decor.

Cheboksary, a city rising in the middle reaches of our great river, is often called the heart of Volga, and Chuvashia-the country of one hundred thousand embroideries. Indeed, the art of decorating the clothes (especially wedding apparel) and house interiors with an exquisite design of multicolored strands is the staple local craft. Appearing in ancient times, it evokes pre-Christian beliefs-the tree of life, the visions of the Earth and celestial bodies, magic and generic symbols. Simple white or red canvases (made of hemp in most cases) flourished a delicate ornament stitched by women with hand-made woolen, cotton or flax strands, including silk, silver and gold. Many of these articles were used in traditional ceremonies.

According to experts who examined samples of needlework of the 18-19th centuries kept in local museums, it has elements of Macedonian and Bulgarian ornaments, which evidences kinship of all three nations. Scientists also noticed similarity of needlework made by local mistresses and elsewhere in the Volga region. But Chuvash designs are more delicate, with their balance of cold and warm tints, their special rhythm-a combination of big and small patterns, geometrical and floral motives, tight and loose seams.

Chuvash needlework is remarkable for delicate workmanship: it is made on a hand-made canvas that allows to count strands so as to make a stitch in a desired direction. Still another feature-needlework and applique compositions on both (right and wrong) sides of the clothes. Each stitch-there are more than thirty types- was used for its own purpose and specific type of work (patterns, "filling in" of pattern fields, fine details).

It is safe to say that local mistresses of needlework made masterpieces that enriched global culture. According to Ivan Smirnov, historian and ethnographer, professor of Kazan University, author of the monumental work dedicated to the peoples of Volga and Kama Regions published in the 1890s (Eastern Finns, A Historical and Ethnographical Essay), "Speaking of applied arts, needlework in particular, Chuvash-Bulgarian people are trend-setters and masters of the Volga Territory."


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