Nizhnii Novgorod: History in the Landscape (126.24 Kb)
Introduction: Landscape and Meaning
The contemporary landscape of Nizhnii Novgorod testifies to a complex past. The urban landscape is dotted with square Soviet apartment blocks, rusting industrial facilities, an ancient sixteenth-century kremlin fortress, merchant mansions of varied styles (baroque, modernist, eclectic and classical), avant-garde banks (built in the post-Soviet period), monuments to national icons of the Soviet and pre-Soviet past, as well as monasteries, cathedrals, churches, mosques and a synagogue. Throughout the city, small, two-storey wooden homes predominate. Although mostly decrepit, their whimsically carved eaves, shutters and windowsills testify to the careful craftsmanship of home-building in a former age. Like the rest of the city’s architecture, these buildings embody the values, beliefs and material culture of this city, both past and present.
This urban landscape is not only the setting for city life, but a contested site of meaning. Urban spaces and buildings are not neutral—that is, not mere evidence of the socioeconomic conditions of various eras. Rather, the urban landscape and the popular perception of it define the local population’s relationship to nature, to history and—most importantly—to self.
Even the city’s supposedly “natural” features—that is, its parks and waterways—have been sculpted by human beings, and their relationship to local identity is constantly being redefined through art, travel brochures and literature.
A tour of the landscape, then, is not a trip through a museum of lifeless events and identities, but a journey through an ever-changing and contested terrain of meaning.
A Tour of Present-Day Nizhnii Novgorod
A traveler sailing up the Volga River to Nizhnii Novgorod from Kazan would see only the surface of time—a present without history. The contemporary eye cannot see the past—at least, not unless taught to interpret the landscape. For instance, a traveler sailing along the base of the Volga waterfront would see the attractive façades of the buildings on the crest of the slope on the right bank, but not realize that these facades did not always face the waterfront. Prior to Peter the Great, these homes faced southward—that is, away from the waterfront, for there was little inherent logic in building homes with doorways that faced away from the southern sunlight and into the winds that fly up slope, which is too steep for travel. Even from an architectural perspective, the current orientation seems futile, for the facades are permanently cast in shadow, with the sun shining down from behind the buildings. Peter the Great (and the rulers who succeeded him) ordered this inconvenient new state of affairs, for he wished to beautify the riverbank with a row of stately, classical buildings that might impress visiting dignitaries and other travelers, most of whom would sail down this stretch of the Volga River. This political aesthetic has lost its importance, but the ensemble remains to please the eye of the present-day visitor.
In sailing past present-day Nizhnii Novgorod, the traveler will catch a glimpse of the city’s natural history. Although it is not possible to see how the Oka and Volga Rivers have shifted to the northeast as the rivers have gradually eroded the high, right banks of the rivers while depositing silt on the low-lying left banks, a pedestrian wandering through the city districts on the left bank of the Oka River might notice interspersed patches of dry sand and bogs—subtle hints that these were once highly unstable soils, run through with above- and below-ground streams and prone to annual floods. In addition, the visitor will also see the protective stonework along the shore. Thanks to these flood barriers, large springtime deluges and landslides no longer pose a threat to homes and buildings along the banks.
While some aspects of natural and human history are hidden, other aspects are remarkably visible, including the way in which the rivers roughly divide two ecological zones: The steep, right banks of the Oka and Volga Rivers lead up to the terrain “on the hills,” while the flat land on the marshy, low-lying left bank lies “in the woods.”
The lands “on the hills” (na gorakh
)—that is, the area on the plateau that overlooks the two rivers—mark the northwestern perimeter of the wooded steppes, an ecological zone that stretches southeastward to the rich soil of the steppes. By contrast, the lands “in the woods” are shallow, marshy and fairly infertile. These woodland bogs stretch to the southern reaches of the taiga.
The rivers do not mark a precise division between these two zones, but nevertheless serve as a tangible divide.
The city’s geographic site set the stage for a dramatic military-economic history. The lands “on the hills” once served as the backdrop for clashes between Mordvinians, Bulgars and the grand princes of Vladimir—namely, Yuri Dolgorukii (Yuri the “long armed”) and his descendants, including Yuri II Vsevolodovich, the founder of Nizhnii Novgorod in 1221. By building the military outpost of Nizhnii Novgorod, which stood at the confluence of the Oka and Volga Rivers (a lucrative trade and transportation juncture), Yuri hoped to consolidate his expanding kingdom of trade. The new fortress-town was called “Nizhnii Novgorod,” or “lower new fortress”—a term suggesting that an earlier fortress had existed upstream.
The new fortress stood in the much-contested borderlands between the lands of the princes of appanage Rus’ and Bulgar and Mordvinian tribes.
For this reason, control over this site was contested by multiple tribes (Mordvinians, Tatars, Slavs, Mari, and Chuvash) and multiple faiths (Christian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam and various pagan religions), all of whom sought to benefit from the site’s economic and political strengths.
From its founding until the consolidation of Muscovy, when ambitious tsars from Moscow pushed the Muscovite frontier eastward beyond Nizhnii Novgorod to Kazan (1552) and beyond, Nizhnii Novgorod served a predominantly military function—something evident in the city’s architecture. Church, monastery and kremlin—these three fundamental institutions in the ancient city simultaneously served as sites of trade, worship and defence. The kremlin walls sheltered the city’s homes, trade and houses of worship, just as the monasteries supported trade, worship and small clusters of human settlement. They also provided for defence: to the south of the city along the Oka River, the thick walls of Annunciation Monastery served as the first line of defence against attackers from the southwest, while the thick walls of Pecherskii Monastery, located on the Volga River, offered similar protection from attackers approaching from the northeast.
Further down the Volga River, Makar’ev Monastery (the monastery that initially hosted the international trade fair for which Nizhnii Novgorod became famous) stands as another example of a religious-military-economic structure dating back to the seventeenth century.
The city’s architectural aesthetic has not just been shaped by military-economic and political events, but also by natural forces. The location of the kremlin on the heights of the promontory overlooking the juncture of the two rivers provides the most obvious evidence of the way in which geography shapes history. The location of Pecherskii Monastery offers similar (albeit more subtle) evidence of the dialogue between natural and human events. Originally, the monastery was located further down the Volga, closer to Makar’ev. However, due to a large seventeenth-century landslide, Pecherskii Monastery was moved to its present site. Such landslides were once common along the steep right-bank slope of both the Oka and Volga Rivers, for the entire slope was once permeated with underground rivulets and streams that eroded the soil closer to the surface, weakening its cohesiveness and causing it to slide down the bank. Today, these underground rivulets have been channeled into collector pipes, so that they no longer threaten the stability of the earthen embankment. Without these pipes, much of the historic architecture along the banks would no longer be standing. Even with them, local architects find their plans constrained by the delicate soil structure of this slope: except for a few hotels, most buildings do not exceed two storeys in height, for the soil structure cannot sustain extensive multi-storey construction.
For local residents, some of these sites—even those made and manipulated by man—have symbolic and spiritual significance. For instance, the site of the old Pecherskii Monastery has become a destination point for pilgrims. They are drawn to the site’s natural spring, whose water is not only ecologically pure (something verified by scientific experts), but also considered to have miraculous, healing qualities. Years of Soviet atheism failed to eradicate the belief that the monastery’s spring heals both body and soul, and faith in the spring has become fairly widespread in post-Soviet Russia. Similarly, to many Russians, the Volga and Oka Rivers are an ageless force that represents a no less ageless local and national identity (although, in fact, the nation and the identification of the nation with the river appear to be modern phenomena).
The layers of history and meaning most thickly envelop the city core—that is, the site where the Oka flows into the Volga. In Soviet times, authorities struggled to redefine the place and role of this core, wondering whether or not to retain the kremlin region as the city centre or to relocate the symbolic and architectural centre of the city to a site further up the Oka River, where modern industry (a symbol of the modernization to which Soviet power was committed) predominated. According to this proposed plan, the confluence would no longer mark the southwestern perimeter of urban settlement and the main entrance to the city, but the northeastern sector of the city. The confluence would no longer be the gateway to the old city-fortress, but the door to an industrial city.
Although this proposal was never realized, the Soviet legacy has firmly imprinted itself on the city centre. Large loading cranes from a port facility mar the beauty of the Alexander Nevskii Cathedral, which stands on the Strelka (the arrow-shaped promontory that marks the confluence of the two rivers). Not far from the cathedral-port, between the newly revitalized trade fair buildings and the industrial areas to the south and west, stands the city’s monument to Lenin. On the right bank, on the slope leading up to the kremlin, a large monumental staircase (built by German prisoners of war after World War Two) leads up to a monument to Valerii Chkalov, a much-vaunted Soviet hero celebrated for his solo flight across the Atlantic. (Like Petrine architecture, Chkalov’s monument faces passing boats, so that he stands with his back to the upper city.) On the large city square behind Chkalov (and invisible from the waterfront) stands a statue of Kozma Minin, the native-born merchant famous for organizing a campaign to overthrow a Polish Catholic claimant to the tsarist throne during the Times of Troubles (1611-1613). Although a pre-Soviet hero, his name became synonymous with Russian Soviet patriotism during the Second World War.
The stairs and these monuments celebrate Soviet secular heroes and events, substituting themselves for the tsarist and religious heroes of the pre-Soviet past. Because of “sovietization,” there are no longer churches on Minin Square (where the Minin statue stands). Inside the kremlin itself, only one historic church remains, although there used to be a plethora of churches. In their place, there are military memorials—an assemblage of military equipment from the Great Patriotic War, an obelisk honouring Minin (built in pre-Soviet times), as well as an “eternal flame” meant to honour the nation’s soldiers. Whereas, before the Revolution, city streets began and ended with churches, the city’s main street now begins with the Minin statue and ends at the statue of Maksim Gor’kii, another native-born national hero—in this case, a literary prophet of revolution. Although many churches are being restored, these monuments will most likely remain, for these Soviet monuments help define local identity, even post-Soviet identity.
In spite of these Soviet-era changes, much of the old city remains. From the Oka River, one can still see Annunciation Monastery, the spire of the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael (located in the kremlin interior), as well as historic government, cultural and residential buildings. On the left bank, at the Strelka, one can still see the grounds that hosted the annual summer trade fair from 1817 to 1929, when merchants from Khiva, Bukhara, the Far East, and Europe gathered here to trade with their Russian counterparts. The bridge that connects these grounds to the opposing bank, where the kremlin stands, follows the path of the old pontoon bridge, which was built in 1817 to link the kremlin fortress to the trade fair, which was relocated from Makar’ev to Nizhnii in that year.
Finally, as in tsarist times, two paved embankments wind along the upper rim of the Volga River slope from Pecherskii Monastery to the Chkalov Monument. Each strip is surrounded by carefully sculpted parks and lined with stone and brick buildings in a variety of architectural styles—everything from the classical and eclectic to Sovet modern, Soviet Gothic and post-Soviet modernism.
More strikingly, the basic structure of the present-day upper city follows the contours of the ancient city and its fortifications. As in ancient times, all roads in the upper city converge at the kremlin, which—having been restored in the 1970s to 1980s—more closely resembles its sixteenth-century form now than it did at the start of the twentieth century. Although the earlier, thirteenth-century bastion has long since decayed (and the existing structure follows the lines of the later, sixteenth-century model), the traces of this original fortress can still be seen: a section of the original earthen fortifications is visible on Piskunov Street, where it defines the curvature of the road. In fact, the city’s ring roads (Piskunov and October Streets) follow the contours of the inner and outer walls of this ancient fortress. In addition, although the city’s original ravines (which served as a natural, first-line of defence for Yuri Dolgorukii’s men) have been filled in, the wide, paved boulevards radiating outward from the kremlin roughly mark the paths set by those ancient earthen furrows.
Despite seventy plus years of Soviet power—that is, rule by a state initially committed to obliterating social inequalities, the city structure continues to be marked by its pre-revolutionary social-geographic divisions. The most educated and wealthy residents of the city live on the right bank of the Oka and Volga Rivers—that is, in the historic and administrative centre of the city. Living in the centre, these residents enjoy the benefits of road repair, architectural renovations, new construction as well as a multitude of educational and cultural facilities. Because of this, residents in this ancient core clearly sense a distinction between themselves and those who live in the city’s industrial zone. Insofar as Soviet rule did not succeed in bringing left-bank development up to the level of that on the right bank, this area is marked by poverty, disaffection with urban life, tall, box-like apartment buildings, and the desperate need for new infrastructure and investment. Residents from the centre often warn against visiting this area, particularly after dark.
Identity in Space: Pre-modern to Modern
There are four distinctive historic layers in the city’s urban landscape: the pre-modern (pre-Petrine), the modern (post-Petrine), the Soviet and the post-Soviet. Each archeological and architectural layer manifests the ties between the physical world of the city and the socio-psychological world of its inhabitants. In addition, each layer builds on the layers that came before, so that a close examination of these historic layers reveals the symbolic depths of historic memory.
The pre-modern layer embodies a distinctively pre-Petrine Russian Orthodox conception of the world. By the time it reached maturity in the late seventeenth-century, the pre-modern configuration of the city’s roads and churches turned the space of the city into a symbolic pilgrimage through the life of Christ.
At the time, there was only one road through the city. It began at Annunciation Monastery, which marked the gateway to the city from the Oka River, and continued through the walled city (the kremlin) to Pecherskii Monastery, which guarded the approach to the city from the Volga River. In traveling this road, seventeenth-century visitors and residents passed by sites whose names commemorated all the key events in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, so that travelers figuratively revisited all the crucial turning points in Christ’s life on earth. In this way, the architecture and toponymy of the city provided a physical medium for the expression and cultivation of seventeenth-century spirituality—a spirituality clearly tied to a specifically Orthodox Christian sense of identity.
The pilgrimage set up by the plan of the seventeenth-century city began at Yarila Hill, which was located to the south of Annunciation Monastery. Yarila Hill, named after a pagan Slavic god, was the site where many inhabitants celebrated the rites of spring. Thus, Yarila Hill represented the pagan world—the world before Christ. By contrast, neighbouring Annunciation Monastery celebrated the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to the Christ. That event launched the Gospel story. From Annunciation Monastery, to get to the kremlin, travelers had to pass down the Street of the Nativity (Rozhdestvenskaia) and through John the Baptist Gates—a journey that figuratively carried them through Christ’s birth and baptism. Insofar as Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist marked the beginning of his earthly ministry, one might argue that the kremlin represented Christ’s ministry on earth.
The journey through the kremlin served as a sort of via dolorosa—that is, as a painful journey to the pinnacle of Christ’ earthly ministry—the Transfiguration. As travelers followed the kremlin road, they had to climb a slope about 100 metres in height (truly, an act of penance for those carrying heavy burdens!) until they came to the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. (As they climbed, they moved from west to east—that is, in the same direction as an Orthodox cathedral faces.) By virtue of its name, this cathedral celebrated the central event in Christ’s life—namely, the moment when, according to Orthodox Christian teaching, Christ’s divine glory shone so brightly that it illuminated, or transfigured, his physical body, manifesting the promise of redemption (that is, transfiguration) for the entire material world. Because of the steepness of the slope, travelers who turned around and looked back could enjoy a spectacular view of the Oka. (Truly, as in all life’s journeys, it was easier to look back!)
Upon exiting the kremlin, visitors and inhabitants symbolically came to the end of Christ’s earthly ministry. And so, outside the kremlin’s walls, they found the Chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross—a monument to Christ’s death. From the chapel, a road headed down the slope to Pecherskii Monastery. Most historians rightly stress that the monastery’s name, as given to it by its founder Dionisii in the fourteenth century, is a reference to Kiev’s Pecherskii (Cave) Monastery. However, given its place in the city’s religious and symbolic landscape, the name can surely be understood as a reference to both the Kievan Monastery (a symbol of Slavic Orthodox piety) and the catacombs (cave-like structure) of ancient Rome, where 1st
-century believers met, worshipped and prayed. In other words, the metaphorical journey through the life of Christ ended with a reference to Christ’s church—a sort of living symbol of his resurrection.
This spatial-religious configuration did not develop according to a preconceptualized plan. The monasteries were founded long before the construction of John the Baptist Gates, Nativity Church (after which Nativity Street is named) or the Chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross (which was built in honour of Patriarch Nikon, albeit he had ceased to be patriarch). However, just as the city’s church architecture clearly came to follow a well-defined aesthetic plan, in spite of the fact that the churches were built at different times by different architects and there is no document indicating that any single architect understood the role that his individual creation played in the broader architectural whole,
so the urban landscape of Nizhnii Novgorod came to be filled with structured meaning, although it emerged gradually over time, without any clearly documented, overarching plan. However, those living in the seventeenth-century city must have recognized the latent features of this unrealized “pilgrimage-city,” for in the late seventeenth century a merchant-industrialist named S. Zadorin—a supporter of Neronov’s reformist group, the Zealots of Piety—paid for the repair of Transfiguration Cathedral (which became the state church in 1672) as well as the construction of the brick Church of Nativity (in 1653). These two architectural projects completed the city’s spatial-toponymic religious structure.
Such spatial-soteriological urban structures were not unique to Nizhnii Novgorod or Russia, but were common to all pre-modern cities. As Mumford says with regard to the medieval city:
The medieval city was a stage for the ceremonies of the Church. If in an industrial age the imagination soars to its highest level in a railroad station or bridge, in medieval culture practical achievement reached its peak in the service of a great symbol…No sedentary student, viewing this architecture in pictures. . . . is in a state to penetrate this urban setting even in its purely aesthetic aspect. For the key to the visible city lies in the procession, above all, in the great religious procession that winds about the streets and places before it finally debouches into the church or the cathedral for the great ceremony itself.
In short, pre-modern Nizhnii Novgorod, like pre-modern cities elsewhere, set the stage for the enactment of a symbolic, spiritual drama.
Modernity would not eradicate this physical framework, which remained intact until the Russian Revolution. But modernity did nevertheless redefine the underlying national and spiritual principle embedded in the city’s architecture. The Petrine era marked the beginning of a number of secularizing changes, all of which influenced the space of the city. Although Orthodox Churches continued to be built, they were no longer placed to enhance the pilgrim structure: for instance, a new Annunciation Cathedral was placed between the kremlin and the Chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross—an utterly inappropriate location, if one considers the soteriological symbolism of the city’s seventeenth-century architectural structure. After Peter, architects no longer took care to ensure that all roads began and ended with a church (although such was the structure of Nizhnii Novgorod). Peter’s new legislation focused on the “rationalization” of urban space—that is, straightening and paving roads, regulating the appearance of architectural facades, ensuring fire protection through zoning laws, etc. The ideals of science, planning, and imperial control manifested themselves in the space of the city—not obliterating the seventeenth-century pilgrimage structure, but competing with it. The city, as Kirichenko says, had already been an expression of the state idea,
and this new state idea was no longer primarily Orthodox, but secular.
Medieval cities such as Nizhnii were an affront to Peter’s modern imperial vision—not because of the “pilgrimage structure,” but because medieval cities privileged the native and the local over the national. Their winding, narrow streets and dead ends—which were despised by imperial rulers—celebrated aesthetic surprise and self-enclosed community. Their curved, narrow streets sheltered local residents from wind (which thrives in wide, straight boulevards) and rendered the city opaque to the outsider. Urban dwellings (uzad’by
) generally faced into their courtyards, not onto the street, since the courtyard offered intimacy as well as protection from dust. To the street front, such buildings commonly offered a dull, barren wall, not an attractive facade.
Churches were located on irregularly shaped public squares—squares that were insular, with narrow entrances and enclosed spaces that forced visitors to draw near to the church—that is, enter this enclosed space—in order to appreciate its architecture. The hand-carved details on homes and churches invited deliberate, delight-filled observation. Anyone rapidly galloping down a paved boulevard would not recognize their beauty (a beauty that perhaps compensated for the dips, hollows, and dirt that forced weary travellers to slow their pace), for it required close scrutiny and meditation.
In the medieval city, space lacked differentiation, so that a single site could serve commercial, religious, residential and military purposes (just as the old monasteries had done). In keeping with this stress on the local over the national, the entire city turned inward into itself, so that aesthetic appreciation was the prerogative of those within the city. Thus, those sailing by ancient and pre-modern Nizhnii Novgorod would see only the unornamented and windowless sides and rears of buildings and storage sheds, which–in keeping with ancient Russian architectural practice—faced south and east. (In Nizhnii, this meant that they faced away from the Oka and the Volga Rivers.)
The shores were cluttered with trade and port institutions, and the homes along the shore were wooden and shoddy. Housing on the outskirts proved to be the most poor and least appealing.
By contrast, Petrine-era state architecture used the rational, straight lines of classical architecture and paved boulevards to express the secular power of the Russian imperial state. Peter demanded that all cities be planned and that these planned cities feature wide boulevards lined with classical architecture whose repetitive lines would offer a sense of aesthetic power and pleasure to those rushing by on horse-drawn carriages. Peter also ordered homeowners to build homes flush with the road, with front entrances that exited directly onto the street. Such planned cities with wide streets that gazed outward onto roads and rivers, not inward onto hidden communal spaces, prioritized state unity and integration over private localities.
Instead of mystery, Petrine cities celebrated technological prowess. And so, Peter’s new capital city, Petersburg, modeled itself on Amsterdam, a Baroque Dutch city that embodied technological control over water for the purposes of transportation, health, as well as for aesthetic beauty. 
The Petrine city manifested the modern and rationalizing power of the Petrine state.
As Brower argues, by ordering that provincial city centres be filled with wide, straight roads lined with western architecture, Emperor Peter draped his imperial robes of authority over the provincial interior, defining these provincial sites as parts of a broader spatial unity—the Russian state.
Peter forbade wooden construction in his new capital city of Petersburg, turning wooden
Russia (for the vast majority of cities were built of wood) into the provincial antipode to stone
Petersburg, his namesake city.
In symbolic terms, the post-Petrine city of Nizhnii Novgorod was no longer the centre of biblical/salvation history, but a provincial outpost of the Russian empire.
Thus, the post-Petrine architecture of Nizhnii Novgorod came to centre on the city’s “capital section”—that is, on the planned urban core on the top of the Volga-Oka brow, where stone buildings and classical architecture mirrored that of the state capital, St. Petersburg. Through this, the concepts of both the province (a “lesser” and “backward” city within the state) and the secular city were brought to Nizhnii.
Peter’s architectural reforms did not immediately transform the face of the Nizhnii Novgorod. In fact, because the best masons and building materials were whisked away to St. Petersburg, architectural development stagnated. With the exception of Annunciation Cathedral, most architectural development merged with the earlier soteriological landscape. For instance, two new Baroque-style churches were added to Nizhnii’s architectural landscape: the St. George Church (c. 1697), which was built near the kremlin’s St. George Tower, and Nativity Church (1719), which replaced the Nativity Church that Zadorin had funded. St. George Church, which celebrated a Russian patron saint, fittingly graced the Volga side of the kremlin—that is, the side that represented the life of the church after Christ; as for Nativity Church, it restored a building essential to the seventeenth-century pilgrimage structure of the city.
The full impact of Peter’s secularizing and rationalizing legacy would not be felt until the time of Catherine the Great, under whom Peter’s ideals for urban planning were finally realized in provincial centres. Seeking to display the ‘enlightened’ nature of her rule, Catherine II launched an ambitious program of urban development, launching the replanning and reconstruction of a host of provincial cities. Catherine II ensured that all cities had an official urban plan, that all plans banished wooden construction from the city centre, and that all plans called for straightening, widening, levelling and paving streets. Under Catherine II, a uniform, rational architectural style was imposed on all buildings (at least, those in the centre), and—as Peter had desired—all these buildings faced the street rather than the private courtyard. This was Baroque architecture and planning, for it asserted the status, wealth, and power of warring eighteenth-century empires in the space of the city.
Under Catherine II and her successors, the provincial city of Nizhnii Novgorod underwent radical reconstruction, losing its military architecture and structure.
The remnants of the old fortress were permitted to decay, for they had lost their practical military purpose.
The kremlin became an administrative centre, and its residential buildings (with the exception of the homes of a few religious and political elite) were removed.
Thanks to the great fire of 1768, the entire city was replanned and redesigned according to Catherinian principles.
Engineers drained swamps, filled ravines, and laid out paved boulevards that radiated straight out from the kremlin’s main entrance, the Dmitriev Gates. Wooden buildings that were located in the city centre or on the line of the newly projected streets were removed.
The crooked streets, high fences, side entrances, empty spaces, and irregular facades typical of the medieval city disappeared, even in the outer rings of the city, where wooden architecture continued to predominate. Using classical and model designs (obraztsovye proekty
), planners regularized the architectural structure of the entire city, from the urban core (where the elite lived) to the wooden outer ring (where merchants and handicraftsmen lived).
These modernizing changes continued under Nicholas I, who personally approved the city plans that prepared the city of Nizhnii Novgorod to accommodate the international trade fair, which was moved to the city in 1817. (He sent August Betancourt to the city to both redesign the city and to draw up the project for the trade fair.
) Because the trade fair brought increases in urban traffic each summer (when petty tradesman, artisans, merchants, and entertainers made their way to the fair), the entire city service system had to be reformed. Large caravans from Kazan and Arzamas passed through the upper city of Nizhnii Novgorod, congesting the city’s kremlin road (which they used to descend the slope to the pontoon bridge over the Oka River to the fair). Because the kremlin’s road was too narrow and unstable for such traffic,
the city’s roads underwent massive reconstruction: all but pedestrians were banned from the kremlin road, and four new paved highways were built on the Volga slope—two on each side of the kremlin—so that the caravans could safety by-pass the kremlin core.
In addition to providing new roads and service facilities, Nicholas ordered the construction of two paved roads along the embankments—that is, roads that ran parallel to the river, establishing pleasing vistas from which residents could gaze onto the rivers.
Architecture along these embankments faced the waterfront, and the entire slope (formerly covered with wild ravines and barren spaces) was turned into a garden.
In addition, the remaining ravines in the city centre were filled in, and natural springs—once deemed to be a source of holy water—were gathered into collectors.
These changes were not merely technological or socioeconomic in original, but also political and cultural. Roads did not have to be straight (except to allow the ready transit of imperial carriages and troops), underground streams did not necessarily have to be gathered into collectors (although undoubtedly this did prevent erosion), and ravines did not have to be filled in. (In fact, some of the soil instability may have been caused, not solved, by this soil engineering.
) The new changes manifested new imperial priorities and new developments in Russian culture, particularly the rising importance of the secular state and national bases for state and popular identity. The coming of the trade fair connected local residents more closely to the outside world, and Peter’s legacy continued to make the state, not the Orthodox faith, the core of local identity and ritual. Military parades feted secular (not religious) heroes, such as Kozma Minin—a hero to whom an obelisk was first built in the nineteenth century, thanks to pressure from local patriots.
Economically, politically and culturally, Nizhnii Novgorod experienced the pressures of modernization.
Yet, the old medieval structure of the city did not entirely disappear. Behind the modern façade of the post-Catherinian city, the wild spaces of the older city remained. Although new straight streets lined with stone architecture gave the city a modern face, behind each of these streets lay pristine ravines (those ancient lines of natural defence),
dirty streams, and wooden homes whose facades did not conform to state-approved styles. Many of these dwellings were undoubtedly surrounded with high fences and side entrances, in spite of the post-Petrine ban.
And, as before, all the major radial streets in the upper city—Bol’shaia Pokrovka, Alekseevskaia, and Varvarskaia—as well as the two main streets in the lower city—Il’inka and Rozhdestvenskaia—began or ended with the church after which the street was named.
The lines of the old ravines defined the paths of new streets,
and the boundary between the city core, where stone architecture predominated, and the outer ring, with its wooden buildings, was defined by the ancient, inner fortification wall (malyi ostrog
) of the seventeenth-century fortress, while the outer fortification wall (bol’shoi ostrog
) defined the city’s outer boundary.
Although the seventeenth-century kremlin road was no longer the only path from Annunciation Monastery to Pecherskii Monastery, the basic architectural features of this soteriological pathway remained intact. It is possible that the Chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross had been torn down, but the chapel had a substitute – a woman’s monastery, the Monastery of the Exaltation of the Cross. This monastery was located on the crest of the hill just above the site where one of the new Nicholas-era boulevards began its descent down to the pontoon bridge.
Thanks to the founding of this monastery, three of Nicholas I’s new boulevards down the Volga slope began with a church. (The other two began with the churches outside the kremlin.) Finally, even holy springs remained: having gathered natural underground streams and springs into man-made collectors, Nicholas I provided a chapel to mark one of the sites where such consecrated water flowed out of the bank. Modern engineering and ancient faith had to accommodate one another.
After the Great Reforms: A City in Flux
The Great Reforms of the 1860s-1870s inspired the economic transformation of the city, launching the city on a path of industrial development that would eventually make industry, not trade, the city’s economic mainstay. Industrial enterprises planted themselves on the left bank of the Oka River, where they spread out along the transportation routes (railways, roads, and rivers) that led to and from the city of Nizhnii Novgorod and its annual trade fair. Peasant-workers came to work at the new ship-building works that sprang up on the left bank of the Volga River.
Permanent business establishments and industrial growth brought more settlers and more year-round traffic to the city, something that encouraged the proliferation of lower-class workers’ settlements along the roads to Kazan and Arzamas—ancient routes which caravans bound for the trade fair had once followed.
Soon, small workers’ settlements rang around the entire city of Nizhnii Novgorod.
The city population remained in constant flux and upheaval. By 1897, about one-third of city residents were petty tradesmen (meshchane
), while another one-half were new immigrants to the city.
By 1910, about 203,100 people in the province engaged in seasonal, labour-related migration (otkhodnichestvo
), a number that rose to 227,000 by 1914. The number of workers in the province rose to 35,000-40,000—a fairly large number, although most peasants depended for survival upon a mixture of handicraft production and subsistence agriculture.
Thanks to the number of permanent and seasonal labourers flooding into Nizhnii Novgorod and its environs, by 1900 there was a severe housing shortage in the city—something exacerbated each summer by the influx of visitors to the annual trade fair.
In the late nineteenth century, the trade fair continued to flourish, although it lost its importance as a centre for wholesale trade and business transactions. Better credit, the telegraphs, railways, and new rules for joint-stock companies reduced the dependency on the trade fair as a forum for wholesale business transactions.
An increasing number of trade establishments made the transition from fair-based buying and selling to operating out of a permanent warehouse and shop. Annually, the fair continued to bring 200,000 to 300,000 to the city (quite a number for a city with a population of 94,000!),
but its importance as a national economic force was already in decline. In the meantime, merchants and intellectuals became the main sponsors of urban growth and development, building new infrastructure, cultural institutions, and welfare societies.
A strong form of “merchant patriotism” emerged as merchant-entrepreneurs founded new banks, schools, philanthropic institutions, as well as churches and trade centres.
In the wake of the Great Reforms, intellectual and merchant elites joined hands to modernize the city and its identity. The imperial grandeur of the homes of the nobility (concentrated on Pokrovka Street) began to be rivaled by merchant ambition. Bolstered by the 1864 local government reforms, when tsarist authorities permitted local authorities to approve the construction of new houses and their facades,
the merchant-industrial elite built mansions on the Oka and Volga River embankments, gracing these two streets with mansions whose architectural styles varied from avant-garde modernism to the classical and the eclectic.
Between 1864 and the 1917 Revolution, the city duma and its merchant elite built a new state bank, the Peasants’ Land Bank, a stock exchange, the Volga-Kama Bank, new trade fair buildings, as well as a host of new mansions.
In 1914, the duma launched work on a plumbing system for Nizhnii Novgorod. 
Eager to remake and rename the city, in 1869, the city duma (as opposed to the imperial authorities) demanded a new plan for the city. At the same time, they proposed a toponymic remapping of the city—one that would celebrate the national and societal (not the imperial) foundations of the Russian polity. Thus, they proposed to name streets in honour of local and national cultural figures (Minin, Pozharskii, Suvorov, Kutuzov, Dobroliubov, Gogol’, Mel’nikov, Rukavishnikov and Stroganov).
These socioeconomic and cultural changes resulted in the development of three economically interlinked settlements: Nizhnii Novgorod, Sormovo and Kanavino. Nizhnii Novgorod became the institutional, administrative, economic, religious, and cultural hub of a large new economic region that stretched along both sides of the Oka and Volga rivers near the Oka mouth (and encompassed Kanavino and Sormovo). Kanavino, which stood opposite Nizhnii Novgorod on the low-lying terrain of the trade fair, thrived on the annual trade brought by the fair. It also had a couple of industrial enterprises. Sormovo, located further down the Volga River, crystallized around new ship- and machine-building factories. Like Kanavino, Sormovo was located on the low-lying lands on the left bank of the Oka River (although, unlike Nizhnii Novgorod and Kanavino, Sormovo had no direct outlet onto the Oka River). In short, Nizhnii Novgorod specialized in administration and culture, Kanavino in trade, and Sormovo in industry.
The 1896 Exhibition: The Crisis of Modernization
In 1896, the Russian provincial city of Nizhnii Novgorod hosted the All-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition—an event deliberately located in this provincial town in order to celebrate and encourage the advancement of provincial economic and cultural life.
Opening that summer on a patch of terrain located to the southwest of the annual trade fair, the exhibition brought thousands of international visitors to Nizhnii Novgorod, allowing the city to showcase this new exhibition (a celebration of Russian modernization) as well as the city of Nizhnii Novgorod. The event included exhibits on avant-garde art, modern medicine and agriculture, the colonization of Siberia, the newest in industrial production and communications technology, as well as the most recent developments in sanitary technology. (The exhibition was serviced by a water tower that simultaneously served as a pillar from which to survey the fair grounds.)
In all of this, the exhibition also served as an educational forum for enlightening the population about modern medicine, agriculture, architecture and more.
In showcasing the “modernizing” province and new technology, the All-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition proposed new ways of being and thinking, not the least of which was the notion that a stereotypically backward Russian provincial city could be radically modernized.
The exhibition provided the opportunity for self-creation—that is, for defining the Russian province as a site of culture, education, and international entrepreneurship, not a site of cultural and economic backwardness. In this way, the exhibition served as a structure for spacing (espacement
) as defined by Jacques Derrida: although it did not yet redefine local life, the event opened up new ways of seeing and perceiving local experience.
The exhibition’s bright lights and tall displays cast a dark shadow over the underdeveloped sectors of the city.
Its new, avant-garde designs stood in stark contrast to Nizhnii Novgorod’s annual trade fair—a world of Eastern merchants, petty traders, mounds of wholesale and retail goods for redistribution, bawdy popular entertainment, and widespread poverty. By juxtaposing the old (the trade fair) against the new (the exhibits), the exhibition may have helped to produce what Michael Hamm has called the “crisis of modernization”—that is, the perception
of the need for urban services, infrastructure, and housing.
Such changes in perception most likely set the intellectual context for Soviet architectural theory and practice.
In addition to reshaping perception, the exhibition resulted in immediate urban improvement and modernization, at least in Nizhnii Novgorod. In preparing for the event, the duma and local luminaries (with financial aid from the tsar) quickly outfitted the city with electric street lights, paved roads, a new drama theatre, and new cultural facilities. In the three years of preparation for the exhibition, city officials installed an electric tram (that traversed the summertime pontoon bridge), two tram elevators to pull trams up the steep Oka slope, a business exchange on Sofronovakaia Square, a public garden at the corner of Pokrovskaia and Dvorianskaia streets, a temporary judicial facility, and a new theatre.
They also completed the restoration of the kremlin’s Dmitriev Tower, in which the local historian A. S. Gatsiskii founded the Museum of History and Art.
In the words of native-born writer Maxim Gor’kii, ancient Nizhnii became a “city of lights” on the hill that overlooked the exhibition, which was situated on the opposite side of the Oka River.
The closure of the exhibition resulted in still further improvements to the city. Although most of the newly built exhibition pavilions were sold, a wealthy local merchant transported the tsar’s pavilion to the city centre, making it the central core of the new city duma building in 1902.
A few years later, the exhibition grounds became a city park.
The Moscow city council’s pavilion on urban affairs became the base collection for the Moscow Museum of Urban Management (today’s Museum of the History of Moscow)—a fact that reminds us of the exhibition’s conscious attempt to instill appreciation for modern improvements to urban life.
Most importantly, the new drama theatre, the tram lines, the electric street lights, paved roads, and cultural facilities built in preparation for the exhibition remained as permanent features of the urban landscape.
The exhibition captured a world in administrative, economic and cultural transition. Brought to Nizhnii Novgorod because of the annual trade fair, the Exhibition competed with the trade fair, serving not only as a site of exchange, but as a site in which to showcase economic, scientific and industrial advancements. Meant to highlight the modernization and vitality of the Russian province, the exhibition became a site where local merchants, the local cultural elite as well as the tsar competed to assert their importance to Russia’s future. At the event itself, all engaged in elaborate rituals of unity, but the preparations exposed the fissures between ideas and groups. Orthodox piety, rising middle class ambition, secular learning, localized power and tsarist rule—all asserted themselves at the event, with its mixture of modern exhibits and traditional Russian opening and closing ceremonies. The very fact that there was an exhibition—an event for showcasing ideas—reflects a world conscious of its ability to reshape and remould itself.
Because of these changes, Nizhnii Novgorod witnessed a rupture in its architectural development at the end of the nineteenth century. Because they lived in a world where many rejected faith, state and loyalty to the tsar as the foundation for local and national identity, architects sought new sources of inspiration. Provincial architecture no longer mimicked that of the capital, but turned to rural, folk models for ideas.
Because state laws governing architectural design ceased to be enforced, local architects could freely experiment with a multitude of architectural styles (eclectic, pre-Petrine, classical, modernist, etc.) as part of their search for a new aesthetic style for the community.
In its spatial disunity, architecture—like the exhibition—came to reflect the cacophony of identities, opinions and agendas that pervaded the intellectual sphere of tsarist Russia.
After Revolution: Symbols of Modernization
The tensions implicit in the exhibition exploded during the First World War, resulting in the two Russian Revolutions of 1917 and—with these—in radical new changes to the landscape of Nizhnii Novgorod. After the October Revolution in 1917, the new Soviet government of Russia consciously rejected Orthodoxy as a source of spiritual or national self-definition. In fact, it explicitly sought to subvert the spatial expression of these ancient commitments. The old seventeenth-century “pilgrim core” of the city was destroyed, so that only remnants of it remained in 1931. Initially, in rejecting eclectic and classical architecture (both of which represented an attempt to root modern identity in the past), Soviet architects built constructivist edifices—symbols of a rational utilitarianism that rejected the aesthetics of the past and embraced science and technology as the organizing principles of socialist life. Although this scientific spirit was later masked by Stalinist Gothic monumentalism, the symbolic core of the Soviet city did not change: human progress and Soviet power, not the otherworldly reference points of the seventeenth century, marked the core meaning and identity of the city. Not until the post-Soviet resurgence of national-religious identity would Orthodoxy reemerge as a potential focal point for identity.
The Soviet revolution in architecture was not just a revolution in architectural style, but in the structure of urban space. The city’s symbolic landscape was transformed as buildings were given new designations and purposes, often for reasons that were as much ideological as pragmatic. By 1928, the merchants’ Commercial Club had become the Theatre for Youth (TIuZ).
In 1918, the Rukavishnikov Home, a merchant mansion known for its fanciful architecture, became the home of the Museum of Local History.
The archbishop’s residence became a music conservatory.
Prison Square (Ostrozhnaia ploshchad’)—the site of a prison that had “hosted” such well-known figures as F. E. Dzerzhinskii, A. M. Gor’kii, Ia. M. Sverdlov, and two local revolutionary heroes (A. I. Piskunov and P. A. Zalomov)—became Freedom Square.
The Nobles’ Meeting House (Dvorianskoe sobranie) became the Sverdlov District House of Culture, while the city duma building became the House of Labour (Dvorets Truda). The pedagogical institute took over the seminary building, and Peter and Paul Cemetery (which honoured the founding fathers of the Christian church) became Kulibin Park (which honoured a local inventor – a sort of founding father of scientific innovation).
New Bazaar Square, where radicals had once held demonstrations, became May 1st
Finally, the Monastery of the Exaltation of the Cross temporarily came to serve as a concentration camp—perhaps, a reference to the Soviet insistence that labour transformed and redeemed.
Soviet authorities subverted the city’s seventeenth-century pilgrimage structure, etching the Soviet narrative of secular, scientific redemption into the urban landscape. They placed a planetarium in Annunciation Monastery, substituting a centre designed to explain the scientific origins of the universe for a monastery that had celebrated the annunciation of Christ (that is, the beginnings of Christianity). Nativity Street, which paid tribute to the birth of Christ, became Mayakovsky Street – that is, a street named after the radical avant-garde poet whose works celebrated the fires of Revolution as a regenerative force.
Nativity Church came to house the Municipal Museum, as if to suggest that the new source of human hope and community lay not in a Christ child, but in modern urban infrastructure and technology. The Cathedral of the Transfiguration—that symbol of spiritual transformation and holiness in Christ—was replaced by the new constructivist House of Soviets.
Designed to resemble a plane, the new House of Soviets reversed the orientation of kremlin architecture, for it did not face the Oka River (like the remaining buildings), but Soviet Square—the new name for the main city square located outside the Dmitriev Gates.
The Chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross no longer existed,
but the Monastery of the Exaltation of the Cross—as noted above—became a concentration camp. Finally, by the 1930s, the old Monastery of the Caves—the end-point of the old pilgrimage—became a recreational area, as if to suggest that health, rest, and vitality no longer lay in religious community and spiritual healing, but in physical relaxation.
Authorities do not appear to have held an open debate about this new, narrative-in-space, but the city’s reconstruction did define the principles that animated Soviet thought: science and humanism. The new pilgrimage structure celebrated science, technology and—most importantly—revolutionary time. To educate residents about this symbolic space, local educators organized field trips, teaching local residents to recognize sites formerly frequented by Maxim Gor’kii, Vladimir Lenin, and other well-known socialist figures. Porkhunov’s shoe store on Field Street—the place where Gor’kii lived in 1879 and where he wrote Foma Gordeev
—came to house a museum dedicated to Lenin’s visit to the city in 1900.
Local publishers regularly printed books listing new Soviet street names and explaining their historic, ideological or architectural inspiration.
They also posted plaques on each building where Lenin, Gor’kii, Dobroliubov, and other well-known Soviet personages had been.
Thanks to the Revolution, local authorities prioritized the development of cultural facilities, such as theatres, houses of culture, museums and libraries. A puppet theatre opened in 1928, and the local philharmonic opened in 1937 in the kremlin.
In 1935, the Museum of the River Flotilla of the Volga State Academy of Water Transportation Engineers, which opened in 1921 in Saratov, was renamed the Volga Museum and moved to the Institute of Water Transportation Engineers.
A new museum celebrating the life and work of local writers opened on Minin Street in 1928, and in 1938, the “Kashirin Home”—dedicated to Gor"kii’s youth—opened.
In addition, in 1935, the old Workers’ Club founded by Maxim Gor’kii became an opera theatre—in many ways, a sign of the cultural level which workers were supposed to have attained. 
Prerevolutionary museums were enlarged and moved to new facilities—usually, expropriated merchant homes.
Other cultural facilities built in this time period included the Lengorodok House of Culture (1928) and the House of Culture in Sormovo (1930).
Meanwhile, churches disappeared or were closed. Spasskii Sobor—once located in the kremlin—appears to have been removed by 1926, for there is no mention of it in the 1926 city guide.
The Simenovskaia and Uspenskaia churches in the kremlin and some churches nearby were torn down to make room for administrative buildings.
In the midst of the cultural upheavals of 1928 to 1931, the churches on the main square outside the kremlin (churches added in the Petrine period) were blown up.
St. George Church was torn down to provide room for a hotel, and Il’inskaia Church became a library.
Ilinskaia and Mironositskaia Streets, both of which were named after the churches on them, were renamed Red Flotilla and Dobroliubov Streets respectively, and their churches were put to secular use.
Modernization could be seen in many more areas, from architecture to public services. Constructivist architecture—already introduced to the city in the late nineteenth century by merchants who hired the Vesnin brothers as architects—proliferated.
Avant-garde buildings lined the Upper Volga Embankment, the embankment first founded by Nicholas I.
Movie theatres and radio stations flourished, spreading new ideas and acquainting local residents with western culture.
Tram development continued—now linking Sormovo and Kanavino to Nizhnii Novgorod.
Authorities sponsored the construction of an experimental settlement: Lenin Town (Leninskii gorodok), which was settled on 1 May 1925 in the vicinity of Kanavino. With enough two-storey, four-apartment wooden homes to house 400 working-class families, it was known as a garden city.
In spite of all these changes, Nizhnii Novgorod in the 1920s remained a site where the past contested the claims of the Soviet present. In spite of the sovietization of toponyms, local residents and publications occasionally used the old, tsarist names. For instance, a news article in Gor’kovskii rabochii
in December 1936 mentioned “Trinity Lane” and the “Neapol’” hotel, both of which had ceased to exist, at least in official designations.
In addition, the memory of pre-Soviet religious holidays remained. In 1926, for instance, the city hosted the 6-day Chrismation (Kreshchenskaia) Market, named after the religious festival celebrating the dedication of Christ in the temple after his birth.
Instilling the new symbolic reference points into the popular mind proved difficult, for the reference points highlighted by Soviet toponyms proved unstable.
Names changed repeatedly. For instance, Station Square, the site of the train station, became Revolution Square and then Cheliuskintsev Square. Sormovo District’s Vladimir Street first became Revolution Street and then Barricades Street (in honour of the 1905 revolution in Sormovo).
On the Eve of the First Five-Year Plan: Amalgamation for Modernization
Soviet industrial and economic development led to even deeper, less negotiable changes in the fabric of the city. By 1929, the international trade fair closed.
Handicraftsmen who had traditionally produced goods for the fair (and obtained raw materials there) found their livelihoods threatened. (Collectivization only worsened matters.) These sought work in the environs of the city, where industry continued to expand.
Much of this “new” industry had been brought to (or confiscated by) the city during the First World War, when large industries from the Baltics were evacuated to Kanavino.
At around this time, Rastiapino, a settlement located twenty-five kilometres upstream from Nizhnii on the Oka River, became a centre for the production of construction materials.
By 1926, partly thanks to the opening of the Balakhna hydroelectric plant in 1925,
Sormovo’s ship-building factory had fully recovered from its post-revolutionary slump, and industry continued to expand in the lands of Kanavino and Sormovo.
Technically, Sormovo, Kanavino and Nizhnii Novgorod were three separate cities. In 1928, however, these three cities would be integrated in preparation for an economic and industrial revolution that would result in increased territorial expansion, industrial development, and urbanization.
As population numbers began to soar in (and even before) 1928, authorities in all settlements near the mouth of the Oka River needed to invest in infrastructure, housing, schooling, medical facilities and all the amenities associated with modern urban life. In Nizhnii Novgorod, Kanavino and Sormovo, new immigrants required housing, transportation, health care and education, as well as food services. All three settlements suffered from poverty and underdevelopment, working-class unrest, and political disaffection.
Like Nizhnii Novgorod, Kanavino and Sormovo continued to attract new industry (which was drawn to the area’s rich human, administrative and transportation resources), and population surpluses spilled into nearby villages and factory settlements. Of the 249,000 people living in Sormovo, Kanavino, and Nizhnii in 1927, 72,363 lived in villages and settlements outside of the boundaries of Sormovo, Kanavino, or Nizhnii. When these regions were absorbed by the amalgamated city of Nizhnii Novgorod in 1928, their numbers merely compounded the challenges of modernizing and extending urban services to the local population.
As the growth of these “satellites” demonstrates, the lands between Sormovo, Kanavino and Nizhnii were gradually filling up with housing, roads and haphazardly built mechanics shops. All three cities not only needed to expand the services within their existing boundaries, but to extend their services to this surrounding population, for their own health and economic vitality depended on the well-being and work of these newcomers.
The development problem facing Nizhnii Novgorod, Sormovo, and Kanavino was largely a Soviet-era problem. On the eve of 1917, all three settlements (Nizhnii Novgorod, Sormovo, and Kanavino) were small and underdeveloped.
Sormovo was classified as a village (selo
), although by 1915, Sormovo had 15,000 workers.
In 1917, authorities finally designated Sormovo a city—the new centre of Sormovskii district (uezd
). In 1919, the Sormovo-Balakhna railway united the various villages in which the workers of Sormovo lived, and in 1921, Kanavino also became an independent city—one that consisted of the old trade fair grounds as well as the nearby villages of Gordeevka, Molitovka, and Karpovka.
At this time, the population was only about one-sixth of what it would be in 1939.
Thanks to urbanization and industrialization in the Soviet period, the urban population rose to 249,000 inhabitants by 1927.
By 1928, provincial industrial output had doubled since 1913, and production in the city had tripled.
The industrialization drive of the First Five-Year Plan drew thousands of workers into this region, overwhelming the two local administrations, Sormovo and Kanavino.
Population, wealth and industry were not evenly distributed between these three soon-to-be-conjoined settlements. Of the 249,000 people in the city in 1927, 141,893 people lived on the left Oka bank, and 107,107 on the right (in historic Nizhnii Novgorod).
In spite of the fact that the left bank had the bulk of the area’s population and industry, Kanavino and Sormovo (the left bank’s two urban centres) were almost completely lacking in public services. Sormovo did not have a single paved road, let alone modern water and sewer lines. Although Kanavino had benefited from provincial investment in roads, tram lines, and other municipal services, it also suffered from shortfalls in public services. Except for Lenin Town, the Kanavino region lacked public transportation, cultural facilities, and other elements of a modern infrastructure.
Neither Sormovo nor Kanavino (the area’s two left-bank cities) had the funds for urban development. Due to funding shortages, the councils of Kanavino and Sormovo spent less than half the amount per capita on municipal services than Nizhnii Novgorod. Only local industries had the funds to provide public services to these two regions, and these industries generally refused to provide housing and utilities to residents who were not factory workers. (Even factory workers received the bare minimum of such services from their employers, for factories were focused on industrial expansion, not public services.) The municipality of Nizhnii Novgorod gathered revenues from trade taxes and fees for the use of existing public services (i.e. trams, water systems, rents, etc.), but neither Sormovo nor Kanavino had such services. Authorities in Sormovo also found themselves unable to earn money from housing rents, for housing in Sormovo was provided by the factory, not the district council. To worsen matters, although there were tram lines connecting Sormovo and Kanavino to Nizhnii Novgorod, the profits from this tram service went to Nizhnii Novgorod, which provided the service, not to Sormovo and Kanavino, whose workers made use of the service.
To deal with this crisis and to rationalize public administration and services in Nizhnii Novgorod, Sormovo, and Kanavino, Soviet authorities decided to amalgamate the three settlements to create “Great Nizhnii Novgorod” in 1928. Through amalgamation, Nizhnii Novgorod’s resources—not just economic, but also intellectual and technical—were supposed to help solve the municipal crisis in Sormovo and Kanavino, providing the infrastructure that modern industrial centres require. Authorities wanted to create a unified modern socialist industrial city that traversed the Oka River, turning the villages, workers’ settlements, factories and trade fair territory into integral parts of a single community.
This challenge was not merely a matter of administrative change or municipal development, but a battle against nature itself. The entire city was as vulnerable in 1928 to floods and landslides as it had been in the seventeenth century. Underground waters continued to destabilize the soils on both the right and left banks, and authorities had to find a way to control these waters and protect the left-bank regions of the city against floods. In 1926, these officials had witnessed a massive spring flood that wiped out homes and industries on the left bank. As they discovered, the swelling of the rivers caused the underground streams that fed these rivers to overflow and flood the marshy plains of the left bank. To the end of the 1930s, the elemental force of these spring waters would pose a scientific, economic and public health problem. In addition, they were an ideological and spiritual problem—at least, in the opinion of Soviet authorities, for local residents probably still venerated the natural springs that flowed out from these underground streams and down the steep Oka slope. In other words, making Great Nizhnii Novgorod into a fully modernized city involved more than extending development into Sormovo and Kanavino; it meant rebuilding the city from its hydrogeological foundations to its social, cultural and political superstructure.
From 1221 to 1928, Nizhnii Novgorod underwent many fundamental changes—changes that secularized the landscape, legitimizing and bolstering rule not only through the practice of defence and worship, but also through rational administration (as symbolized in western-style architecture). Starting out as a trade and military outpost, the city grew into an industrial centre. Historical change embedded itself in the urban landscape, making each time period unique. Each historical layer of time founded itself in the preceding layer, so that the outlines of the Petrine city followed that of the Muscovite town, which in turn followed the basic structure of the city at the time of its founding. Ravines became roads, and fortress perimeters became semicircular boulevards. Earlier layers pointed to a by-gone simplicity of institutional life – a simplicity where one institution carried out multiple functions. With time, evidence of specialization and modernization entered the layers of the past: the kremlin became an administrative and cultural (not religious) centre, monasteries became sites for the cultivation of spirituality (not sites for trade and defence), and a specialized trade fair was established to facilitate trade in the region. By the Soviet period, the city was an increasingly industrial city with an insufficient number of public services and a commitment to modernization.
Turning Orthodox Nizhnii into Soviet Gor’kii (as the city would be known after 1932) would prove to be a tremendous challenge – a challenge that would not just be technical or economic in nature, but social, cultural, and political. The local urban landscape shaped the patterns of everyday life, and it had been shaped by religious and political forces to which Soviet authorities were adamantly opposed. In inverting the symbolic structure of the city and modernizing its economic and administrative infrastructure, Soviet authorities hoped to establish a modern and secular polity – one that would be socialist in its economy and in its culture. But the practical challenges of reconstruction could potentially undermine the city’s symbolic reconstruction, turning the symbols of Soviet hope (the House of Soviets, the museums and houses of culture, etc.) into symbols of Soviet disappointment. Meanwhile, features of the older historic and architectural legacy remained. Reconstructing the city would require dedication and perseverance.
Dr. Heather DeHaan
Assistant Professor of History Department of History, Binghamton University (SUNY)
"From Nizhniito Gor"kii: The Reconstruction of a Russian Provincial City in the Stalinist 1930s" (unpublished dissertation, University of Toronto, 2005). Chapter 1.
Mumford stressed that urban space embodies cultural values and beliefs. See Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformation, and Its Prospects
(New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, Inc., 1961).
As Edward Casey notes, the word landscape implicitly acknowledges that “landscape” is a construct (that is, something defined as much by land as by the perception of that land), for the suffix “scape” is etymologically related to the word “shape.” See Edward S. Casey, Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002): Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997): Edward S. Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World,
Studies in Continental Thought (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1993). For a discussion of how landscape is politically conceptualized and manipulated, see Kenneth Olwig, Landscape, Nature, and the Body Politic From Britain"s Renaissance to America"s New World
(Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002). The ideas of Ely and Olwig are analysed by Matsuda in Matt Matsuda, "A Place for History (Review Article)," History and Theory
43 (2004): 260-71. For a study of the conceptual construction of landscape in the Russian context, see Christopher Ely, “The Picturesque and the Holy: Visions of Touristic Space in Russia, 1820-1850,” in James Cracraft and Daniel B. Rowland, eds., Architectures of Russian Identity: 1500 to the Present
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 80-89.
For more on the geological and hydrogeological foundations of the city, consult the following: B. I. Fridman, “Kak Volga prishla k Nizhegorodskomy otkosu,” Zapiskia kraevedov
(1981): 178-183; Evgenii Vladimirovich Milanovskii, Ocherk geologii srednego i nizhnego povolzh’ ia
(Moscow, 1940); N. M. Shomysov, Geologicheskie ekskursii v okrestnostiakh goroda Gor"kogo
The title of Mel’nikov-Pecherskii’s popular novel about Old Believers features these local topographical designations. (Mel’nikov-Pecherskii was a native of Nizhnii Novgorod.) The first volume of his two-volume novel was entitled V lesakh
while the second was Na gorakh.
See P. I. Mel’nikov, V lesakh: v dvukh knigakh
(Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1986); P. I. Mel’nikov, Na gorakh: prodolzhenie rasskazov “V lesakh”
(Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1979).
B. S. Khorev, Gor"kovskaia oblast",
rev. ed. (Gor"kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1967), 14, 20-25. For information on the region’s soil and mineral wealth, see B. F. Dobrynin, Geomorfologicheskii ocherk Gor"kovskogo i Kirovskogo kraev
(Gor’kii: Gor"kovskoe izdatel’stvo, 1935).
There is some controversy over the date of the city’s founding and, with that, the origins of the name “Nizhnii Novgorod.” For more, see I. A. Kir’ianov, K voprosu o vremeni osnovaniia goroda Gor’kogo
(Gor’kii, 1956), quoted in L. L. Trube and A. F. Shubin, Gor"kovskaia oblast": priroda i naselenie
(Gor"kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1968), 117; N. F. Filatov, "Blagoveshchenskaia sloboda Nizhnego Novgoroda v seredine XVII stoletiia," Rossiia i Nizhegorodskii krai: aktual"nye problemy
, (Nizhnii Novgorod: Nizhegorodskii gumanitarnyi tsentr, 1998), 195; N. F. Filatov, "Staryi gorodok. XII veka v ust"e Oki - predshestvennik Nizhnego Novgoroda," Nizhegorodskie issledovaniia po kraevedeniiu i arkheologii: Ezhegodnik
(Nizhnii Novgorod: Nizhegorodskii gumanitarnyi tsentr, 1999), 104-08. It is Filatov who suggests that the name Nizhnii Novgorod refers to the fact that the new fortress (gorod
) was located downriver from an earlier “old fortress (“staryi gorodok”), as referred to in documents of Yuri Dolgorukii’s reign as grand prince. Filatov’s findings suggest that the city’s founding date belongs in the mid 12th
century, not in the early 13th
N. I. Khramtsovskii, Kratkii ocherk istorii i opisanie Nizhnego Novgoroda
(Nizhnii Novgorod: Nizhegorodskaia iarmarka, 1998), 25.
For more on the founding of the kremlin and the relationship between local history and the ambitions of appanage princes and tsars, see S. L. Agafonov, Gor"kii - Nizhnii Novgorod,
Sokrovishcha russkogo zodchestva (Moscow: Akademii arkhitektury SSSR, 1947).
Around this time, Soviet planners and political leaders decided to exclude the city of Bor, located opposite Nizhnii Novgorod on the left bank of the Volga River, from the city, arguing that further urban growth would proceed along the Oka River, not the Volga.
Just up the Volga River from Bor, a railway bridge over the Volga River (built in 1934) links Russia’s central industrial zone to the Volga-Kama region and, beyond that, to Siberia (Khorev, 143).
For a description of the kremlin and its fortifications, consult N. F. Filatov, Nizhnii Novgorod. Arkhitektura XIV--nachala XX v
. Entsiklopediia Nizhegorodskogo kraia
(Nizhnii Novgorod: "Nizhegorodskie novosti", 1994); S. L. Agafonov, Kamennaia letopis" goroda
(Gor"kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1971); S. L. Agafonov, Nizhegorodskii kreml": arkhitektura, istoriia, restavratsiia
(Gor"kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1976).
Architectural structures that referred symbolically and spatially to biblical figures and motifs were not uncommon. For studies of such architectural symbols, see Michael S. Flier, “The Throne of Monomakh: Ivan the Terrible and the Architectonics of Destiny,” in Cracraft and Rowland 21-33; Daniel Rowland, “Architecture and Dynasty: Boris Godunov’s Uses of Architecture, 1584-1606,” in Cracraft and Rowland 34-50; Dimitri Shvidkovsky, “Catherine the Great’s Field of Dreams: Architecture and Landscape in the Russian Enlightenment,” in Cracraft and Rowland 51-65.
Oddly enough, no architectural or historical text makes mention of this layout—undoubtedly, because scholars tend to assume that anything “planned” must be documented.
N. F. Filatov, Nizhegorodskoe zodchestvo XVII-nachala XX veka
(Gor"kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1980), 10. There is no document to prove that any single architect took into account the work of the others. The evidence lies in the city itself – in the very beauty of the embankments and their architectural structure.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
95. For documents related to Zadorin and his involvement in the restoration of the cathedral, see Sergei Ivanovich Arkhangel’skii, ed., Nizhnii Novgorod v XVII veke: sbornik dokumentov. Iz materialov k istorii Nizhnego Novgoroda i ego okrugi
(Gor"kii: Gor"kovskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1961), 96-97.
Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities
(New York: Harcourt, Brace, & Co., Inc., 1938),
61-62. For a discussion of how England’s seventeenth-century utopias (that is, writings about the ideal city) envisioned spaces that were as much spiritual as political, see Robert Appelbaum’s Literature and Utopian Politics in Seventeenth-Century England
(New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
Evgeniia Ivanovna Kirichenko and E. G. Shcheboleva, Russkaia provintsiia
. Kul’turnoe nasledie Rossii (Moscow: Nash dom; L’Age d’Homme, 1997), 59.
Filatov, Nizhegorodskoe zodchestvo
66; Kirichenko and Shcheboleva 93.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
65-66. On the Medieval city, see Mumford, City in History
302-307; Mumford, Culture of Cities
An example of this is the Chatygin house where Peter I stayed in 1695. As was traditional in ancient Russian architecture, its windows faced south and east (Agafonov, Kamennaia Letopis’
As Mumford notes, there is little wonder that the new Baroque spatial perspective first manifested itself on theatrical sets, not in cities, for—as Mumford and others have noted—the Baroque city served as a backdrop for the display of absolute power. See Mumford, City in History
On the Dutch Baroque city, see Mumford, City in History
Daniel R. Brower, The Russian City Between Tradition and Modernity, 1850-1900
(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990), 9-10. On the “capital section,” see Kirichenko and Shcheboleva 57-62. Also see Kirichenko and Shcheboleva on the origins of the notion of the province (Kirichenko and Shcheboleva 49).
Iu. Lotman and B. Uspenskii, “Echo of the Notion ‘Moscow as Third Rome’ in Peter the Great’s Ideology,” in The Semiotics of Russian Culture
, by Lotman and Uspenskii (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1984), 55, 62-63.
The concept of the “province” in Russia emerged at around the same time as the concepts of the “provincial” and the “local” emerged in Europe. As modern states imposed architectural and administrative uniformity on their terrain, local regions ceased to be spaces existing in their own right and became smaller (“provincial”) parts of a much larger whole (Olwig xix).
Although baroque in ornamentation, both churches maintained a traditional Orthodox interior structure. The older Nativity Church, built by Zadorin, was apparently wiped away by a flood in 1719 (A. Gatsiskii, ed. Nizhegorodskii letopisets,
Nizhegorodskie byli [Nizhnii Novgorod: Nizhegorodskaia iarmarka, 2001], 651). On the construction of Nativity Church (using funds from the merchant Stroganov), see Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
William C. Brumfield, A History of Russian Architecture
(Cambridge University Press, 1993), 4.
Filatov, Nizhegorodskoe zodchestvo
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
10; Filatov, Nizhegorodskoe zodchestvo
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
15-16 (time of Catherine II), 80 (time of Nicholas I).
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
63-64; Filatov, Nizhegorodskoe zodchestvo
Because authorities had to provide alternate housing to those who would lose their homes, these buildings were rarely removed. Natural decay and fire, not administrative fiat, resulted in their destruction (Kirichenko and Shcheboleva 60).
Kirichenko and Shcheboleva 64, 93. In these years, officials also turned their attention to Kunavino—a village on the opposite bank of the Oka River. The streets did not follow a surveyor’s line, but rather the natural curves of streams and ditches on the low-lying left Oka lands, so they imposed a city plan (Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
The two worlds—Nizhnii Novgorod and the trade fair—were tied by a pontoon bridge over the Oka (open from 25 June to the end of September), as well as by two ferries (perevozy
): one over the Volga (“Borskii”) and the other over the Oka (“Kunavinskii”). See Khramtsovskii 179. Caravans from Moscow passed through Alexandrevskaia sloboda—that is, Kanavino (Khramtsovskii 179, 176).
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
71. In the wake of these changes, the rugged hill on the right bank (gora
) received a more “dignified” designation – the “slope” (otkos
). Thus, a Soviet-era novel about Nizhnii Novgorod after the Revolution speaks not of the “hill” of the city, but of the “slope” (Nikolai I. Kochin, Nizhegorodskii otkos: roman
[Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1982]).
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
25-26, 71-73, 85, 98.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
Khramtsovskii 154-155; Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
22-23; Gorod Gor’kii: putevoditel’
The major ravines were the Monastyrskii, Il’linskii, Pochainskii and Kovalikhinskii ravines.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
66-67. Imposing their plan everywhere would have resulted in the loss of too much of the housing stock, causing homelessness (Kiricheko and Shcheboleva 60).
Filatov, Nizhegorodskoe zodchestvo
83-84; Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
L. Trube, Naselenie goroda Gor’kogo
(Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1982), 21. Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
64. In the Soviet period, the streets were renamed. II’inskaia became Krasnoflotskaia, Zhukovskaia became Minin Street, and Tikhonovskaia became Ul’ianova. For more, see the relevant pages in T. I. Pelevina et al., eds., Ulitsy goroda Gor’kogo. Spravochnik
(Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1972).
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
14; Pelevina 99.
The monastery was built on this site in 1809, but it initially occupied a site not far from the site of the original Chapel of the Exaltation of the Cross—that is, a site just outside of the eastern kremlin gates. At the time, thanks to state-mandated consolidation, this represented the only women’s monastery in the city – and it was known as the Monastery of the Source (Proiskhozhdenskii Monastery) (Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XXvv.
41). The monastery served as a concentration camp in 1918 (L. M. Smirnova, Nizhnii Novgorod do i posle: istoriko-literaturnye ocherki
[Nizhnii Novgorod: Begemot, 1996], 103). For more on the monastery, see William G. Wagner, “Paradoxes of Piety: The Nizhegorod Convent of the Exaltation of the Cross, 1807-1935,” Orthodox Russia: Belief and Practice Under the Tsars
, edited by Valerie A. Kivelson and Robert H. Greene (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003): 211-38.
The waters feeding the holy spring near Annunciation Monastery were gathered into a collector pipe and forced to exit from the hillside further down the slope, nearer to the Oka River. There, a chapel was built to sacralize the holy water (which now flowed out of a pipe). The original spring and its chapel had first been consecrated in the fourteenth century. See Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
I call these workers “peasant-workers” because so many Russian workers retained family ties to and land in the villages. On such peasant workers and their seasonal labour, see Robert E. Johnson, Peasant and Proletarian: The Working Class of Moscow in the Late Nineteenth Century
(New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 1979).
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
Ol’ga Vladimirovna Orel’skaia, Arkhitektura gorodov Gor’kovskoi aglomeratsii, 1920-1930-kh godov (Gor’kii, Balakhna, Dzerzhinsk
), Architectural Institute (Moscow, 1986), 13.
Kristina Küntzel, Von Nižnij Zu Gor’kii: Metamorphosen Einer Russischen Provinzstadt: Die Entwicklung Der Stadt Von Den 1890er Bis Zu Den 1930er Jahren
. Quellen Und Studien Zur Geschichte Des Östlichen Europa 60 (Stuttgard: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2001), 44.
For story of rise and fall of the trade fair, see Anne Lincoln Fitzpatrick, The Great Russian Fair: Nizhnii Novgorod, 1840-90
(London: Macmillan, 1990). Important Russian studies of the fair include N. A. Bogoroditskaia, “Stranichki istorii Nizhegorodskoi iarmaki,” Voprosy Istorii [USSR]
10 (1979): 179-183 – an economic study, and A. P. Mel’nikov, Ocherki bytovoi istorii Nizhegorodskoi iarmarki (1817-1917),
ed. (Nizhnii Novgorod: Nizhegorodskii komp’iuternyi tsentr, 1993) – a socio-cultural study. On the fair’s architecture, see S. M. Shumilkin, “Nizhegorodskaia iarmarka,” Arkhitekturnoe nasledstvo [USSR]
29 (1981): 80-89.
S. L. Agafonov, Gorod Gor"kii. Arkhitektura gorodov SSSR
(Moscow: Akademiia arkhitektury SSSR, 1949), 5.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
80; Kazaev, “Blinovy,” Rossiia i Nizhegorodskii krai: aktual’nye problemy istorii
(Nizhnii Novgorod, 1998), 216-217; Küntzel 122. Note that the members of the trade fair administration and the duma promoted all these developments, although neither institution had a long-standing reputation for dedicated service.
For an historical narrative that exudes such merchant patriotism, see Nikolai Khramtsovskii, Opisaniia Nizhnego Novgoroda
(Nizhnii Novgorod, 1859). Not surprisingly, this work was reprinted in the post-Soviet period, when the trade fair and the search for a merchant-patriot heritage rendered Khramtsovskii’s writings inspiring and, perhaps, relevant to Nizhnii Novgorodians. See N. I. Khramtsovskii, Kratkii ocherk istoriia i opisanie Nizhnego Novgoroda
(Nizhnii Novgorod: Nizhegorodskaia iarmarka, 1998).
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
Orel’skaia, Arkhitektura gorodov
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
76; Kuntzel 56-57; Gorod Gor’kii: putevoditel’
(1964), 227; Iurii Adrianov and Valerii Shamshurin, Staryi Nizhnii: istoriko-literaturnye ocherki
(Nizhnii Novgorod: SMM, 1994), 69.
 Gorod Gor’kii: putevoditel
’ (1964), 14.
For a description of the proposed city plan, see Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
76. In 1899, they created a new birch-tree park and named it after A. S. Pushkin. See V. V. Baulina, Gde otdykhaiut Gor’kovchan’e,
Gorod Gor’kii, 1221-1971 (Gor’kii: Volga-Viatskoe, 1971), 33-4.
Exhibitions and All-Russian festivals were nothing new—something evidenced by Alexander II’s visit to such a festival in 1837, before he became tsar, as well as by the 1849 exhibition of agriculture and handicrafts and the 1853 agricultural exhibit. These earlier exhibitions, however, do not seem to have featured industrial goods, artistic works or modern technology. See Khramtsovskii 160 (on 1837); 162-163 (on 1849), 164 (on 1853).
Kuntzel 118-123; Iu. N. Bubnov, Vserossiiskaia promyshlennaia i khudozhestvennaia vystavka 1896 goda v Nizhnem Novgorode. K 100-letiiu so dnia otkrytiia
(Nizhnii Novgorod: “Dekom”, 1996), 34. On the merchants’ increasing concern for industrial growth, as signified through their fêting of Sergei Witte in the main trade fair building in 1896, see Filatov, Nizhegorodskoe zodchestvo
, 107. For more on the exhibition, see N. A. Bogoroditskaia and N. F. Filatov, XVI Vserossiiskaia promyshlennaia i khudozhestvennaia vystavka 1896 goda v Nizhnem Novgorode. Ocherki istorii
(Nizhnii Novgorod, 1996).
As Rydell notes in The World of Fairs,
almost all industrial exhibitions organized prior to World War One incorporated this educational function. This function declined in importance after World War One, when modern technology was propagated through consumption, not education. See Robert W. Rydell, The World of Fairs: The Century-of-Progress Expositions
(Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 93.
As James Donald notes, all cities exist not only as physical spaces, but as sites of the imagination—that is, in a sphere somewhere between the real and the ideal. See James Donald, Imagining the Modern City
(London: Athlone Press, 1999), 7-8.
In Derrida’s own work on spacing, he speaks not of the architecture of space, but of the space of writing and the writing of space. See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology,
trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 69. I need to give credit to Max Wigley for introducing and interpreting this work to me. See Max Wigley, The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 68-74.
Brower treats the 1896 Exhibition appears as a façade of modernization—that is, as something that failed to hide the backwardness of Nizhnii Novgorod’s annual trade fair, which was located immediately next to the exhibition site (Daniel Brower, The Russian City Between Tradition and Modernity, 1850-1900
[Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990], 71-73).
Although Hamm does not explicitly distinguish between need and perception, his article does focus explicitly on the growing public awareness of this crisis. See the introduction to Michael Hamm, “The Breakdown of Urban Modernization: A Prelude to the Revolutions of 1917,” in The City in Russian History
(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), 182-200. For further commentary on the issue of the crisis in urban development in late Imperial Russia, see Daniel R. Brower’s “Urban Revolution in the Late Russian Empire,” in The City in Late Imperial Russia,
ed. by Michael F. Hamm (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1983): 319-354.
S. Frederick Starr, “The Revival and Schism of Urban Planning in Twentieth-Century Russia,” in The City in Russian History
(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), 222-242.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
76; On tram line construction, see Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
26; Iu. M. Kossoi, Vash drug tramvai, 1896-1996. Vek Nizhegorodskogo tramvaia
(Nizhnii Novgorod: Elen’; Iabloko, 1996), 12-26; The trams passed in a triangle through the main streets of the old city—from Annunciation Square to the pub (traktir
) on Hay Square and then from the Nobility Conference Hall to the Eastern Bazaar Restaurant (P. Vysotskii, M. Polonskii and K. Smirnov, “Gor’kii-promyshlennyi tsentr, krupneishii gorod strany,” Gor’kovskaia kommuna
245 [24 October 1939]: 2).
When restoring the tower, the architect, N. V. Sultanov, placed a new street light on the tower—one entirely out of keeping with the original architectural structure. The new lighting fixture remains to the present day (2005). See Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XXvv.
Küntzel 121. See also Maxim Gor’kii’s articles in Odesskie novosti
on 11 June 1896.
T. P. Vinogradov, “Sud’ba imperatorskogo pavil’ona,” in Gorod slavy i vernosti Rossii: materialy istoriko-kraevedcheskoi konferentsii, posviashchennoi 775-letiiu Nizhnego Novgoroda
, edited by Iu. G. Galai, N. A. Kuznetsova, and V. A. Shamshurin (Nizhnii Novgorod: Upravlenie kul’tury, 1996), 196-9. In the Soviet era, the duma building became the House of Labour. As Filatov notes, the new building came out beyond the red line of the street as marked in the city plan; however, this was prudent “resistance” to the plan, since the other buildings on the square likewise did not follow the official red lines. See Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
The city purchased the Hermitage Restaurant and the museum pavilion and then arranged, in 1900, for the exhibition grounds to become a large park (with a poorhouse and a church). See N. A. Bogoroditskaia, “Itogi ekonomicheskogo razvitiia,” in N. A. Bogoroditskaia and N. F. Filatov, eds, XVI Vserossiiskaia promyshlennaia i khudozhestvennaia vystavka 1896 goda v Nizhnem Novgorode. Ocherki istorii
(Nizhnii Novgorod, 1996), 62; Baulina 16-7.
Patricia Grimsted, Archives of Russia
(Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000), 827.
Kirichenko and Shcheboleva 96.
For more on Russian architecture in this period, see Blair A. Ruble, “From Palace Square to Moscow Square: St. Petersburg"s Century-Long Retreat From Public Space," Reshaping Russian Architecture: Western Technology, Utopian Dreams
, edited by William C. Brumfield (Cambridge and New York: Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars and Cambridge University Press, 1990), 10-42; William C. Brumfield, “Architectural Design in Moscow, 1890-1917," Reshaping Russian Architecture
67-110; William C. Brumfield, "Redesigning the Russian House, 1895-1917," Russian Housing in the Modern Age: Design and Social History
, edited by William Craft Brumfield and Blair A. Ruble (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press; Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1993), 25-54; as well as relevant sections from William C. Brumfield, A History of Russian Architecture
(Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993). On the eclectic and its function in the German context, see Mitchell Schwarzer, German Architectural Theory and the Search for Modern Identity
(Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
This period coincides with emergence of the western notion that the human subject makes history. Ironically, however, this conviction emerged at about the same time as new findings in linguistics, psychology, and the social sciences—findings that would challenge the notion of the autonomous, complete and fully formed subject as the agent rather than as the object of history. For more on this latter issue, see Elías Palti, “’The Return of the Subject’ as a Historico-Intellectual Problem,” History and Theory
43 (February 2004), 57-82.
"Vpechatleniia o gorode," Gor"kovskaia kommuna 107
(11 May 1936): 4; Gorod Gor’kii: Putevoditel’
G. Fedorov, Sotsialisticheskii gorod Gor’kii
(Gor’kii: OGIZ, 1939), 7.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
A monument to the “Heroes and Martyrs of 1905” (designed by A. A. Iakovlev) was set on the site in 1930. See Pelevina 102; Iu. N. Bubnov and O. V. Orel’skaia, Arkhitektura goroda Gor’kogo
(Gor’kii: Volga-Viatskoe, 1986), 36-37.
Soviet authorities removed the stones and the cemetery church, leaving monuments to two well-known locals buried in the park: I. P. Kulibin (the native-born inventor) and A. I. Kashirina (Maxim Gor’kii’s grandmother). See Pelevina 88-89.
Smirnova 103. For a broader history of the convent, see William G. Wagner, "Paradoxes of Piety: The Nizhegorod Convent of the Exaltation of the Cross, 1807-1935," in Orthodox Russia: Belief and Practice Under The Tsars
, eds., Valerie A. Kivelson and Robert H. Greene (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003): 211-38.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv.
Agafonov, Nizhegorodskii kreml"
40. For a complete architectural description of this building—now a historic monument, see Bubnov and Orel’skaia 31-34.
The chapel is not mentioned anywhere in the literature on architecture—possibly, a sign that it decayed or burned down long before the coming of Soviet power.
According to oral stories recorded by Smirnova, the monastery itself was turned into workshops for brick production, while a few of the monks’ residential quarters were turned into a theatre (Smirnova 86).
Pelevina 53, 90-91. For a few of these guides to local toponyms, see “Istoriia odnoi ulitsy,” Gor"kovskii Rabochii
257 (7 November 1935): 3; “Istoriia odnoi ulitsy: Bol"shaia Shosseinaia im. Kominterna,” Gor"kvskii Rabochii
257 (7 November 1935): 3; T. I. Pelevina, A. I. Eliseev, I. A. Kir’ianov, et al., eds., Ulitsy goroda Gor’kogo: spravochnik. Ulitsy nosiat ikh imena
ed. (Gor’kii, 1972); V. N. Antiushina, O. L. Baeva, et al., eds., Ulitsy nosiat ikh imena. Pisateli: rekomendatel"nyi ukazatel" literatury,
ed. (Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatsko, 1977); L A. Iatsenko, G. A. Ushakova, et al., eds., Ulitsy nosiat ikh imena
edition (Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1974). N. Ia. Shatalina, Ulitsy Nizhnego Novgoroda spravochnik
(Nizhnii Novgorod: "Rechservis-Volga," 1994).
"Vpechatleniia o gorode," Gor"kovskaia kommuna 107
(11 May 1936): 4; Gorod Gor’kii: Putevoditel’
, n.p; Gorod Gor’kii: Putevoditel’
 Gorod Gor’kii: Putevoditel’
Both the Museum of Local History and the Art Museum were moved to former merchant mansions (Gorod Gor’kii: Putevoditel’
, 278, 285-286).
Bubnov and Orel’skaia 28-30.
A. Ia. Sadovskii, “Pamiatniki Nizhegorodskoi stariny,” in Nizhegorodskii ezhegodnik. Administrativno-khoziaistvennyi spravochnik po Nizhnemu-Novgorodu i gubernii
(Nizhnii Novgorod: Komissiia po uluchsheniiu byta detei pri Nizhegorodskim GIK, 1926), 82.
Agafonov, Nizhegorodskii kreml"
Before 1928, many of these structures of faith were still standing (even the Cathedral of the Transfiguration and the Annunciation Church), although they had been renovated, disfigured and put to secular use (Sadovskii, “Pamiatniki” 82). Then, in 1928, the city council voted for the destruction of Alekseevskaia Church and the Cathedral of the Annuncation (Smirnova 217). The latter was destroyed in 1930 (Filatov, Arkhitektura XIV-XX vv
Il’inskaia remains a library today. St. George’s Church was destroyed in 1932 (Smirnova 96-97).
As Bubnov notes, rational modernism had roots in the pre-Revolutionary experimentation of F. Shekhtel’, P. Malinovskii and others (Bubnov and Orel’skaia 4, 31).
Bubnov and Orel’skaia 34-35.
In 1926, local educators surveyed youths’ ideals, asking city youth whom they would select as their role model. Most young women selected Mary Pickford and many young men chose Douglas Fairbanks. For a copy of the results of the study, see A. N. Chebotarev, "Lichnye idealy Nizhegorodskikh shkol"nikov, okanchivaiushchikh semiletku," Izvestiia Nizhegorodskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta.
T. 2 (1928): 286-303. For a history of radio in the city, see V. E. Batakov and V. A. Ukhin, Govorit gorod Gor"kii
(Gor"kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1978).
The links were made by 1925. See Fedorov, Sotsialisticheskii gorod
The settlement was built in mere five-months. Although it was provided with schools, kindergartens, stores, trees, and tram services (by 1927) as well as a house of culture (1928), it initially fell short of the positive image evoked by the “garden-city” title it bore. On finished product (not the problems), see Orel’skaia, Arkhitektura gorodov
48; Agafonov, Gorod Gor’kii
I. Batanov, “Ulitsy stanut drugimi (arkhitektura "malykh form"),” Gor’kovskii rabochii
298 (27 December 1936): 4. Another article, dating back to 1939, accidentally refers to Liadovo Square. Although Liadovo was a local revolutionary, in 1939 the square was officially known as Roman Rolland Square (S. P. Uspenskii and L. V. Krylov, “O zastroike ulitsy Sverdlova,” Gor’kovskii rabochii
27 [3 February 1939]: 4).
They traded handicrafts: furniture, toys, sleds, and carved (shchepnye
) goods. Nizhegorodskii ezhegodnik
(Nizhnii Novgorod, 1926), 183.
Soviet authorities tried to correct this in 1934, when the city council passed a law calling on district councils to permanently set the names for all streets, side streets and squares in the city. (They planned to publish the list of official names.) Officials had to simultaneously ensure that all buildings had number signs, that all apartments had numbers, and that all housing administrations placed, in a visible location near the front door, a list of those living in the building. See TsANO, R-2711, op.1, d. 1, ll. 1-2.
Names continued to change to reflect changes in Soviet ideology and politics—something that destabilized the new symbolic landscape. In February 1937, in the wake of the purges of Rykov, Radek, and Tomskii, street names in the city changed, so that Rykov Street became Metallurgy Street, Radek Street became Green Street, and Tomskii Street became Volochevskaia Street (TsANO, R-2613, op. 1, d. 50, l. 32).
Kuntzel argues that the closure of the trade fair was a blow to local identity, but she provides no evidence from the 1930s and relies, it appears, on contemporary, post-Soviet reflections on that event. For Kuntzel’s discussion of the trade fair in the Soviet period, see Küntzel 189-201. Note that the trade fair had already lost its economic vitality, thanks to the rise of railways, new modes of international exchange, Western trade embargoes, and Soviet animosity to the free market.
Gorodets, Semenov, Khokhloma were known for their wooden utensils and dishes; Bogorodsk, Pavlovo, and Rastiapino were known, respectively, for leather and pottery, metal-working, and rope and ship-building. See Orel’skaia, Arkhitektura gorodov
13-14, 54-55. According to 1926 census, about 46,000 members of the self-employed (samodeiatel"nii
) population in cities were involved in handicraft production (kustarstvo
). Another 25,300 members of rural population were involved. In Soviet period, most handicraftsmen were reclassed as (or became) workers. See Khorev 79-80.
On the factories see Agafonov, Gorod Gor’kii
19; Iu. G. Belenko et al., eds., Gor’kovskii Dizel’nyi: ocherki istorii zavoda “Dvigatel’ Revoliutsii”
(Moscow: Mysl’, 1985). Thanks to its role in production during the Civil War, Nizhnii Novgorod—or rather, Sormovo—restored its machine-building industry before 1921. The factory “Krasnoe Sormovo” built the very first Soviet tank in 1921. See Khorev 144. On the education institution (Warsaw Polytechnical Institute) and its role in the founding of the Nizhnii Novgorod State University, see A. F. Khokhlov, Universitet, rozhdennyi trizhdy: Istoriia sozdaniia i stanovleniia Nizhegorodskogo universiteta
(Nizhnii Novgorod: Nizhegorodskii universitet, 1998).
Orel’skaia, Arkhitektura gorodov
Khorev 144. The Balakhna plant opened in 1925, and the nearby settlement established to run the station grew to 11,000 people by 1926 and 37,700 by 1939. It came to merit its own socialist city – Pravdinsk. As Orel’skaia notes, with the construction of the paper combine 6 km from Balakhna on the Volga in 1926-8 (supposedly to be the largest in Europe), much of the economic conglomerate that still shapes the Nizhnii Novgorod region was formed. See Orel’skaia, Arkhitektura gorodov
Soviet historians documented this unrest and party activity—always, of course, seeking to stress (and often overstress) Bolshevik preeminence in these activities. See L. A. Chemodanov, Istoriia Gor’kovskoi oblasti. Uchebnoe posobie
(Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1975); Istoriia goroda Gor’kogo. Kratkii ocherk
(Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1971). For specialized histories of the working-class and revolutionary movements, see K. P. Maslov, Iz istorii bor’by rabochego klassa za vlast’ sovetov i ee uprochenie. ‘Krasnoe Sormovo’ na velikom rubezhe. Uchebnoe posobie
(Gor’kii: Gor’kovskaia pravda, 1964); V. A. Karpochev et al., eds. Gor’kovskaia oblastnaia organizatsiia KPSS: khronika
(Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1989); V. Fadeev, Istoriia “Krasnogo Sormovo”
(Moscow, 1969); A. Sedov, “Sormovskii zavod,” in Nizhegorodskii krai: Fakty, sobytiia, liudi,
edited by A. V. Sedov and N. F. Filatov, Nizhegorodskii krai
(Nizhnii Novgorod: Nizhegorodskii gumanitarnyi tsentr, 1994); Fadeev, Revoliutsonnoe dvizhenie
(Gor’kii, 1957); Gol’tsov, “Organizatsii partii Eserov,” Rossiia i Nizhegorodskii krai: aktual’nye problemy istorii. Materialy chtenii pamiati N. M. Dobrotvora 24-25 aprelia 1997 g.,
edited by V.D. Fedorov et al. (Ann Arbor: ATC Books International, Inc., 1998; Nizhnii Novgorod, 1998), 180; Medvedev, “Eserovskie organizatsii Nizhegorodskoi gubernii v 1905-1905 gody,” in Gorod slavy i vernosti Rossii
85-87; A. A. Luginin and E. D. Potapova, V. I. Lenin v Nizhnem Novgorode: putevoditel’ po Leninskim mestam v gorode Gor’kom
(1968) (Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1970); G. L. Beshkin, “K sorokaletiiu Marksizma v Nizhnem Novgorode: Pervyi Nizhegorodskii marksist (Pavel Nikolaevich Skvortsov),” Trudy: Nizhegorodsii kraevedcheskii sbornik
2 (1929): 193-215; I. Z. Borisova et al., eds., Leninskaia ‘Iskra’ i Nizhegorodskaia organizatsiia RSPDR, 1900-1903: publikatsiia i perepiska
(Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1983). For a recent, western study of the SRs, particularly in Sormovo, see Sarah Badcock, “Support for the SR Party During 1917, With a Case Study of Nizhegorodskaia Guberniia,” Ph.D. dissertation (Durham University, 2000).
Note that the combined 1927 population of Sormovo, Kanavino, and Nizhnii Novgorod without
factoring in the population of the surrounding settlements came to a mere 176,637 people. In other words, there were 72,363 people living in these settlements in 1927. See TsANO, R-5317, op. 1, d. 8, l. 69ob.
Nizhnii Novgorod’s city limits reached to Pushkin Garden, the Monastery of the Exaltation of the Cross, and Hay Square. The city was a mere 32 square kilometres (or 40 square kilometres with the trade fair). See Trube, Naselenie
Sormovo was officially a village (selo
) in the Bol’she-Kozinskaia volost’ of Balakhna uezd (Agafonov, Gorod Gor’kii
[Gor’kii, 1949], 6).
Orel’skaia, Arkhitektura gorodov
By 1923, the number had already risen to 170,000 inhabitants (Khorev 265).
Khorev 265; N. Karbovets, “Bol’shoi Nizhnii,” Nizhegorodskoe khoziaistvo
4-5 (January-February 1928): 14. The total population for Sormovo, Kanavino, and Nizhnii Novgorod jumped to 520,000 by 1936 ("V Gor"kom 520,000 zhitelei," Pravda
294 [24 October 1936]: 6).
Apart from the Gor’kii Automobile Factory (which was not incorporated by the city until the mid-1930s), twenty new enterprises went into operation between 1928 and 1935. In addition, existing industry underwent reconstruction. For the history of a few Nizhnii Novgorod factories, see Iurii G. Belenko et al., eds., Gor’kovskii Dizel’nyi: ocherki istorii zavoda “Dvigatel’ Revoliutsii”
(Moscow: Mysl’, 1985); V. D. Fedorov, Liudi novykh zavodov: rabochie nizhegorodskogo kraia v pervoi piatiletke
(Gor’kii: Volgo-Viatskoe, 1981); B. D. Iurin et al., eds., Gor’kovskii avtomobil’nyi: ocherki istorii zavoda
(Moscow: VTsSPS Profizdat, 1964).
Of the left bank population, 69,530 lived in either Sormovo or Kanavino, and 72,363 lived in villages and settlements outside of the boundaries of Sormovo, Kanavino, or Nizhnii, in “urban villages.” See TsANO, R-5317, op. 1, d. 8, l. 69ob.
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