Petrozavodsk – a city of festivals and history

Today the city in question will be Petrozavodsk. Some call it a city or festival s and you might well get to see one if you get your timing right. But of course, you’ll also be hearing about all the other aspects, like the sights, sounds and history.

To get there, Petrozavodsk is probably most easily reached by train and that takes about 9 hours from St. Petersburg and 16 hours from Moscow. As for flying, there are reasonably regular flights to there from Moscow’s Domodedevo that take about two hours.

The city itself is the capital of the Republic of Karelia and stretches 27 km along the western shore of the Lake Onega. Petrozavodsk is the cultural, administrative, scientific, touristic and education center of Karelia. If you were to ever tour the Karelia republic, you can be sure that Petrozavodsk would be where your tour would start.

The city was founded in the early 1700s by Prince Menshikov at the order of Peter the Great who needed a new iron foundry for manufacturing cannons and anchors for the Baltic Fleet at the time of the Great Northern War.

Although it has the status of a historical Russian city, these days of course the industry has a different flavor to it, instead of cannons and whatnot the main industries are machine-building, metal working, wood working, construction as well as the food industry.

On the whole, about 50 nationalities live in Petrozavodsk with the main bulk being Russians and around 20 percent Karels. Naturally a somewhat international mix isn’t the only thing the city can boast of. As I mentioned at the start there are plenty of International festivals held in Petrozavodsk every year, and they are extremely popular with both locals and guests.

In the winter seasons, which are usually long and mild, you’ll be able to see professional sculptors and amateurs create great figures and works of art from snow and ice during the international winter festival called Hyperborea. The city also has another holiday, a skiing holiday actually called “Winter Fountains which is one of the most important parts of Hyperborea.

If you time you visit for the sunny months, you’ll miss the ice art, but on the other hand you’ll catch some other cool events. One of the city’s most popular festivals includes plenty of sand sculpting competitions and not to mention the atmosphere and fun that can be had on city day.

In June, Petrozavodsk hosts the Northwest of Russia’s largest international open-air festival in called Vozdukh (which means air in Russian). The organizers created the festival following the traditions of all-Russian and world music events, like Woodstock, which, as you can guess, means lots of people, famous and young bands, fresh air and good times.

Of course, once you have decided which month you would like to visit in or maybe which festival you’d like to catch, you will need to know about some of the other places to see and things to get up to.

This time round I think I’ll start with a bit of a religious note. One of the most popular and most loved religious places in the city is the Alexander Nevsky cathedral. This cathedral was built from 1826 to 1832 and had a fairly calm existence until 1929 when it was closed down and passed over to the local history museum. It was only in 1991 that it was returned to its former purpose and sanctified again in 2000.

Once you’ve filled up on orthodox architecture, you might like to switch over to something with a distinctly more maritime vibe and that’s the Polar odyssey club. As odd as this might sound, this is the only place in Russia where the group takes old Russian ship blueprints, builds replicas of the ships and then, to top it all off, goes on long-distance voyages on them. This is an open-air museum where any visitor can see rebuilt versions of old Russian vessels which is pretty fascinating and not something you get to see every day!

Another museum that will probably perk the interest of any art lovers is the Karelia republic museum of visual arts that was set up in 1990. As a bit of a bonus, it’s inside a really beautiful building too. The main bulk of the exhibits is made up of works donated by the local history museum includes ancient works of art created by the people of the Karelian republic. You’ll be able to see all kinds of examples of folk art and, if you speak Russian or have a Russian friend then you can take a look at the library fund that has over 17000 documents.

Another interesting place on you might like to visit should also make for a unique experience. This one is the Finnish Theater. It might sound a bit odd, but this is the only Finish Theater in Russia and its history began in the 1920s when a group of Finish revolution-supporting immigrants set up a troupe. These days they show plays there in Finish, Karelian and Russian.

One curious sight in the city that might appeal to some is the so-called Tubingen panel which is one of the more mysterious sculptures on the shore. The sculptures are from Petrozavodsk’s sister city Tubingen and even they can’t describe exactly what motivated them to create this sculpture. Since it’s quite strange looking and I suppose unique in its way, it might be something to see.

If you have more time on your hands and feel like exploring the region a bit, one place you could see is the village of Shoksha. It’s near Petrozavodsk and has a quarry of red and pink quartzite which was used in the construction of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum, among many other famous structures.

Another place on the list could be the suburb of Martsialnye Vody. Why is this place of interest? Well, it’s the oldest spa in Russia, founded by Peter I in 1714 and visited by the Tsar on a good few occasions. Its name means “The Waters of Mars” in Russian. Peter used to have a palace there which sadly didn’t survived, but there is an interesting museum there devoted to the spa’s history.

If you don’t have time to head out and explore, you can rest assure that there are still things in and around the city that you could get up to, such as a bit of mushroom and berry picking which is somewhat of a Russian pastime. A good time to try this out would be in the fall.

If that’s not your thing, you might be pleased to hear that there are plenty of places for fishing and it’s not too hard to find a friendly local guide and go fishing at one of thousands of nearby lakes.

If you plan on dining out, stop into one of the several local restaurants and see if you can’t try some traditional Karelian food which is usually fish-based and delicious! But moving away from the city, the region and its cuisine, I should mention that the history of this city is also fairly interesting and it’s what we’re going to look at right now.

Petrozavodsk basically started life with a gun plant that was founded near the river Lososinka. The place for its construction was chosen by a special commission and their decision was made because the banks of river Lososinka territories that surround Lake Onega, were famous for copper and iron deposits.

When the plant’s furnaces reached their full production capacity, it soon made Peter’s plant the largest enterprise in Russia. Each year the plant produced hundreds of cannons, tens of thousands of bayonet rifles, thousands of swords and other military equipment. Peter the Great was a frequent guest at his plant, no surprise here really seeing as the tsar had two-storey wooden palace with church there. The light on the church’s tower even served as a beacon for ships, sailing nearby at night.

With the plant in full swing, a settlement gradually appeared around it. Later this settlement became known as Petrovskaya Sloboda (which means Peter settlement) and the first dwellers of the settlement were peasants from various Russian regions and craftsmen, who moved from Tula and the Urals to organize weapon manufacturing. After this there was quite a bit of expansion until the 1720s when the Russians won the Northern War, and Russian borders moved further toward Finland.

As the need for cannons and bullets dropped, many skilled workers left the plant and moved to Yekaterinburg, and the plant switched to production of tin, nails, fountain pipes, anchors and wire for the numerous building sites of Saint Petersburg and the Baltic Navy.

The plant that kick-started life there officially closed in 1734 and life in the neighboring village slowed right down until Russia’s next military escapade which was the Russo-Turkish war. Naturally this set up the demand for different types of weapons and by order of Catherine the Great the plant was founded again in 1773.

After plant construction was finished, the settlement gained town status and the Catherine the Great changed the plant name to Alexandrovsky. In 19th century the Alexandrovsky plant was the most important provider of military equipment for the Russian army and navy in Russia and probably the best in Russia in terms of equipment, technology and product quality.

It was only later that the town started to develop more and along with the Alexandrovsky plant, stone houses and other building started to appear. At the beginning of the 20th century the railroad cut through the city going northwards to Murmansk and Petrozavodsk had grown into the cultural centre of the region.

During reign of communists, Petrozavodsk became somewhat of an exile spot for those arrested for political reasons and later, during World War II Petrozavodsk was nearly destroyed. After the war, the city was painstakingly rebuilt and became the beautiful capital of the Republic of Karelia.

As for today, Petrozavodsk is a cultural, tourist, science and industrial centre of the region that is a great place to see if you can find the time for it.

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