Around Russia in 800 square meters

Around Russia in 800 square meters

A miniature model of the Russian Federation gives visitors a whistlestop tour of the country.

Published: April 20, 2011 (Issue # 1652)

Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

The model of Russia features moving vehicles, street lamps that light up, burning forest fires and buttons that visitors can press to activate parts.

The world’s biggest country has been reduced to 800 square meters in a unique new exhibition depicting the whole of the Russian Federation — from its most Western point of Kaliningrad to Kamchatka in the East — that opened in a test regime in St. Petersburg this month.

The project, called the “Grandmaket” (the Grand Model), resurrects the technique of producing miniature models of well-known places and historical events that was once so popular in the Soviet Union. Given this tradition’s deterioration in post-Soviet years, the project is an attempt to both restore the tradition and to give visitors an overview of the whole country in a 1:87 scale model.

The model faithfully depicts natural elements such as lakes, rivers, mountains and forests, alongside cities and villages, bridges, ports, airports, railways, factories, mines, stadiums, military bases and other manmade aspects.

Denis Mikheyev, the project’s executive manager, said the model aims to “give a recognizable image of Russia, though it is not a complete geographical copy.”

“It is an attempt to give people the chance to learn more about Russia, to make them proud of their country, and also to attract children to new activities,” Mikheyev said.

Its creators hope it will also be an enriching experience for both Russian and foreign tourists to St. Petersburg.

The model is rich with details of the country’s sights and everyday life.

Against the background of Russia’s endless railways and roads, filled with moving trains and cars, visitors can inspect the country’s farms, factories, airports, space centers and city life.

A Siberian village features old-fashioned wooden houses at the center of a scene of rural life: A young couple sits on a bench, two women hang washing on a clothes line in the yard, and cabbages and pumpkins grow in the vegetable garden. A group of mowers with classic scythes make hay for winter.

The picture is accompanied by the sounds of roosters and the whistle of a locomotive on a nearby railway. The train passes by an old water tower, atop which storks have made their nest, and among hills crowned by a traditional Soviet sign in which huge aging letters read “Slava Trudu!” (Glory to Labor!)

The section depicting the Ural Mountains, covered with thick forests that are inhabited by wild goats, attracts children’s attention immediately, for at the foot of the hills, a forest fire rages. Every ten minutes a fire starts, and a number of fire engines rush to the scene to extinguish it with a jet of water.

Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

In the same section, pressing a button makes an excavator start working at a nearby construction site. The organizers say that when the model is completed, it will have up to 100 buttons to ensure children are entertained while observing different aspects of life in their country.

The model will also illustrate the country’s nine time zones by showing one part lit up at nighttime while other regions are in daylight.

One of St. Petersburg’s iconic symbols, the Peter and Paul Fortress, is represented on the model not only by a fine copy of the Peter and Paul Cathedral, but also by reproductions of the chiming of its bells and the daily midday shot from its canon.

Irina Beglaryan, 35, a programmer visiting the exhibition with her son, said her family was most impressed by the detailed elaboration of different phenomena shown in the model.

“There are things that we can never see in life — it’s not possible to travel everywhere and to see everything. So this exhibition offers the best chance to see all that,” Beglaryan said.

Natalya Petrova, 29, an accountant, said she particularly liked the fact that “everything in the model works: Cars move, and street lamps are lit up.”

Petrova’s son Svyatoslav, five, said he most liked “the big locomotive and space rockets.”

Mikheyev said that the project’s author, Sergei Morozov, initially came up with the idea for the model to distract his son from spending all his time in front of a computer, and later the project grew to a larger scale.

Work on the model has been in progress for four years. Over 100 artisans, including electronic engineers, modeling specialists and artists have taken part in its creation. Work is currently underway on the model 24 hours a day, in order to prepare the exhibition for its official opening at the end of this year, Mikheyev said.

‘Grandmaket’ is located at 16 Ulitsa Tsvetochnaya, lit. L. Currently it is open in a test regime on Sundays from 2 p.m. through 5 p.m. Tickets are priced at 350 rubles ($12.40) for adults, and 200 rubles ($7) for children. For more information, visit or call 387 5888.

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