Text and photos by Larissa Franczek
It was 10 years ago when we first visited the town of Tutaev. Since that time it’s been my dream to stay there longer than a day. What is the problem? Tutaev like that hut on chicken legs from Russian fairy-tales has just started turning its façade towards tourists. Only a couple of years ago two hotels were built and the third one is under construction. Owners of private houses welcome tourists, too. As for eating out, it still is not that simple. There are a couple of restaurants and two or three cafes in the town but on a Saturday evening almost all of them are closed for what’s called in Russian “special service”. That means that someone’s birthday, a wedding or a jubilee is celebrated there and you cannot come and have dinner. And by the end of a day after long walks around Tutaev eating is naturally the only thing you can think about.
Tutaev is a special place as it is located on both banks of the Volga and has no bridge. In summer, for cars and those people who are not in a hurry, a ferry is available. Those in a hurry can take a motor boat. After 3 minutes and for 20 roubles you are on the other bank, wet with cool refreshing splashes.
In 1238 Yaroslavl was seized by the Tatars, though some of its residents managed to escape. On the right bank of the Volga they founded a settlement called Borisoglebsk. Later it turned into a town. On the opposite bank another town, Romanov by name, evolved. These two towns developed separately until 1822 when they became one. The new place was given a long name Romanov-Borisoglebsk. Under the Bolsheviks the town was renamed Tutaev.
Because it wasn’t on a railroad route, Tutaev remained an authentic and original place. Everything is leisurely, tranquil, quiet and deserted. It’s very provincial and that’s great. Of course, life moves on here, too. But the changes that I observed have taken purely Russian forms. You see a house and realize that it is 19th century and used to belong to a wealthy family. It’s also obvious that it’s been rebuilt more that once since then, that now it’s occupied by several families, that it may not have running water and/or central heating either. But! You notice satellite dishes, a sign of the times.
I saw many similar houses. One was unique, just wonderful.
We didn’t know about its existence and didn’t plan to see it. In fact we were heading to the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross (1658). Inside you can see original frescoes that are well preserved and only one frame of what used to be a beautiful five-tier iconostasis.
Next to the cathedral you notice a “Museum” sign and follow it. Oh, what a marvelous place with an old house, sort of a park, sheep, beehives, flowerbeds and a breath taking view of the Volga. The owner of the house explained that he had bought this former estate and turned it into a museum. His idea is to continue its repair and restoration to eventually make the place look like the original.
On the right bank of the Volga there is one more gem: the Resurrection Cathedral (1678). The building itself, the holy gate, the bell tower and the fence around it constitute an architectural ensemble. The stone carving inside and outside the cathedral, and its frescoes are superb.
It was so nice to sit in a cool spot and listen to bell-ringing coming from the crooked bell tower. A local babushka came up to us and said, “This is my granddaughter. She’s finished a musical school and can ring bells now.” I detected both joy and pride in her voice.
On the Romanov side (that’s how the locals call the left bank) there is probably the most beautiful attraction of the town. It’s seen from all over and draws everybody’s attention. This is the Kazan Cathedral (1758). Its red walls and blue roof, the blue sky and the Volga, the green bank and trees, the slim bell tower that looks like a candle are a magnificent combination.
It was still hot at the end of the day. We felt worn out both by the heat and climbing up and down Tutaev’s hills. We came to the Volga. My husband sat down on a stone, I took off my shoes and stepped into the water. All of a sudden we heard a bell ringing. It grew stronger and louder. I felt that it was making me calm, quiet and cheerful at the same time— while the Volga waters made their own miracle: they removed my fatigue.