I have long wanted to make a “pilgrimage” to Borovsk, home to the museum-apartment of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of the three major thinkers – along with Nikolay Fyodorov and Vladimir Vernadsky – who could be said to be the fathers of Russian Cosmism, which is the precursor to modern transhumanism.
Fortunately, to reach Borovsk, the easiest way is to take a train to the nearby “science city” (наукоград) of Obninsk, which also happens to be the residence town of our very own Egor Kholmogorov, a Russian conservative-nationalist philosopher whose work regularly appears on The Unz Review. My traveling companion Fluctuarius Argenteus (the translator of most of Kholmogorov’s output) and I would like to express our thanks to Egor and his wife for taking the day off to show us all around Obninsk and Borovsk.
Egor Kholmogorov contemplates the meaning and future of Russia in the orchard next to the Tsiolkovsky Museum.
Donate to him: https://akarlin.com/donations-kholmogorov/
During the Soviet era, Obninsk was a science city (наукоград) that was given its status in 1956. It specialized in the nuclear industry, hosting the world’s first civilian NPP from 1954. In subsequent years, many other hi-tech enterprises sprouted up. I can’t say it is the most postcard picturesque city, though there are a number of cute “sciency” monuments scattered about the place and some nice avant-garde architecture. However, it is not in a state of decay thanks to its still active heavy industry, and unlike most small regional towns of its profile – especially those close to Moscow’s gravity well – its population has actually edged slightly upwards since the Soviet collapse.
The park by the railway station, which is currently being renovated, features a large stele with a diagram of the atom (which happens to also be on the flag of Obninsk).
Monument to the Pioneers of Nuclear Energy.
This cutaway of a К-14 nuclear submarine doubles as a Monument to the Pioneers of the Nuclear Submarine Fleet.
This building in the 1920s avant-garde style served as a Spanish language school for the children of Spanish Republican politicians in exile from their defeat in the Spanish Civil War through to the start of World War II.
The Physics Energy Technicum was a major center of nuclear energy research in the USSR and formed the nucleus around which the Soviet city grew. Though, as one might guess from its facade, the days when it produced serious research are long gone.
The entrance to the site that hosted the world’s first NPP.
This building used to belong to a late Imperial Russian factory owner and philanthropist called Margarita Morozova. Like most such objects, it was nationalized in 1917, and became more famous as the Western Front HQ for Zhukov during 1942. It later became a retreat for the town’s nuclear scientists.
It was passed down to the local (краеведческий) museum in 2015 and is currently closed for restoration.
The main city museum is appropriately located in the brutalist-futurist building above.
It has four main galls focusing, respectively, on its early history and the peasantry; on the pre-Revolutionary nobility; on the main era of its construction and World War II; and on its modern industry.
Neolithic to Imperial Age
The first human settlements in this area appeared 7,000 years ago. This was the region of the (Finno-Ugric) Dyakovo culture, which merged with that of the expanding Vyatich tribe of the Slavs around 1000 AD.
Russian hornbooks of the late 19-early 20C.
One of the more curious objects is a 17th century wood and leather chair from Spain, which somehow found its way to the Obninsk area during the Imperial era.
This hall focuses on the likbez (eradication of illiteracy campaign), World War II, and the immediate postwar period.
The text on the blackboard says “We are not slaves, slaves we are not”, a popular phrase from the first Soviet hornbook. It is amusing they would feel the need to affirm that.
Incidentally, the likbez campaign was a failure. It is very hard to impart literacy to adults, and largely a waste of resources to try to do so (resources that could be spent educating children instead).
One section in particular focused on the “free schooling” project in the 1920s run by Stanislav Shatsky (who died in 1934, a few years before he could be repressed). The early USSR saw vigorous if often ill-founded educational experimentation.
Another section covered the aforementioned Spanish school for children of Republican politicians. This topic is a major source of interest for Fluctuarius Argenteus for professional reasons.
This section of the hall deals with the towns post-Stalin history, which saw the city of Obninsk growing to its present size.
Pravda report on the launch of the first civilian nuclear power plant in the USSR on June 27, 1954.
Model of the first NPP.
Throughout the museum, there are reconstructions of the rooms of normal people, as well as higher functionaries and scientists. This one belongs to Nikolay Timofeev-Ressovsky, a Soviet biologist who was persecuted by the Lysenkoists.
Timofeev-Ressovsky meeting with Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
(This photo is available at full resolution in case people want to read these rather interesting texts about the politicization of science in the post-Stalin USSR).
Top Right: Atheist Lectorium for Youth: The Religion Modernity, 1985/86.
Icebreakers, polar bears, etc.
The final hall is devoted to temporary exhibitions.
Borovsk is a small town (population: 12,000) about 20 km distant from Obninsk. Originally part of the Principality of Ryazan during the medieval era, it passed to Moscow during the 14th century.
It is an out of the way place that was passed over during the railway construction era, so its population has never risen substantially above its Imperial era level; it had 9,000 people in 1857, and the same number in 1913.
Borovsk is also famous for having multiple wall paintings by famed local graffiti artist Vladimir Ovchinnikov.
Intercession of the Theotokos Church
Wooden church from the late 16-early 17C, on the site of a former men’s monastery.
There is a restaurant nearby offering cheap, healthy food with large portions featuring a stunning view of the surroundings.
Monument to Saint Pafnuty of Borovsk, who was the mentor of Joseph of Volokolamsk, who would become one of the key figures in Russian monasticism.
Museum-Room of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
Why is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935) important?
- One of the founders of modern rocketry, laying the theoretical basis for space exploration.
- Inventor of the all-metal dirigible.
- One of the key figures in Russian cosmism (later, transhumanism), calling for biological immortality and space exploration.
- As (slightly mis)quoted in the Civilization video games: “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.“
- All round polymath (“I am a pure autodidact: I take everything from the mathematicians, geometrists, and mechanics… almost everything from the natural philosophers… and a lot from the philosophers“).
I also believe that he may have uncovered the “Goldilocks Zone” concept in 1925, almost three decades before its official “invention” in the West in 1953, and he likewise appears to have articulated the Fermi Paradox in advance of most others.
Tsiolkovsky at the Vyatka Male Gymnasium (1871), far left/top.
Tsiolkovsky spent the years 1890-1902 as a school teacher in Borovsk, marrying and starting a family in the house that now serves as the museum. (Above photo is enlarged if you want to read all the quotes).
Autism Lv. 80: “I viewed marriage only in practical terms: Already, by the age of 16, I was theoretically done with all the absurdities of religion… On the wedding day, I bought a lathe from my neighbor and cut glass for electric machines.”
As one might expect, the people of Borovsk thought he was a bit of a eccentric who was a bit too obsessed with his trinkets.
Nonetheless, he did make friends with the local intellectuals during this period, as well as leading scientists in Saint-Petersburg (including Dmitry Mendeleev), who promoted his ideas amongst the Empire’s scientific and technical societies.
Borovsk is where Tsiolkovsky developed his design for an all-metal dirigible (see top, image is enlarged).
How Tsiolkovsky’s desk and workshop in Borovsk may have looked like.
Note the design on the chair; does it remind you of something? Some logo? 🙂
Tsiolkovsky moved to Kaluga with his family in 1892, where he taught until 1921. This is where he developed his most notable ideas about rocketry and space exploration, most notably in the 1903 article “Exploration of Outer Space by Means of Rocket Devices.”
Tsiolkovsky at the Kaluga Women’s Diocesan School (far right) in 1914, now “School №.9” in Kaluga. Despite his quite open irreligiosity, he had no problems finding work with ROC-affiliated educational institutions.
Tsiolkovsky giving one of his students a “5” (highest possible mark).
Scenes from other schools where Tsiolkovsky taught.
Tsiolkovsky continued teaching after the Revolution, although the Civil War period was one of hardship for him (as for many others). The above letter is his letter of resignation from teaching duties in October 1921.
Note an interesting detail: He now calls himself a “school worker” (школьный работник), or “shkrab” (шкраб) for short. This was the politically correct way to refer to refer to schoolteachers (formerly учитель) from September 30, 1918 which also saw the abolition of grades, admissions exams, etc., which along with other “culturally Marxist” policies was only later reversed under Stalin.
His financial situation easened the following month, when he was assigned a lifelong pension by the Soviet government for his contributions to science.
That said, it must be noted that Tsiolkovsky was not an opponent of the Soviet regime, believing that his ideas were more respected and likely to be realized under them than under the old order.
Tsiolkovsky and family, Kaluga, May 1932.
In total, he produced seven children, of whom six survived to adulthood. However, two sons committed suicide in their youth, while another two died in 1919 and 1922 from bronchitis and tuberculosis, respectively. So only two daughters lived out “full” lives.
Road leading away from the Tsiolkovsky Museum.
Borovsk Monastery of St. Paphnutius
The men’s monastery of Saint Pafnuty of Borovsk (1444), where Joseph of Volokolamsk (Ivan Sanin) took the tonsure in 1459. He became hegumen after Pafnuty’s death in 1477, but eventually left to form his own monastery in Volokolamsk when the brothers took exception to his attempts to impose rigid discipline.
It was captured and burned by the Poles in 1610, and burned again by the French in 1812. However, as usual, the biggest long-term damage was inflicted under the Soviets, who seized it in 1923 and turned it into a prison. It later became an agricultural college, and then part of the Borovsk local museum, before being returned to the ROC in 1991.
Based and redpilled: “Handing out alms to gypsies at the entrance to the monastery is not blessed.”
Constructed in 1460 on the place of the original wooden church, the Nativity Cathedral features rich though degraded art from the icon painters Mitrofan and Dionisy. They still requires extensive restoration work.
Bell tower with attached refectory.
Church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker
This is a picturesque early 19C church in the village of Rusinovo just outside Borovsk. It was closed in the 1930s, like almost all churches, and brought into a state of disrepair.
What was left of it after German shelling and Soviet era neglect was returned to ROC in 1998, and it has since been restored.
However, the main reason to stop by – it’s on the road to Obninsk anyway – is to admire the gorgeous views. There is also a cafeteria, though it’s only open until 5pm.