I was in Saint-Petersburg this November 18-25, and I thought I would round off the trip by stopping by the historic towns of Tver and Torzhok on the way. Thanks to the new High-Speed Rail infrastructure, this is pretty easy, and this along with the urban beautification campaign launched by its new, HSE-educator mayor Alexander Menshchikov (see this Bloomberg article), has made the city more liveable and even helped it start drawing back population away from the overcrowded metropolis of Moscow. The city had multiple information boards with local lore and maps alerting visitors to nearby places of historical and cultural interest. The local administration is obviously seeking to develop tourism.
Like many middling Russian cities, the population plummeted after the Soviet collapse, falling from 455,000 in the early 1990s to a minimum of 404,000 by 2010; since then, though, it has sprang back up to 421,000 (for comparison, Bryansk, which I reviewed last year, fell from a very comparable 461,000 in the early 1990s to 405,000 by 2019, in a decline which has slowed down but shows no signs of stopping or reversing).
While I was only there for one full day, I got the impression that culturally, it was in the middle between Veliky Novgorod and Moscow. This makes sense. After all, though it was founded by Novgorod merchants as a trading post around 1335, it would become its own principality in 1246 before becoming absorbed into Muscovy in 1485 after an ill-fated alliance with Poland-Lithuania.
Today, it is a rather typical industrial-historical city of the Russian North-West, with average salaries by the standards of the region (similar to Veliky Novgorod) and, along with Pskov and Novgorod, the lowest life expectancy in European Russia (along with elevated alcoholism, suicide, and murder rates – all of which are correlated). One interesting coincidence is that these are also three of the five regions to have had the most drastic population declines in the 20th century; whereas Russia’s population as a whole increased by 55% between 1926 and 2010, it declined by more than 50% in Tver oblast, a legacy of out-migration and the German occupation.
“Welcome to Tver.”
Constructed in 1845-48, along the Moscow-SPB route – Russia’s very first railway – it was also one of the Empire’s first railway stations.
Tver was called “Kalinin” between 1931 and 1990. The monument to this Soviet functionary, who primarily served as the early Soviet government’s token peasant representative, occupies pride of place on the station.
This is the subway connecting the railway station to the city proper. Clean, looks new, with illustrations of the area’s points of interest to whet tourist appetites.
Railway station is in front, shopping mall to the left, and the Church of Saint Alexander Nevsky on the right.
It is a story that you are no doubt already used to if you read my Russia travel reports. Originally constructed in the late 19C, it was converted into a bakery in 1929 and demolished in 1983 to make way for an expansion to the railway station. It was reconstructed in 2009-13.
The view from my budget “Turist” hotel. This commieblock scenery is typical of the prole outskirts of Tver, or indeed of the vast majority of Russian cities.
This is an unfortunately disused tram track outside my hotel.
Monument to Saints Cyril and Methodius outside the Philological Department of Tver State University.
I notice that the lampposts here are very similar to those used in areas of Moscow recently renovated. Wonder if it’s the same company.
The central thoroughfare from the train station to the center could do with some more renovation.
Once you get to the mall – that ultimate symbol of the Putin era – there begins the nice, historic area of Tver.
This is central Tver. As one might see, it has been transformed into a pedestrian zone, and there are signs of SWPLification.
Always amusing to compare local adaptations of fast food chains. The Chicken House (lit. Чикен Хауз) chain is based in Tver, and obviously competes with the Colonel’s joint.
The only two Blacks in Tver are, of course, to be found in the Chicken House. (And there are still big brained nibbas who deny the reality of HBD).
Fries much better than at KFC, though a bit short of McDonald’s. Chicken sandwich better than at KFC, juicier. Ice cream is basically a copy of the McDonald’s offering.
Here it is directly competing with KFC.
This chain has branches through the region, here is one from Torzhok.
One of the most fascinating “sights” is the Goat Museum (Музей Козла) in central Tver, which has an average rating of 4.8/5 on Google Maps. Definitely check it out.
If your name is somehow goat-themed (e.g. Kozlov), then you get free entrance.
The people of Tver have traditionally been proud of their goats and the city’s unofficial emblem features the ruminant animal. The museum’s director Vladimir Lavrenov has made it his life’s work to accumulate all the most exotic artifacts linked to goats. According to him, the term “Tver goat” dates to the 14th century and used to have positive connotations, such as stubbornness and independence (as opposed to sheep, which are a conformist herd animal). It was only in the USSR that the term goat (козел) came to have negative connotations, largely on account of the Soviet zek (criminal) subculture. However, as Lavrenov pointed out, only people who believe that the country is 30 years old or 70 years old could be expected to honor that redesignation.
You get a prize for counting the number of goats in this display correctly. I am not going to “spoil” this beyond saying that it’s between 100 and 200.
The two goats stirring the pot is Tver’s unofficial emblem.
The museum features a few “surprises” and practical jokes that I won’t spoil either.
The variety of the artifacts is astounding. There are even authentic coins and other items from ancient civilizations dating to before the birth of Christ. (Copies of originals are clearly labeled as such).
Goat smelling a rose (China 1970s).
Large list of sayings and quotes relating to goats on goatskin.
Walking past the pedestrian SWPL area, we are now going to make our way to the waterfront, which features the bulk of Tver’s state institutions and monumental architecture.
The obligatory monument to the Great Bald One.
Looks like the New Year decorations are already being set up.
This is the main central city park, which leads to the waterfront.
The Tver State Museum was closed for renovations.
The Transfiguration Cathedral of Tver… no points for guessing by now that the original late 17C construction (though older churches had stood here back to 1285) was dynamited by the Soviets in 1935.
Reconstruction started in 2014 and is currently in its final stages.
The Tver Oblast Art Gallery is on the site of an 18th century palace constructed for its central location between Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. It was renovated in the mid-2010s.
I decided not to visit it, because ultimately this is just a regional picture gallery and I was only in Tver for one day.
The Grand Lobby. Some of the columns still bear scars from Nazi shelling.
The Tver State Medical University.
The Monument to the Victims of Political Repression, installed in 1997, when such things were in vogue.
The Island of Memory
The vast majority of Russian cities, especially those that were occupied and/or were on the frontlines during World War II, feature an assemblage of monuments dedicated to it. Tver is obviously no exception.
This is the Obelisk of Victory. Behind the Obelisk is a Suvorov Military School, a boarding school for war orphans formed in 1943 on the suggestion of aristocrat turned pro-Soviet Alexey Ignatiev
Church of Saint Michael of Tver.
Monument to Vasily Margelov.
War monument to local Soviet soldiers killed in conflicts after World War II.
Apologize for, perhaps, the excess of photos here… but I really like these icy cityscapes.
Monument to the Fisherman.
View from the Old Bridge (originally the Volga Bridge), constructed in 1905.
Monument to the Submariners.
Parus Boathouse Cafe.
Must be really nice here in the summer.
Many people seem to enjoy feeding the ducks.
Afanasy Nikitin is a 15th century Russian explorer from Tver who left a very readable account of his travels to the Middle East and India during 1469-72. Contains many funny un-PC observations.
Amusingly, this 1955 monument emphasizes that his visit to India carried a “friendly aim”.
Here is a very readable text about it from RBTH.
Museum of Tver Life
The house belonged to the Arefyev merchant family during the late 19C-early 20C and gives an insight into the life of the late Imperial bourgeoisie in Tver. It’s hard to track down what happened to them after the Revolution, but the patriarch of the family Mikhail (1862-1930s?) seems to have been repressed.
The study of Mikhail Arefyev.
Singer sewing machines virtually always appear in these reconstructions of the fin de siècle era. They dominated the market during the time and even today one can come across many of them that survived as family heirlooms.
Incidentally, the Singers owned a famous house in Saint-Petersburg, which now hosts a prominent book market and VK’s offices.
The wife Elizaveta bought this chair on a trip to India.
School records of Anastasia, their daughter, from the Tver Women’s Gymnasium. They seem to have been mostly 5’s (top marks), with a few 4s.
If you have any interest in the institution of the Russian samovar, then Tver is the place for you. The exposition in the basement covers the history of the samovar from its origins as a sbitennik in the 18th century to the electric samovars of the 20th century.
19th century kettle and sbitennik for making sbiten, an old East Slavic sweet drink (recipe in picture).
Traveling samovar kits c.1900 for picnics.
Russia’s major center of samovar production was in Tula, which was also the Empire’s main center of munitions production. There were 120,000 samovars produced there in 1850, rising to 660,000 by 1913.
They were mainly sold at large village fairs outside the towns. They also enjoyed some degree of export success.
Teahouses started opening up in the mid-19th century, with the very first one apparently appearing in Tver guberniya. They did not serve alcohol, so they enjoyed support from sobriety societies. Some teahouses doubled as restaurants and notarial offices.
This unique samovar trundled across the table when the water started to steam.
Russia didn’t market its tea-drinking traditions to Westerners searching for the exotic like the Japanese successfully did, but that did not mean it didn’t exist. “The tea was poured by the mistress of the house or her oldest daughter… The samovar was put at the center of a special samovar table. It was forbidden to blow on the tea or to pour it onto a plate. An overturned glass or cup meant the end of the tea-drinking.”
Unfortunately, apart from the Arefyev house and the samovar exposition in the basement, the great bulk of the museum was closed for the winter. It is much more active during the summer.
The view from Tver Bridge.
I assume that this gated area is for the local well-to do.
The electric cabling could do with some work.
Monument to the Firefighters (dated to 1649 when the first such institution was set up by Alexey Mikhailovich in Moscow).
Saint Catherine’s Convent.
Martin’s House (1910).
Mildly known for its unusual architecture, though it is behind a fence so getting a good glimpse of it requires scaling some walls, which I passed on given that it was night-time and probably requires trespassing.
Monument to Mikhail Krug, a famous local singer of criminal chanson. Like any self-respecting representative of this genre, he was murdered in a mafia scuffle in 2002.