Russia loves remembering. No matter what city you find yourself in, you can guarantee there will be a healthy assortment of war memorials (especially those of the Great Patriotic variety), those Pushkin-set-foot-here-once memorials (stay tuned for a special feature on this in our May issue), Lenins, Lenin’s favorite type of person (the proletariat), cats, and shockingly common memorials to sewer repairmen.
Writing a Russian political, military, or literary history through monuments would be a monumental task. However, there is an alternative history of Russia that you would likely only know about because someone decided to make overlooked textbook sidebars concrete (often quite literally).
While many of Russia’s most iconic monuments are from the imperial and Soviet eras, history did not end in 1991, and neither did Russians’ passion for memorializing it. In fact, since 2000 the number of unusual memorials has exploded.
Residents of Khanty-Mansiysk decided that their history doesn’t have to start with humans. For their city’s 425th birthday they put up a life-sized (extinct-sized?) memorial to its prehistoric residents, woolly mammoths.
Fast-forwarding a mere 10,000 years, Yaroslavl was home to the minting of some of Russia’s first coins. In 2013 the city put up a memorial to a 1612 kopeck.
Peter the Great had a great idea: how about building a city on a marsh? The only problem: marsh means water, and water means floods. According to legend, a rabbit once jumped onto Peter the Great’s foot to save itself from a flood. For the city’s 300th anniversary, Petersburgians put up a memorial to the bold bunny in the water outside Peter and Paul Fortress.
Empress Elizabeth heard rumors that the cats of Kazan were especially good rat catchers and brought thirty of them into the Winter Palace (where their great-great-great-you-get-the-idea grandkittens are still hard at work, in between naps of course; and yes, of course they have their own insta). In 2009 Kazan dedicated a memorial to what was probably the biggest feline promotion in history, from street cats to aristocats.
It takes a dedicated literature lover – specifically a student of literature – to sniff out the second most popular memorial to Gogol’s satirical story “The Nose” in the courtyard of the Philological Faculty of St. Petersburg State University. Unlike the more well-known one, which is just a plaque, this sculpture gives a true sense of early nineteenth century St. Petersburg culture, in which even a detached nose can become a bureaucrat, as long as it has a top hat.
Hottest news in Samara: the discovery of still functional 90-year-old radiators. The radiator was invented in Russia in 1855, and Samara decided to memorialize this in 2005. The sight of the sleeping kitty on a windowsill above the radiator will make anyone feel warm and fuzzy.
Mirror, mirror, in the square, who’s the fairest anywhere? In Nizhny Novgorod, you can answer that question “I am!” while taking a mirror selfie with a nineteenth century fashionista, one of many sculptures dedicated to average people living in the city in the late 1800s.
The first traffic light in Novosibirsk appeared in 1940, and, as a 70th birthday present to traffic police, the city gave the green light to building a memorial on the site in 2006.
Throughout the Great Patriotic War, Yuri Levitan’s voice informed and consoled the Soviet nation over public loudspeakers. May 9, 1945, broke all kinds of rules about newstelling: good news first and all the news is good news. Loudspeakers blasted Levitan’s announcement that World War II was over. A memorial to the Voice of Victory was erected in Levitan’s hometown of Vladimir in honor of the 70th anniversary of Victory Day.
When you have between zero and one options for any given consumer product, your brand loyalty is off the charts. In 2005, Moscow residents unveiled a 40-year-anniversary memorial to the Soviet Union’s beloved cheese spread druzhba, which means friendship. In the memorial a fox and raven from a fable who normally don’t normally get along embrace a druzhba, of both cheese and comrade varieties.
In 1976 Noyabrsk was founded on an oil extraction site. As it turned out, the city was rich not only in natural resources, but also in mosquitoes, which many believe are even worse than the Siberian winters. In an attempt to scratch their collective itch for recognition of their suffering, the city put up a giant memorial “Mosquito-Oilsucker.”
A cat would walk 500 miles, and a cat would walk 500 more, just to be the cat who walked 1000 miles to fall down at his owner’s door. In 1987, a family from Murmansk brought their cat Simon with them on a trip to Moscow. Simon got lost and the family had to return home without him. Six years, over 1200 miles, and one collapse of the Soviet Union later, Simon showed up on their Arctic doorstep, and earned himself a memorial. (Flashback to famous Russian scholar Lomonosov, who walked the opposite way, from a village in the Far North to Moscow, in 1730.)
Yekaterinburg is the king – or shall we say the queen – of memorials to modern history. In addition to memorials dedicated to significant events, such as the 2009 meteorite and the computer keyboard, they even put up a memorial to a temperature. It was particularly hot in the summer of 2012. Yekaterinburg wanted to never forget that, so they erected a memorial to fans. If you aren’t a fan of heat either, we wish you better luck this summer.
History Through the Eyes of Three Monuments
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