April 11, 2021

The World's Largest Country, Made Tiny

The World's Largest Country, Made Tiny
A visitor's-eye view of central St. Petersburg, complete with Scarlet Sails. Griffin Edwards

Only got a few days in St. Petersburg, but want to see the whole of Russia in only a couple hours? Grand Maket Rossiya has you covered.

A nondescript yellow building from the 1950s, not far from the memorial to the Siege of Leningrad, houses the largest model layout ("maket") in Russia, and the second-largest in the world. Complete with moving trucks, rolling trains, and even hang gliders and skiers, the display stretches the entire second floor. In total, it's 8600 square feet in size— bigger than most Russian apartments— and is built in HO model railroading scale, 1:87.

Sochi's Winter Olympic facilities at nighttime, as recreated in the maket. | Griffin Edwards

All of Russia is recreated here. In one corner is Kaliningrad, the East Prussian enclave; next, St. Petersburg, Russia's gate to the West; next, Moscow, complete with tourists; then Siberia (including Lake Baikal). The other side of the room ends in Russia's Far East.

To add to the illusion, the display has its own day / night cycle, to simulate real-life Russia's spanning eleven time zones. LED lights in the ceiling change color from day to night every 13 minutes ("nights" last two minutes, so summertime visitors to St. Petersburg will feel right at home). Even as one side of the layout is sunny, the other might be shrouded in twilight or night, gradually shifting as the faux-sun rises or sets.

Maket-ception: a view of Grand Maket Rossiya inside Grand Maket Rossiya, with an optimistic line of visitors waiting to check it out. Note the Sapsan high-speed train in the background, departing St. Petersburg for Moscow. | Griffin Edwards

While some details are lacking – city centers are condensed, the Kremlin is relegated to a single tower, Siberia feels a little too full of human life – others are meticulously recreated and help bring the layout close to life. Bears intrude on campers, a TV news crew reports on crop circles, a tiny metro connects little Moscow and St. Petersburg stations. It is obvious that the creators put a lot of hard work and passion into telling tiny plastic stories. At one point, a sign proudly relates, "There are 39,260 sunflowers in this field." We did not verify that claim, but will accept it as true.

The display isn't without humor, either; the creators are happy to throw in a couple laughs. Take this scene, showing a domestic disagreement:

We're dying to know what the story is here. Seems juicy. | Griffin Edwards

Possibly the best part of Grand Maket Rossiya is that it's so delightfully self-aware. This is a portrayal of Russia by Russians, and sometimes that means they can poke fun at themselves in surprising ways.

For instance, this boat carrying scantily-clad women and a pudgy older man, sipping champagne:

Putin's palace is still missing, but at least we get this yacht. | Griffin Edwards

There's a surprising amount of lampooning self-deprecation on display, making fun of Russian habits, history, and even government attitudes. One of Russia's ubiquitous hovercraft hangs out near a permafrost-encrusted mammoth; brutalist hammer-and-sickles welcome visitors to tiny factories; and a cutaway of a submarine is captioned with an impossible order: "Don't look! Secret!"

There's also this tiny protest, where tiny citizens hold up signs in both English and Russian asking visitors to keep their hands to themselves:

We know it's tempting, but please don't touch. | Griffin Edwards

Whether this is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of protestors or police (or both), we're not sure, but it's cool to see a nod towards Russia's growing civil engagement.

Of course, in the end, the display is a patriotic and proud showcase of Russia's land, cities, and people. Military hardware like tanks and planes are front and center, balloons sport the Russian flag, and there's even a little Victory Day billboard calling us to remember the struggles of 1941-1945:

Don't forget about Victory Day as you enjoy looking at trains. | Griffin Edwards

While there's plenty on offer for "train people," the tiny stories on display showcase some of the oddities and inconsistencies of life in Russia. For anyone looking to get a sense of what the diverse array of Russia's rich lands are like, it's worth a stop. For those looking to get a sense of what some Russians think about themselves, it's a must-see, at least once we're free to travel again.

After all, we're in the Grand Maket, too:

Hi, Mom! | Griffin Edwards


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