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Midpoint of water between Russian capitals

Historian and architectural expert William Bramfield discovers the charm of one of Russia’s most visited cities.

In June and July 1909, Russian chemist and photographer Sergei Prokdingorsky was commissioned by the Ministry of Transport to take pictures of the Mariinsky canal system in northwestern Russia.

The selected waterways connect some of Russia’s oldest archaeological sites and illuminate an important episode in the development of St. Petersburg, founded in 1703 and designated as the Russian capital in 1712. We faced the challenge of supplying grain and other products to the new capital. A domestic necessities, Peter the Great has begun developing a transportation network between St. Petersburg and the Volga River basin.

This channel was further expanded during the reign of Emperor Paul (1796-1801) and was named the Mariinsky Canal in 1799 in honor of his spouse, Empress Maria Feodorovna. The system extended from the Neva River in St. Petersburg to Lake Ladoga and via the Svir River to the southern part of Lake Onega.

Beyond Lake Onega, the waterway went south up the Vytegra River. The Vytegra River was connected to the Kovzha River by a canal and flowed south to White Lake (Beroeo Zero). The lake is then drained by the Sheksna River, which ends in Rybinsk, an important grain port on the Volga River. Therefore, St. Petersburg can connect to the vast resources of the Volga River basin.

Commercial center

Vitegra. View northeast from the Mariinsky Canal. Background: Resurrection Cathedral, Kuznetsov House. Summer 1909

Sergei Prokdin-Gorsky

The main point of the itinerary of the Mariinsky Canal in Purokdingorsky was the town of Vitegra, named after the river in which it is located. Today, the small town of Vytegra (population about 10,000) in the northwest corner of Vologda Oblast may look like a distant territory. However, with the completion of the Soviet-era Volga Baltic Canal in the early 1960s, Vytegra realized that it was almost halfway between Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

Indeed, Vytegra can be claimed to be one of the most visited places in Russia, except for the two largest cities in Russia. Every summer, thousands of tourists take a popular riverboat cruise between Moscow and St. Petersburg, passing directly below Vitegra’s line of sight. I have traveled many times, but my most extensive visit to the Vitegra region was by car from Kaduy (near Cherepovets) in August 2006-Prokdin-almost a century after Gorsky.

The Vytegra River with the remains of the Mariinsky Canal in St. Sergius Rock. Background: A 19th century wooden building on Red Fleet Street. August 28, 2006

The Vytegra River with the remains of the Mariinsky Canal in St. Sergius Rock. Background: A 19th century wooden building on Red Fleet Street. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

The first reference to Vitegra occurred in 1496 when the settlement was a point on the trade path between the medieval trading center Novgorod the Great and the Sheksna River basin.

In 1710, a small boatyard was built on the nearby Vytegra River (a tributary of Vytegra), and traffic was difficult trekking between the emerging capital of St. Petersburg and the port of the White Sea, Russia’s early “west window”. Provided. Arkhangelsk was established in the latter half of the 16th century.

The settlement grew as the waterways gradually developed toward the south. In 1773, Catherine II approved the designation as a town (an important legal status) and returned the name “Vitegra” after the main river. By 1776, Vytegra had become the administrative center of a large area beyond the Vytegra River basin. In fact, the town has come to be considered a rival to Petrozavodsk on the west bank of Lake Onega (now the capital of the Republic of Karelia). ..

Kuznetsov House (1787), the corner of Lenin Prospect and Soviet Prospect. August 28, 2006

Kuznetsov House (1787), the corner of Lenin Prospect and Soviet Prospect. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

The fate of Vitegra was greatly boosted in 1810 by the official opening of the Mariinsky Canal System, which had a complex series of locks in and around the town. Each lock is named after a saint. Significant improvements were made in the 1890s.

Sign of prosperity

Until the 20th century, Vytegra buildings were mostly wooden, as was common in the Russian region. Nevertheless, the prosperity of the town as the trading center of the major canals allowed the construction of some substantial brick structures by the turn of the 20th century.

A. Viklin's House, Lenin Prospect 54. August 28, 2006

A. Viklin’s House, Lenin Prospect 54. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

The general view of Prokdingorsky included administration buildings, merchant houses, schools and churches. As my photo shows, some of these buildings are preserved, while others have been demolished or unrecognizable.

Vytegra river. View from the Shivers Bridge, where the towpath of St. Sergius Rock is located. Background: Bell Tower and Resurrection Cathedral (1796-1800), northwest view. Summer 1909

Vytegra river. View from the Shivers Bridge, where the towpath of St. Sergius Rock is located. Background: Bell Tower and Resurrection Cathedral (1796-1800), northwest view. Summer 1909

Sergei Prokdin-Gorsky

A prime example is the Resurrection Cathedral, built in 1796-1800 in a style that combines the simplified elements of Baroque and neoclassicalism. In the two photographs of Prokdingorsky, the cathedral with the bell tower and spire is partially visible from the west.

House of Culture (changed from the former Resurrection Cathedral), Lenin Prospect 5a. Southeast view of the semi-circular apse including the main altar. August 28, 2006

House of Culture (changed from the former Resurrection Cathedral), Lenin Prospect 5a. Southeast view of the semi-circular apse including the main altar. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

During the early Soviet Union, the cathedral was closed and eventually converted into a club for captains, followed by the Palace of Culture. Comparing the photo of Prokdin Gorsky with my photo, this conversion involved destroying the bell tower and removing the superstructure with a cupola to eliminate signs of previous religious functioning.

Members of the fire department and watchtower, fire brigade and local government. Left: Partial view of the trading line. Summer 1909

Members of the fire department and watchtower, fire brigade and local government. Left: Partial view of the trading line. Summer 1909

Sergei Prokdin-Gorsky

Prokudin-Gorsky also photographed a major fire station with a large gazebo. During the Soviet era, the tower was destroyed and the adjacent trading row was significantly rebuilt.

Faith monument

Purification Church (1869-1873), southeast view. August 28, 2006

Purification Church (1869-1873), southeast view. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

Today, Vitegra’s most famous architectural monument is the large Purification Church, consecrated in 1873, built on the grounds of an early church in the standard “Neo Byzantine” style. During the Soviet era, the building was a local history museum, but at least its exterior was preserved. The interior is now being rededicated for use by the Orthodox Church.

Purification Church, northwest view. August 28, 2006

Purification Church, northwest view. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

Alas, Prokdin Gorsky did not take a picture of the Purification Church. In his time, the Mariinsky Ballet followed the Vytegra River, which runs through the center of town. He placed a bulky camera on the south side of the canal and took pictures heading north. The church would have been behind him.

In the 1950s, the much larger Volgabalt Canal moved south, providing a direct cut around the town center. As a result, the Purification Church stood north of the new canal. The cupola became visible from a cruise ship passing through the locks of the Vitegra Canal.

St. Isaac's Chapel in Dalmatia (1881). August 28, 2006

St. Isaac’s Chapel in Dalmatia (1881). August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

For those who leave the boat to explore the city, a pleasant surprise awaits on the church grounds. Built in 1881, the small chapel of St. Isaac’s in Dalmatia was originally located south of the town on a cape known as the Conversation Hill. The name comes from a meeting allegedly happened between Peter the Great and the locals, during which the emperor talked about the dream of a canal connecting the Vytegra and Kovzha rivers.

The final stages of Volga-Balt construction and the flooding of the Vytegra Reservoir in 1961 threatened the flooding of the log chapel for this celebration. Fortunately, it was dismantled and moved to its current location. It is now a lively chapel, where newlyweds are required to visit and take pictures.

“Wonder House”

EI Matveeva family (now kindergarten), Tsiurupa (formerly aristocratic) street 41. Façade overlooking the Vyangi river. Foreground: A wooden hut above the water source. August 28, 2006

EI Matveeva family (now kindergarten), Tsiurupa (formerly aristocratic) street 41. Façade overlooking the Vyangi river. Foreground: A wooden hut above the water source. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

During my visit in 2006, there were still some buildings in the center of Vitegra from the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. (At the end of the 19th century, Vitegra had 17 bricks and 470 wooden houses.)

Loparevville (1902), Lenin Prospect 52, August 28, 2006

Loparevville (1902), Lenin Prospect 52, August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

My favorite is the wooden Matveeva family, built in 1879 and later donated by the widow EIMatveeva to commemorate the merchant’s husband as a haven for the poor elderly.

St. Nicholas Girls' High School (1910), Soviet outlook. August 28, 2006

St. Nicholas Girls’ High School (1910), Soviet outlook. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

During the Soviet era, Matobeba’s house was converted into a kindergarten. The children named it Wonder House because of its unique design overlooking the Byangi River from its balcony, porch and attic windows.

K. Galashevsky Mansion (1804), Lenin Prospect 62. August 28, 2006

K. Galashevsky Mansion (1804), Lenin Prospect 62. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

Underneath the wooden pavilion just below the house is a bubbling of natural resources that locals come to for pure water. For these decades, the Matveeva family deserves its great reputation.

Galashevsky House, cast iron balcony. August 28, 2006

Galashevsky House, cast iron balcony. August 28, 2006

William Bramfield

At the beginning of the 20th century, Russian photographer Sergei Prokdingorsky developed a complex process of color photography. Between 1903 and 1916, he traveled to the Russian Empire and took more than 2,000 photographs in a process involving three exposures on a glass plate. In August 1918, he left Russia and eventually settled in France, where he reunited with most of his glass negative collections and 13 contact print albums. After his death in Paris in 1944, his heirs sold the collection to the Library of Congress. At the beginning of the 21st century, the library digitized the Prokdingorsky collection and made it freely available to people all over the world. Currently, some Russian websites have versions of the collection. In 1986, architectural historian and photographer William Bramfield hosted the first exhibition of Prokdingorsky photography at the US Parliamentary Library. During his work in Russia, which began in 1970, Blumfield has photographed most of the places Prokdingorsky visited. This series of articles is a side-by-side view of Prokdin Gorsky’s architectural monument and photographs taken by Branfield decades later.

Midpoint of water between Russian capitals

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