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Check Out This Amazing, Ornate Wooden Mansion Renovated in Russia’s Far North

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This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

<figcaption>Truly remarkable!  (click to enlarge)</figcaption>
Truly remarkable! (click to enlarge)

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.  You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.

The original title of this article was: The Terem at Astashovo: Grand Dacha in the Chukhloma Forests


From St. Basil’s on Red Square to the pastel Baroque palaces of St. Petersburg, Russia has many distinctive architectural monuments. Yet none seems more unexpected than a wooden mansion built deep in the forests of Kostroma Region at the end of the 19th century.          

The mansion, or Terem, at Astashovo village seems all the more improbable for being rescued from the destruction that is common for Russia’s pre-revolutionary country houses. At the beginning of this century, the exuberant structure looked everything like a haunted tower house in a Hollywood film, hidden by young trees and teetering on the brink of collapse. Then fate intervened.          

The builder and owner of this extraordinary wooden structure was Martyan Sozonovich Sazonov. Born in 1842 in the village of Astashovo (Ostashevo) near Chukhloma, Sazonov came from a solid family of state peasants. His biography questions a number of assumptions about the peasantry in 19th-century Russia. Although the majority of peasants had little land and less money, there were those exceptions who, thanks to a combination of hard work and good fortunate, amassed considerable wealth.

In the areas around Kostroma and Yaroslavl, this wealth typically came from St. Petersburg, where enterprising young men would go to be seasonal construction laborers. When the time came for Martyan to submit documents allowing him to work in St. Petersburg, he decided to take the first name of his father (Sozon Markov) as his family name — Sozonov, pronounced and subsequently written as Sazonov. According to the regional practice, boys between the ages of 12 and 14 would be sent for a four-year apprenticeship in the capital’s building trades, after which they would be placed by specific skills. Sazonov gained the profitable designation of master carpenter and woodworker with a specialization in furniture making.

Like most of his peers, Sazonov continued to maintain close ties with his native region. In 1862, he married a young woman, Anna Andreevna, from the neighboring village of Faleleevo. Having become a successful contractor with his own laborers and workshops in St. Petersburg, Sazonov brought some of his profits back to the Chukhloma region. He not only built houses in Chukhloma itself, but also made charitable donations locally. However, it appears that after the 1860s, Sazonov’s successful business kept him in St. Petersburg for most of the year.

In the mid-1890s, his first wife died from typhus, and he remarried, to Ekaterina Dobrovolskaya, the 21-year old daughter of a deacon at the Church of Elijah the Prophet in the neighboring village of Ilyinskoye. Shortly thereafter (presumably in 1897), he built the wooden mansion at Astashovo.   

A dacha that is also a work of art          

The house that Sazonov built is often referred to as a “dacha,” a small country home for city dwellers, yet it is anything but modest. Its complex, sophisticated design consists of a two-story main structure of stout fir logs, above which is a third floor with projecting balconies and summer rooms. This upper structure reflects a 19th-century interpretation of traditional chambers known as a “terem,” or “teremok”—hence the name of the house. The complex roof, with its balconies and dormers, is a riotous display of ornamentation. The roof beam supporting the top is a single pine log reputed to originally have been 120 feet long. The culminating flourish occurs at the southwest corner with a soaring tower, crowned by a festive maypole ornament.

The plank siding over the log walls provides a background for ornamental cornices and decorative window surrounds (nalichniki) in bright colors. Although suggestive of traditional wooden structures such as the peasant house (izba), the window decorations here have a bold, abstracted design characteristic of a 19th-century national revival aesthetic. This stylized urban influence is evident here in ornamental details such as shell cartouches, as well as motifs from classical architecture. These elements enriched folk decorative patterns that were being transformed in the 19th century, as master carpenters working in large urban centers returned to their villages with a new repertoire of decorative motifs.

The Sazonov terem is, therefore, an urbane work of art that owes much to traditional craftsmanship but no less to romantic aesthetic ideas about native architecture. Ivan Ropet (Petrov), so instrumental in the Abramtsevo group, was one of the main artistic proponents of this national revival, and his influence figured prominently in a popular publication of sketches and plans known as Motifs of Russian Architecture (Motivy russkoi arkhitektury). Such widely distributed publications, which contained profuse designs for wooden country houses, were no doubt known to Sazonov and the architects with whom he worked in St. Petersburg. In this context, the Sazonov house, located in remote Astashovo, has a direct connection with a major aesthetic movement in the Russian capital.

Almost lost to history

Sazonov lived in his mansion not quite two decades. He died in September 1914, a few weeks after the beginning of World War I. His departure seems appropriately timed. The world conflict and ensuing revolution proved a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions that ended the way of life represented in such displays of personal fortune. In the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, Sazonov’s widow was deprived of the house, which was locked and uninhabited until 1942. At that point the interior — intact but devoid of furniture — was converted for use by the local village administration. When these functions ceased in the early 1970s, the house was finally abandoned in a depopulated village. (The last inhabitant of Astashovo left in the early 1990s.)          

Without maintenance, the superbly built structure receded into the forest growth that increased with every passing year. In the early 21st century, alarms were raised about the fate of the Terem, which in its dilapidated state seemed on the point of collapse. As often the case with such treasures, there appeared to be no viable plans for the rescue of a large and virtually inaccessible structure. However, the publicity brought the house to the attention of a young investment specialist, Andrei Pavlichenko, who turned the decaying landmark into a personal project. Knowledgeable in Russian culture and preservation, Pavlichenko enlisted the services of Alexander Popov, the most experienced specialist in the restoration of wooden monuments.

Their first tasks included upgrading an access road and clearing the site around the house of recent forest growth. In 2011, a brigade of workers disassembled the remaining structure and transported it to the Popov workshops in the Vologda Region town of Kirillov, where the wooden components were analyzed. Restoration methods were applied to serviceable components and the rest (particularly the decorative details) were carefully replicated from the original.          

In 2013, work began on reassembling the Terem at its original site on a brick foundation that reproduced the original. This process also entailed the rebuilding of the annex, an essential wooden service structure that extended from the back of the mansion. As of 2016, the exterior work is now complete. Work on restoring and furnishing the interior has proved more complicated, since the shell of the house had been thoroughly depleted. Traces were reclaimed of original furnishings such as gargantuan ceramic stoves, but no furniture remained. What should have been a massive stairway from the first to the second floors was only a gaping void.

Nonetheless, the original arrangement of the rooms is clear and will be restored by 2017. The restoration project also includes the ponds that lay in front of the mansion. (Water for the household came from a deep artesian well in this swampy area.) A final accent is provided by the restoration of a wooden chapel (from the nearby village of Golovinskoye) that was built at the same time as the Terem with some of the same decorative flourishes.          

As a magnet for cultural tourism, the Terem at Astashovo is becoming a remarkable demonstration of enlightened architectural preservation. And just down the road at the village of Ilyinskoye, the Church of Elijah the Prophet (1815) still stands in abandoned, but lyrical beauty.

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Anmeldebescheinigung: How to get Austria’s crucial residence document for EU citizens

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The EU’s freedom of movement enables citizens to move to another country in the bloc relatively easily, but there are still some conditions you need to meet.

As a citizen of an EU country, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland, you have the right to live in Austria for more than three months as long as you meet one of the following criteria:

  • Being employed or self-employed in Austria
  • Studying at a recognised Austrian institution
  • Having sufficient financial means to support yourself

As well as fulfilling one of these conditions, you also need valid health insurance for Austria.

If you are working legally in Austria, you will have this automatically, either through the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK) if you are employed by a company or through the Sozialversicherungsanstalt der Selbständigen (SVS) if you are self-employed.

As a student or self-supporting person, you will instead need to find your own comprehensive health insurance policy; your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) might be sufficient for students who aren’t in Austria long-term, but this doesn’t cover all medical visits so it is generally worth getting a separate health insurance policy.

When you arrive in Austria, you need to register your residence within three days, and at this point you will receive a Meldebestätigung (proof of residence). However, the process of getting your registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinugung) does not happen automatically after the initial registration.

You need to submit your application for the Anmeldebescheinigung within four months of your arrival in Austria, and you do this in person at your local MA35 office, the government department responsible for immigration and citizenship matters.

You need to make an appointment to attend the office in person.

If you live in Austria for five continuous years as an EU/EEA citizen, you automatically receive the right of permanent residence. You do not need to apply for any specific document to prove this or to continue living in Austria, but if you want to, you can apply for a certificate of permanent residence.

The documents you’ll need are the following (it’s a good idea to bring both the original and a copy):

  • Valid ID or passport
  • A completed Anmeldebescheingung form: Most of the details here are simple to fill out. You’ll need your personal information (name, date of birth, parents’ names, marital status), your current residential address, and to note which of the criteria for residence you meet and which company you have health insurance with. You can fill out the form before your visit, but you usually sign it when you have your in-person appointment, not before.
  • Proof of employment or self-employment if you’re working: This would be a work contract for employees, while self-employed workers can show their tax number, trade licence if applicable, contracts with clients, and/or other proof of your business.
  • Proof of studies if you’re studying: This could be a certificate of enrolment, and you may also need to show proof that your place of study is accredited. Your university’s student office should be able to help you get the documents you need.
  • Proof of sufficient funds and health insurance if you are either studying or self-supporting: This includes your insurance certificate, and proof of your bank balance or pension statements for example. Students who are being supported by their parents should be able to show confirmation from their parents of a monthly allowance.
  • Your proof of residence in Austria (Meldebestätigung)

Your documents will need to be in either German or English, so documents in other languages need to be translated by an authorized translator.

Getting the certificate costs €15, and there may be additional fees depending on which foreign documents you provide. Not getting it is potentially more expensive though (not to mention illegal) as you could face a fine of up to €250.



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Brendan Kennelly, one the country’s most popular poets, dies aged 85

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Brendan Kennelly, one the country’s most popular poets and a former professor of English at Trinity College Dublin, has died. He was 85.

Family members confirmed his death on Sunday evening at Áras Mhuire nursing home, Listowel, in his native Co Kerry.

Mr Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, Co Kerry, in 1936, the son of Tim Kennelly, publican and garage proprietor, and his wife Bridie Ahern, a nurse.

He graduated from Trinity College, wrote his PhD thesis there, and went on to become professor of modern literature at the university.

Mr Kennelly had more than 30 poetry collections published, which captured the many shades and moods of his home county as well as his adopted Dublin home.

He was also a popular broadcaster and made many appearances on radio and television programmes, such as The Late Late Show.

[His poetry is] infused with the details and texture of life, its contradictions and moments of celebration including the wry experiences of football and politics

President Michael D Higgins, a friend of Mr Kennelly’s, said his poetry held “a special place in the affections of the Irish people”.

“As one of those who had the great fortune of enjoying the gift of friendship with Brendan Kennelly for many years, it is with great sadness that I have heard of his passing,” he said.

“As a poet, Brendan Kennelly had forged a special place in the affections of the Irish people. He brought so much resonance, insight, and the revelation of the joy of intimacy to the performance of his poems and to gatherings in so many parts of Ireland. He did so with a special charm, wit, energy and passion.”

He added that Mr Kennelly’s poetry is “infused with the details and texture of life, its contradictions and moments of celebration including the wry experiences of football and politics”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the country has lost a “great teacher, poet, raconteur; a man of great intelligence and wit”.

He added: “The Irish people loved hearing his voice and reading his poetry.”

He spoke the language of the people. We loved his writing. His eloquence was masterful

Trinity College Dublin’s provost, Prof Linda Doyle, said Mr Kennelly was known to generations of Trinity students as a great teacher and as a warm and encouraging presence on campus.

“His talent for, and love of, poetry came through in every conversation as did his good humour. We have all missed him on campus in recent years as illness often kept him in his beloved Kerry. He is a loss to his much loved family, Trinity and the country,” she said.

Tony Guerin, a close friend of Kennelly’s, and a playwright, said he will be remembered in Kerry and elsewhere as “the people’s poet”.

“My relation with Brendan was one of friendship. There are more scholarly people who will assess his contribution and discuss those matters. But he spoke the language of the people. We loved his writing. His eloquence was masterful, whether it was the written word or being interviewed by Gay Byrne,” he said.

Mr Kennelly is survived by his brothers, Alan, Paddy and Kevin, by his sisters, Mary Kenny and Nancy McAuliffe, and his three grandchildren.

His daughter Doodle Kennelly died earlier this year.

Arrangements for a family funeral are expected to be announced shortly.

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New skeleton find could reveal more about Vesuvius eruption

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The remains of a man presumed to be aged 40-45 were found under metres of volcanic rock roughly where Herculaneum’s shoreline used to be, before Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD pushed it back by 500 metres (1,640 feet).   

He was lying down, facing inland, and probably saw death in the face as he was overwhelmed by the molten lava that buried his city, the head of the Herculaneum archaeological park, Francesco Sirano, told the ANSA news agency.

“He could have been a rescuer”, Sirano suggested.

As Vesuvius erupted, a naval fleet came to the rescue, led by the ancient Roman scholar and commander Pliny the Elder. He died on the shore, but it is believed that his officers managed to evacuate hundreds of survivors.

The skeleton might have otherwise belonged to “one of the fugitives” who was trying to get on one of the lifeboats, “perhaps the unlucky last one of a group that had managed to sail off,” Sirano suggested.

It was found covered by charred wood remains, including a beam from a building that may have smashed his skull, while his bones appear bright red, possibly blood markings left as the victim was engulfed in the volcanic discharge.

Archaeologists also found traces of tissue and metal objects — likely the remains of personal belongings he was fleeing with: maybe a bag, work tools, or even weapons or coins, the head of the archaeological park said.

Other human remains have been found in and around Herculaneum in the past decades — including a skull held in a Rome museum that some attribute to Pliny — but the latest discovery can be investigated with more modern techniques.

READ ALSO: Study finds 2,000-year-old brain cells of man killed in Vesuvius eruption

“Today we have the possibility of understanding more”, Sirano said.

Researchers believe that in Herculaneum temperatures rose up to 500 degrees — enough to vaporise soft tissues. In a phenomenon that is poorly understood, a rapid drop in temperature ensued, helping preserve what remained.

Although much smaller than Pompeii, its better-known neighbour outside the southern city of Naples, Herculaneum was a wealthier town with more exquisite architecture, much of which is still to be uncovered.

READ ALSO: Where are Italy’s active volcanoes?



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