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Gorokhovets – The Hidden Jewel of Central Russia

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Having already visited all the famous cities of Russia’s celebrated tourist route known as the Golden Ring, we wanted to visit somewhere which is less well-known and which hasn’t yet lost its provincial charm. Although several of its neighbours in the region are part of the Golden Ring route of ancient Russian cities, the city of Gorokhovets is more often than not left off this list. It is not a particularly famous city and it has never played a central role in Russian history, nor does it have real links with any major figures from Russia history or culture. Gorokhovets however is an old merchant city whose appearance has hardly changed since the 19th century. Gorokhovets could be described as a hybrid of the established tourist destinations of Plyos, with its hilly surroundings on the River Volga, and Suzdal, with its multitude of old churches and buildings and provincial atmosphere.

The city is located relatively close to the large city of Nizhny Novgorod on the M7 Federal Highway. Up until the recent launch of the Lastochka high-speed train between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod which makes a stop in Gorokhovets, there was no direct train link between Gorokhovets and the capital. These years of poor transport links nevertheless helped Gorokhovets remain unspoiled by industrialisation.

<figcaption>View of the city from Klyazma river</figcaption>
View of the city from Klyazma river

We visited the city in the height of summer and the city appeared very calm with very few people about, in fact it was only the odd car now and then that spoiled the illusion that I had travelled back in time. I instantly appreciated why the city has been named a historical city as you are immediately struck by the number of old buildings which have survived in the city. Among the typical wooden Russian houses with decorative window frames are some elaborate examples. One such building is the house of industrialist Mikhail Shorin which is a modern style wooden mansion complete with a tower.

Normally the only buildings in Russia to survive from the 17th century tend to be churches, however Gorokhovets also has seven 17th-century stone buildings which were once home to merchants. As a comparison there are only four surviving 17th-century civil buildings in nearby Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow only has one. One of Gorokhovets’s surviving civil buildings is the Sapozhnikov House, which is now a museum and inside its thick stone walls the building’s interiors have been recreated to how they would have originally looked.

Walking around the labyrinth of staircases and going down to the cellar allows you to soak in the history of the place.

The main square is dominated by the Annunciation Cathedral, which is a traditional Russian monumental style of cathedral with five pale blue domes. Today it no longer functions as a place of worship and is owned by the neighbouring museum, although this arrangement may change in the near future. Also here is the Sretensky Convent which was established in 1658 on the orders of Patriarch Nikon and today is once again a functioning convent.

From here we crossed the pontoon bridge over the River Klyazma to visit the Znamensky Monastery on the other side of the river. It is only possible to make this crossing in the summer when the bridge is there or in winter when the river has frozen over. From this side of the river you get stunning views of the city which appears like a scene from a Russian fairy tale: wooden buildings, onion-dome churches and monasteries rising above the river on a picturesque hill.

It is a view which has not drastically changed over the last 300 years.

The hill is known as Puzhalova Hill (derived from the old Russian word for ‘to frighten’) and features in one of the most famous legends about the city. Being situated between Moscow and Kazan, Gorokhovets served as a Russian defensive outpost and was subjected to raids by the Tatars throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. One such raid came in 1539 but it is said that the Tatars were scared off when they saw a vision of a knight appear over the hill. It is well worth the rather steep walk up here via a rickety staircase both to look around the Nikolsky Monastery at the top and to enjoy the views from here of the River Klyazma and the Znamensky Convent and endless forests on the other side of the river.

The final destination on our trip was to a site of natural beauty just outside the city called Bald Hill, as no trees grow on the hill’s summit because of the wind. According to legend a Tatar khan who died during a raid on Gorokhovets was buried here. From here you treated to completely unspoiled views of the forests on the other side of the River Klyazma which run to the horizon.

Out of all the cities in Russia we have visited, Gorokhovets occupies a special place. Here there is a perfect combination of provincial charm and beautiful natural surroundings. It is unsurprising that Gorokhovets has been used as the backdrop for several historical films as it really looks as if time has stood still here since the 19th century. It is a great place to spend a weekend and forget all about the hustle and bustle of modern life. In terms of tourist infrastructure, there are several guesthouses here and a nice hotel. There is not much choice in terms of restaurants or cafes in the city, but provided you are not expecting fine dining you shouldn’t be disappointed.

In 2018 the city will celebrate its 850th anniversary and the regional authorities have pledged to restore the historical centre. It is possible that this will give the city a new lease of life and establish it as a favourite destination for tourists. Alternatively, it may result in the city’s historic buildings being renovated to such an extent that they appear to be brand new. Just to be on the safe side, there is no reason for delaying your visit to this authentic and charming provincial city!

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Remains found in Dublin adds intrigue to search for Robert Emmet’s grave

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Skeletal remains have been found at one of the locations identified as a possible last resting place of Robert Emmet who was executed on this day in 1803.

The remains were found during an excavation at the back of St Paul’s Church in Stoneybatter in Dublin.

The disappearance of the body of Robert Emmet is one of the great mysteries of Irish history.

Emmet was tried and then hanged for instigating the ill-fated 1803 rebellion. He became a symbol of Irish martyrdom for his speech from the dock in which he concluded: “Let them and me rest in obscurity and peace, and my name remain uninscribed, until other times and other men can do justice to my character. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written.”

After he was publicly hanged outside St Catherine’s Church in Thomas Street on September 20th, 1803, his head was displayed to the crowd by the hangman Thomas Galvin. The remains of Emmet’s body was taken to Bully’s Acre in the grounds of what is now the Royal Hospital Kilmainham and buried there.

When some of his friends went to reintern his remains from Bully’s Acre to St Michan’s Church in Church Street, a church associated with the United Irishmen, they found there was no body there, and so began a search which endures to this day.

Robert Emmet was publicly hanged outside St Catherine’s Church in Thomas Street on September 20th, 1803.
Robert Emmet was publicly hanged outside St Catherine’s Church in Thomas Street on September 20th, 1803.

His great-nephew Dr Thomas Addis Emmet requested an archaeological dig at the family vault in St Peter’s Church in Aungier Street to mark the centenary of Emmet’s death in 1903, but that proved to be unsuccessful.

Speculation

St Paul’s Church is another contender in the saga of Emmet’s remains. It was the parish church of Kilmainham Gaol’s doctor and effective governor Dr Edward Trevor.

In his book In the Footsteps of Robert Emmet, JJ Reynolds speculated that Trevor removed Emmet’s body and put it in an unmarked grave in the grounds of St Paul’s Church. This was to ensure that his grave would not become a shrine for Irish nationalism.

The church, which was the venue for the consecration of the philosopher George Berkeley as Bishop of Cloyne in 1734, has been converted into the Spade Enterprise Centre, a not-for-profit social enterprise unit.

The land where the skeletal remains were found is being turned into a shared kitchen for small business enterprises in the area.

The yard at the the back of St Paul’s Church in Stoneybatter, Dublin where skeletal remains were found.
The yard at the the back of St Paul’s Church in Stoneybatter, Dublin where skeletal remains were found.

Archaeologist Franc Miles said burials in the grounds were from 1702 to the 1860s. A extant set of burial records remain, but Emmet, if he really is buried there, would have no record.

Previous exhumations were carried out when the graveyard was closed in 1860s to make way for a school on the site.

“With all the evacuations, we were left with bits and pieces of body. There weren’t many full skeletons,” he said.

Mr Miles said it all the gravemarkers and stones were removed in the 1860s “so all you are left with really are bones.”

Mr Miles said it would be difficult if not impossible to identify Emmet’s remains even if they are buried in the grounds of St Paul’s Church.

His own “educated guess” is that Emmet’s body is still buried somewhere in Bully’s Acre.

As many of his supporters have said over the last two centuries: “Do not look for him. His grave is Ireland.”

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How the cost of renting an apartment in Copenhagen compares to other cities in Denmark

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With the arguable exception of second city Aarhus, Copenhagen is significantly more expensive to rent housing than anywhere else in Denmark.

But the extra cost in the capital depends on where else in Denmark you compare with, as well as the type of housing you rent.

Private or general housing?

First, it is important to note the difference between the two main types of rental housing in Denmark: private rentals and almene boliger (literally, ‘general housing’), a form of subsidised housing.

For almene boliger, local municipalities put up 10 percent of building costs and in return have the right to decide who is allocated one in four available apartments, enabling them to provide housing to municipal residents who need it. The housing therefore plays a role in the social housing provision.

This type of housing is normally managed by a boligforening or housing association. Rent goes towards costs of running the housing and to pay off the housing association’s loans, which means property owners aren’t profiting from rents and prices are controlled.

Aside from housing assigned by the municipality, almene boliger are open for anyone. However, to get one, you must get to the top of a waiting list, which you join by signing up with associations which operate housing in the city where you live (or want to live).

In Copenhagen or Aarhus, it can take years to get to the top of these lists, while in smaller cities you might get an offer in weeks or even days.

As such, many newcomers to Denmark must turn to the private rental market if they are living in one of the main cities.

READ ALSO: Deposits, complaints and registration: Five key things to know about renting in Denmark

Private housing: Copenhagen clearly pricier 

A study conducted by housing research centre Bolius in November 2020 found the cost of a 56 square-metre apartment in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district to be 8,536 kroner per month.

The study, which was based on data from 2019 and 2020 from rental platforms boliga.dk and boligportal.dk, shows the average monthly cost of non-limited private apartments on Nørrebro, compared with 16 other locations in Denmark.

The cost takes into account the cost of a deposit (normally three months’ rent) and adds it to the average cost of renting the housing for five years (thereby assuming none of the deposit is returned to the tenant).

In comparison to the price in Nørrebro, the study found rent in Hillerød north of Copenhagen to be slightly less (8,218 kroner) for a slightly larger apartment (65 square metres).

Moving further out from Copenhagen, costs begin to drop even more.

In Kalundborg on the west coast of Zealand, you can rent a 71-square-metre flat for 5,167 kroner per month. Næstved, a commuter town between Copenhagen and the Great Belt Bridge, comes in at 6,039 kroner for an apartment at 72 square metres.

The cheaper rents are consistent further to the west, exemplified in Jutland cities Aalborg (5,544 kroner for 62 square metres), Vejle (6.696 kroner for 84 square metres) and Esbjerg (4,399 kroner for 54 square metres).

Although Aarhus is not included in the study, third-largest city Odense is. Here, there is still a significant saving on Copenhagen, with 8,488 kroner, a similar rent to that in Nørrebro, getting you an apartment over 50 percent bigger at 82 square metres.

General (almene) housing: closer, but still higher in Greater Copenhagen

Rent prices for almene or subsidised housing were most recently analysed in a 2020 report by Landsbyggefonden (National Building Foundation), a support institution for the social housing sector.

According to that report, the rent for family housing (meaning housing not reserved for students or seniors) is “on average, approximately 100-200 kroner per square metre higher [per year, ed.] east of the Great Belt Bridge than west of it”.

Of the five administrative regions, average rent for family subsidised housing is highest in Greater Copenhagen at 906 kroner per square metre for a year’s rent.

The lowest rents can be found in South Denmark, where the yearly cost is 722 kroner per square metre.

Zealand is the region that comes closest to Copenhagen on the costs for this type of regular housing. Here, tenants can expect to pay 859 kroner per square metre in a year. The equivalent costs in Central Jutland and North Jutland and 778 kroner and 747 kroner respectively.

The study also places Greater Copenhagen as the most expensive region when rents are presented as the median monthly rent for family housing.

Here, the median values are split into five categories based on apartment size, with Copenhagen coming out as the most expensive region for each category.

For example, the median monthly rents for apartments between 50-60 square metres are as follows: 5,039 kroner (Greater Copenhagen); 4,913 kroner (Zealand); 4,541 kroner (Central Jutland); 4,388 kroner (North Jutland); 4,236 kroner (South Denmark). The national average is 4,667 kroner.

Sources: Domea, Bolius, Landsbyggefonden



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Officials pushed for State to buy direct provision centres from private firms

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The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.

The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.

The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.

The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.

“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.

The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.

The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.

“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.

The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.

‘Badly needed’

Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.

“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.

“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”

The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.

Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.

New centres

A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.

Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.

“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.


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