Russia’s old wooden houses under threat as villages decline

 09 Nov 2016 - 19:16

Russia’s old wooden houses under threat as villages decline
A view of part of a facade of a house in the village of Cherevkovo, Arkhangelsk region, Russia, July 12, 2016. (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

By Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

CHEREVKOVO, Russia: Traditional wooden houses, many featuring exquisite carvings and craftsmanship, are falling into decay across Russia because of neglect, lack of funds and an exodus from the countryside to the cities.

Alexander Morozov, director of the local history museum in the town of Borovsk in Kaluga region, southwest of Moscow, says houses have been built from wood in Russia since ancient times.

“Wooden huts, wooden churches and chapels, wooden mills on the rivers. Only very wealthy citizens built on brick foundations,” he says.

“The quality of work and the skills of the craftsmen were such that an ordinary peasant hut was like a Lego construction set. It was possible without a single nail to put together and dismantle a house to transfer it quickly to a new place... Nails were simply not needed.”

In the village of Cherevkovo near Arkhangelsk in the far north, Tatyana lives in a wooden house that is more than 120 years old - when stripping wallpaper, she once came across an piece of newspaper with a story about 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The mansion was built in traditional peasant style for a merchant family called the Gusevs, who were evicted from their properties after the 1917 Russian Revolution. It is still quite well preserved, featuring beautiful carvings on its facades, bespoke doors and painted interiors.

Nina Vasilevna has lived in another former Gusev house in the same village for 64 years, and remembers when the building was also used for a state farm office and library. The house is in poorer condition than Tatyana’s. “Everything here needs repairing but nobody has any money,” she says.

Many of these ancient houses across Russia are in a lamentable condition or falling to pieces. Urbanisation and a low birth rate are emptying out the countryside, and residents and authorities are often largely indifferent towards the historical value of their properties.

Some people are taking down carved lintels and putting in plastic windows, Morozov says. “Even the status of monuments isn’t helping these dying masterpieces of ancient Russian art.”

(Writing by Mark Trevelyan)