Tula: Brand New?

It has been a VERY long time since I had a chance to update this blog.  I look at some of my earlier entries and I see that Tula has changed.  It is becoming more groomed, more modern.  Many of the old wooden houses I’ve been eulogizing here will soon be gone forever – streets of new modern high-rises will take their place instead. I am not sure if “gentrification” is the correct term here but you can see improvements everywhere – old apartment buildings are being repaired throughout the city, coffee houses and restaurants are popping up on every corner, parks look well-groomed, inner yards of apartment buildings receive colorful playgrounds.

At the same time the city’s image is being re-conceptualized.  It includes two, seemingly opposite, components.  First, it continues to be built within the frames of Tula’s official symbolism: the city as the country’s “arsenal and shield”.  At the same time, Tula – and Tula region – take on a new identity, that of a place open to its guests and comfortable to its citizens, a city with modern sports facilities, major tourist attractions, a stage for various art festivals, a cultural and “cultured” center.

I will talk about this metamorphosis later but I think that one recent project in particular illustrates this new development.   It is the restoration of pedestrian underpasses.

There are several pedestrian underground tunnels in Tula. Built in the Soviet times (early 1980s) they’ve seen good and bad times.  Dilapidated and some of them closed in the 1990s they have been repaired and now continue to help pedestrians to cross the city’s busiest streets.

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They were mostly unadorned, gloomy, dimly lit at night and a nightmare for those with strollers or in wheelchairs.


They seem to be in a pretty good shape now but a representative from the mayor’s office said that a complete renovation is scheduled for the next year and that the underpasses will be equipped with elevators.

But for now, in time for Tula’s 870th anniversary, passageways have been decorated with mural … graffitis!

I was really surprised to learn that these graffiti writers were winners of an open national competition of young graffiti artists sponsored by the city.

Painted by various artists these murals allude to Tula’s role in Russia’s history.

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All of these murals feature patriotic and historic images done – however – by a modern medium of contemporary graffiti!

The painter who worked on an underpass near one of Tula State University’s buildings is Dmitri Yazykov. Here is his rendition of the Patriotic War of 1812.

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Yazykov has already painted another graffito in Tula. It is the 140 meters long and 3, 5 meters tall piece on the embankment of Upa.  It decorates the fence of Tula’s MashZavod (now Machine Works holding), one of Tula’s oldest manufacturers specializing both in defense and civil products.  I find the fact that this work has been ordered by the plant really surprising.

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(A local newspaper documented the process of graffiti completion here: http://mk.tula.ru/news/n/39051/)

What is even more important is that Tula’s new image is on the agenda of the municipal committee on urban planning and development. А Moscow consulting agency has been hired to create Tula’s brand. I don’t write “rebranding” here, since I don’t know if Tula’s “city brand” has been developed before.  It formed, of course, by itself, organically, over the centuries of city’s long history.  But now, with the help of three focus groups including city’s representatives, students and businessmen and after a series of meetings over the last four months a new concept for the Tula Region’s brand has been developed.

Some of key words used in this place branding are: “workmanship, Tula secret, ability to create the unfeasible, pride, dynasties, continuity, competition, might, school, initiative, and talent.) (https://myslo.ru/news/tula/2016-10-19-kakim-budet-brend-tulskoy-oblasti)

It is said that about 86% of place rebranding campaigns fail.(http://www.citymetric.com/business/why-do-most-city-branding-campaigns-fail)

Let’s hope that this amalgamation of Tula’s past with the future will prove to be more successful.

Victory Day

Victory Day is on May 9th.  Important for the Russian mind this national holiday commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over the Nazi Germany and the end of the Great Patriotic War in 1945.  The significance of this day cannot be overestimated, especially since the events in the last decades in ex-Soviet republics and, more recently, in Ukraine, prove to us that the people’s collective memory may be rather short.

I always noticed how people who lived through the long four years of the Great Patriotic War were eternally shaped by it.  The war not only left a huge mark on each veteran but was rather a major event from which each one, no matter how successful in his or her peace life, seemed to count time.  For my grandfather’s generation you were not only a doctor, an engineer or a teacher, you were a veteran of a certain division or you were a Soviet partisan – a member of the resistance movement.  This phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with the militant ideology.  Rather, the war left such a big impact on each individual and each family that its echo was resonating well into many years past the war itself.

For myself and my peers – those of us whose childhood happened to be in 1970s and 80s – Victory Day is one of the essential holidays and I can assure everybody that our veneration of this historic event is not the result of the Soviet propaganda.  We honor Victory Day because we understand the importance of defeating the fascism.  We consider the 9th of May a very dear day because it was always personal.  Every family was affected by that war somehow.  Growing up we heard veterans’ stories, we participated in their meetings.

In my family four men fought in that war – my grandfather, his father, and his two brothers.  My grandfather started the war as a nineteen-year-old in 1941.  A teenager, as we would say now.  He fought in the regular army, was a head of a partisan group and finished the war in Czechoslovakia.  Every 9th of May he would meet with his war comrades, usually in Moscow in front of the Bolshoi Theater.  I remember polishing his medals – he usually wore them once a year – and going with him.  I could recall many stories I heard during their meetings and I can still feel that atmosphere of comradery and joy but also of sorrow and remembrance of the fallen soldiers that prevailed there.


My grandfather passed away 20 years ago.  With every passing year there were less veterans here to share their stories with us.  “Two or three years from now who will our children see” on Victory Day? was a question organizers of the Immortal Regiment initiative asked themselves in 2012. (http://moypolk.ru/ustav-polka)  The non-government non-commercial initiative started in Tomsk as an idea — on Victory Day bring a photograph of a soldier, a veteran, a partisan, a person who worked on the home front, was in a Nazi concentration camp – anybody who has to be honored and remembered – and go in a symbolic parade so people can see and remember all members of this Immortal Regiment.

Since its inception two years ago the project grew in popularity.  This 9th of May Immortal Regiment participants marched in 450 cities in 6 countries.  (http://voiceofrussia.com/2014_05_09/photo-Immortal-Regiment-forever-remembered-by-descendants-4028/?slide-1)  Tula was among these towns.


There were several places in Tula where you could make a placard from your photograph.  The cost of each one was really symbolic (80-150 rubles or about $4.  In comparison, a 1 litter of milk costs around 60 rubles).  I think that participating printing shops volunteered their work and charged only for the materials used. (http://moypolk.ru/tula/inform-bureau)  You did not need to have a placard to participate – you could make your own poster or you could march with just a photograph.

In Tula Victory Day was celebrated with a parade on the central square and a multitude of events in city’s parks.

It is estimated that Russia lost about 26 millions of people in the Great Patriotic War.   Today not only those who fought on the battlefield but also people who worked on the home front, those who were on occupied territories and in Nazi’s concentration camps are honored.

Later, fireworks were held in several areas of the city.  Central streets became a big parking lot with everybody cheering the fireworks and Victory Day.

Janus, God of Time

Janus, in Roman mythology is the god of transitions, beginnings, endings and time.  His two faces look to the future and to the past.

I recalled Janus recently when passing a building in Tula’s center.  A regular residential stalinka, e. g. typical of Stalinist architecture and probably built in late 40s or early 50s, this house is no different than a dozen of other such buildings that adorn this quiet street.  The building’s ground floor houses an office of a law firm and a recently opened cosmetics shop.


I have to add that remodeling first (ground) floor apartments of residential buildings into offices and shops became one of features of architectural design in Russia in the last decade or so.  So this building is no different.  It faces now a row of newly developed townhouses made of brick (or imitation brick) …

cottages cropped

and plastic siding.

town houses white pervomaiskaia

The back yard, though nice and quiet, has a different feeling altogether.  It overlooks an old but still stout town house, a more frail-looking five-story khrushchevka (an apartment building typical of Khrushchev’s era city planning) …

inner yard house and khrushch

… along with a usual set of dilapidated wooden storage huts (sarai) …

back yard sarai

… and metal boxes of private garages.


Each of these constructions represents an epoch in itself.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the old white house survives from the beginning of 20th century when the street had a different name and was not in the center of the city as it is now but on the outskirts…

I can imagine how happy people were to get new apartments in that khrushchevka…  At that time, in the 60s or probably 70s this was already a great city area – near the park, in the center.  In fact, a family friend, herself in her sixties now, still lives there with her mother, a general’s widow, whose husband was given one of the apartments here when he retired…

I can still enumerate hurdles one had to go through in 1980s in order to get a permission to build or install private garages…

And those sarai, storage huts, where people kept everything from boxes of New Year tree ornaments and empty jars in the summer to potatoes – in basements – and rows of self-made preserves in the winter!  Sometimes, at least in provincial towns, people kept pigs or rabbits there, too.  But this was the time of deficit.

If sarai and garages are noticeable right away, then a small sign on the back wall of this apartment house is not.

ubezhishche dom

The sign is rusty and covered by different paper flyers advertising moving companies or plastic ceilings.  But one can still read “Shelter No. 3” on it.

ubezhishche table

Another era.  That of the pre-WWII or the beginning of cold war when bomb shelters were built in basements of newly built residential buildings.  Buildings typical of Stalinist architecture were constructed from 1930s until the end of 1950s.  Looking at this house now I wonder when exactly it was built.  My main question is, of course, whether this inner yard with its fancy SUVs parked here now, saw black NKVD’s, secret police’s cars, rolling in the night and quietly stopping to pick up some or other resident of this prestigious house and unleash yet another personal tragedy?

History often hides behind modern facades.  Universally true this fact is even more obvious in Russia.  Walking in Tula I am constantly aware of these overlapping layers of time, of beginnings and endings, and of transitions.  Looking into the future I hope that bomb shelters and storage huts will remain in “inner yards” of our collective memory but in our present we'll be accompanied by more peaceful, though mundane, cosmetic shops and town houses instead.

Wooden Houses: Fall

I already wrote that I like Tula’s old streets for their mellow beauty, half-erased by time, but still present.  Walking here you get a feeling of harmony, which stems from the area’s architectural uniformity.


Balance of history and architecture is clearly perceivable in this area despite the fact that many of these old houses are dilapidated.


In the spring old gardens and orchards in bloom offset marks left on these streets by merciless years.  On the contrary, signs of time become more obvious against old snow in late winter or dust in the middle of summer.  But Fall, with its greys and browns, suits the weathered wood and stone of these houses better, I think.  In the Fall these streets blend with the dark sky, leafless trees and the rain.  Imperfections dissolve and what remains is a watercolor painted with just a few but deep earthy colors.  


Sometimes, though, modernity clashes here with history.  Like the orange and the green of a hardware shop on the following picture.


Or graffiti on the wall with a church in the background.


Or even an old tractor, probably a survivor left from the Soviet times, charmingly draped in a similarly old and similarly representative of those times rug.


You stumble on these inconsistencies with the area's general mood.  But then, of course, you can always zoom in.


Assumption or Dormition Cathedral in Tula’s Kremlin (Uspenskii Sobor)

Restoration works are underway in Tula’s Kremlin.  Scaffoldings have been removed from the Assumption or Dormition Cathedral (Uspenskii sobor).  The cathedral, one of the jewels of the Kremlin, has been erected between 1762 and 1766.  Its domes got a much-needed new coating of gold and the central dome has been rebuilt completely.

Uspenskii kreml 1

More amazing: for years the cathedral showed bare bricks of its walls. Here is a picture from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uspenskiy_Cathedral_of_the_Tula_Kremlin_7.JPG?uselang=ru


Now it has been painted light blue-grey.

Uspenskii 1

From a Kampel’s photograph dating from the beginning of 20th century that I found on http://tulablog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/tula-suvorin-06.jpg it is somewhat difficult to see the cathedral’s (seen here on the right) color.

old cathedral

But historians and restores alike assure that light blue-grey, which to my eye looks really celestial, is the cathedral’s original color.  Get dark autumnal sky for the background – and you feel like the cathedral is floating, the baroque elements on its walls are noticeable for the first time.

Uspenskii baroque

If the cathedral survived the years of neglect than its bell tower, built in the late 18th century, was destroyed by fire in 1936.  Originally, the tower had 22 bells, including 8 clock bells.  The bell tower is now being restored.

Uspenskii and tower

The bells for the tower have been cast in Tutaevo, a town in Yaroslavl region, traditionally known for its bell-casting factory and brought to Tula recently.  The biggest bell weighs 12,5 tones and it has already been installed.  Others are awaiting the completion of the tower’s next level.