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Tula: City of Stagnant Greatness

May 18, 2009 at 7:24 am
By Brian Kilgour and Megan Milligan

On Sunday, we made our way to the medium sized city of Tula, which is located about 2 hours south of Moscow. Tula is best known as the hometown of Lev Tolstoy, and is also where he wrote Anna Karenina and War and Peace. It is also known for producing high-quality samovars and pryaniki (delicious ginger-honey cakes). Both of our host mothers were very excited when we brought Tula pryaniki home with us.

Central Square
We took a 15-passenger van to Tula, so we were able to experience Russian highways first hand. Our praktikantka, Masha, told us that an old saying is that in Russia there are no roads, only directions, and this definitely seemed accurate during our very bumpy trip south. Besides the bumpy roads, however, it was very similar to driving in the US as the roads were lined with birch trees, fields, and gas stations. Except the gas stations didn’t refrigerate their Coca-Cola and made customers pay to use the restrooms.

Upon our arrival in Tula, we walked to the main square of the city, which is bordered by churches, the kremlin, and a statue of Lenin. The first stop we made was at the Samovar Museum, which had several old samovars that were made in Tula and presented to the royal family as gifts. One was even made out of sugar. From the museum we walked into the kremlin, which looked very similar to the Moscow Kremlin but was much smaller. The interior of the kremlin contained two churches and fields of grass and flowers. One of the churches contained an armory, as Tula was a major arms manufacturer during the War of 1812 and the Great Patriotic War. Many of the guns we saw were actually used as the Nazis came within a kilometer of the center of the city, but never actually took it.

Inside the Kremlin
After the kremlin we walked around Tula with Masha, who was born there and we walked by her old school, neighborhood, and hospital. The oldest part of Tula is in the center of the town, and is filled with dirt roads and old wooden buildings (many of which were burned to the ground). It was shocking to see buildings like those in the center of a city with a population of 600,000. We also walked by a large church, which provided a stark contrast to the buildings across the street that looked ready to fall apart.

We also walked through Tula’s downtown, which was built during the Khrushchev era, and every building looked like it had been hit by a bomb or was ready to fall down. We also walked through a fairly new sports complex called Arsenal (we were just as confused as you). After walking down Lenin Prospekt, which had many modern shops (many of which can also be found in Moscow) and war monuments, we got back on the van and headed to Moscow.

Crumbling Building
It was great to get out of the city and see beyond the façade put up by Moscow and St. Petersburg. Tula was a great city before the revolution that produced Tolstoy, world-class samovars and arms, and cakes. Now, it has a distinct feeling a backwardness and decay, and was a prime example of the stagnation of the end of the Soviet era and the inability of the modern Russian government to make improvements to buildings and facilities outside the capital. While the old part of the city was beautiful, the non-touristy areas had obviously not been improved since the Revolution, and the buildings from the 1960s displayed the shortsightedness of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras.