Staraya Ladoga, supposedly the first capital of Rus’, the ancient Russia, is a small village in the Leningrad region. As its name suggests, it is situated close to the Ladoga lake: it stands on the Volkhov river, the same one which flows all the way from the Ilmen lake upon which Veliky Novgorod stands and into the Ladoga.
The epithet Staraya, old, doesn’t only indicate its precedence to the New Ladoga (Novaya Ladoga) town founded by Peter the Great in 1703 (same year as St Petersburg), but mostly reminds us of the really ancient status of this place. The fortress was erected in the 12th century and later rebuilt in the 16th century.
The honorable title of the first capital of Russia is contested by many. The legend – obviously preferred by the citizens of Staraya Ladoga – has it that Rurik came here in 862 (Ladoga was there already for at least 100 years) and chose Ladoga as the capital. Rurik is a legendary Scandinavian chieftain who is said to be called on by the Slavic tribes to sort out all the problems and … rule over these tribes. And rule they did – all the way through the 16th century!
The weekend we visited Staraya Ladoga, it was all unusually crowded and swarming with people dressed in old Russian and Scandinavian clothes. There was a festival which we observed (or rather heard) from the other side of the river and which we ‘tasted’ by drinking some kvas and medovukha, a traditional honey drink (see people queuing in front of a ‘honey stand’). Inside the fortress walls there is a beautiful white-washed 12th century St. George’s church, as well as a history museum. We did not get inside the fortress this time though but will surely do once they finish restoring the church.
There right opposite the fortress we had our breakfast with a no less traditional buterbrod (sandwich). The recipe I used is this one:
A year ago – Midsummer Roses in Pavlovsk and Almond Puff
Two years ago – St Petersburg Sky and All That Bread
Three years ago – Midsummer’s Black Currant Rhubarb Cake
Buttermilk Squares adapted from www.hefe-und-mehr.de will make flavourful and chewy buns perfect for sandwiches! Visit the original website to get the entire recipe. ATTENTION: requires an overnight rest!
Changes: Used instant instead of fresh yeast, made more buns than the indicated 12. Also – although smaller – my nuns took more time to bake.
Remarks: The process is very easy although the recipe requires an overnight rest. No kneading! You might even turn these buns into your breakfast bread … if you can wake up early, preheat the oven and wait 60 + 20 minutes before the buns are ready 🙂
Result: We used these squares for our ‘travel’ sandwiches – and they proved very nice and ship-shape for such purpose. The buttermilk + a bit of rye flour fermented overnight make these buns really flavourful while the seeds add to the chewiness. As for the appearance, I particularly liked the diagonal slash on top 🙂
Close to where we made our buterbrod-stop, there was this wooden house with a Zinger sewing machine case (who knows, there might be no machine inside). Altogether it was a very blemished but stylish ensemble.
Before we finally got to the other side of the Volkhov river, to the fortress and the rest of the sights, we spent some time in Chernavino, a village with two old churches next to a cemetery (all that is left from a monastery) – one of which was especially curious, all asymmetric and non-straight. Just look at the cross…
and the walls…
And that’s what is so very attractive in these ancient Russian churches with their white walls and wooden decoration!
I even felt as if I was suddenly transported to Greece with its white churches… The loneliness of the place (though completely not sad) and the flowers and grass under the heat, helped create this rather Greek atmosphere.
Just love the volumes and the texture. And the colour!
In the end I took more pictures of this church than of the rest of the sights in Staraya Ladoga 🙂 If you are a fan of such curvy architectural marvels, you should definitely visit the ‘second’ capital of Russia, Veliky Novgorod, which is just packed with ancient churches!
When we finally crossed the river to the fortress, the place got pretty crowded, so we moved on to the rest of the sights, visiting first the Monastery of St Nicolas, founded in 1241 by Alexander Nevsky after his victory over the Swedes. When we first came here (by first I mean the first time during my lifetime) it was all abandoned, bearing traces of some Soviet student campus. Just a year later the works started to bring it back to life.
The main sight of the now much less shabby monastery (apart from the local boys diving from the pier) is this super smug and super well-fed cat, the star of the tourists:
The Volkhov river is a very atmospheric river. It also has these mounds (not the warehouses of course, farther, in the background!) where the vikings buried their dead. Another contested location – the death place of Oleg, Prince Igor’s regent, is supposed to be on one of these mounds (the legend has it that he was bit by a snake which escaped from the scull of his dead horse). For me, this is a very… strong place, sending me some very history-laden messages.
The river – and the port of Staraya Ladoga – played an important role on the way “from Varangians into Greeks”, of which all Russian kids learn first at school. It’s hard to imagine now that these banks were full of merchandise and vessels coming from the Baltic Sea to Constantinople!
Close to the main church of the village, the Precursor Church, is this wooden house with a domovaya (house) chapel. The house is preserved in a very pretty state (there’s some artist living there for sure), which you cannot say about a nearby brick house, apparently very sturdy still but all ruined and abandoned. And why these abandoned places are always so attractive?
Some practical information on Staraya Ladoga: A 2 hour elektrichka ride from the Moskovsky railway station will take you first to Volkhovstroy. From there you should take bus 23 to Staraya Ladoga. The fortress is open from 10 to 5 pm except Mondays. There’s also a merchant’s house open as a museum, several motels and eating places. In July they organize reconstruction festivals. The map with all the sights is here if you understand Russian.