Ekaterina Vasilyeva: On the Neva

A River for People: What Makes the Neva Tick?
Ekaterina Vasilyeva
Republic
November 29, 2019

All my photo projects are somehow connected with nature, with long walks and studying the environment. I think that without a clear understanding of nature’s role in our lives, we to some extent deprive ourselves of support.

My project The Neva: A River for People, People for the River is an attempt to find a balance between harmony and destruction in the relationship between humans and nature. The role of nature is played by the Neva River, thanks to which my hometown of St. Petersburg was built over three hundred years ago.

Nature has always only been raw material for the builders of cities, and the Neva’s resources were used at the expense of its gradual destruction. In accounts of the city’s history, the Neva has served as an inert backdrop for heroic conquest. For ordinary people, however, the river has always symbolized the individual’s path in life, her destiny. In my project, the Neva is a metaphorical life line for St. Petersburg and the three towns situated along its 74-kilometer course—Shlisselburg, Kirovsk, and Otradnoye.

The importance of rivers and canals for the city used to be strongly underscored. Russians were instilled with a love of water. Under Peter the Great, every householder was obliged to have a boat, and every home on the waterfront had to have a pier. Even the scanty trade by which many boatsmen in old Petersburg supported themselves—the extraction of firewood, logs, and boards for subsequent sale or use—was practiced with gratitude to the Neva as a benefactress. In old Petersburg, these accidental finds had their own name: “gifts of the Neva.”

People nowadays have an ever more aggressive and consumerist attitude to the Neva. On the other hand, there is no doubt the people who live in the Neva basin love their river. This contradiction is one of the subjects of my project.

neva-1An incident occurred in the skies over Leningrad on August 21, 1963, resulting in the emergency landing of a Tu-124 passenger plane on the Neva near the Finland Railroad Bridge. The river is around 400 meters wide at this point. A passing steam tugboat towed the plane to the Neva’s right bank. The windshield in the nose of the plane was broken to secure the tow cable. The passengers were evacuated and sent to Moscow.

neva-2Peter the Great was a big fan of the national pastime. During his reign, hockey matches on the ice of the frozen Neva could attract as many as several thousand spectators.

neva-3Shlisselburg. In 1912, the Finnish archaeologist Julius Ailio recorded the following tale in the village of Mikulainen on the shore of Lake Ladoga: “The Neva River used to be tiny. If a tree fell, it would lodge between one bank and the other, and you could cross the river by walking over it. Then fifty or sixty years later, the river widened. Shepherds would toss burning brands across the river to each other to make campfires. But then the river eroded the land at its source and became quite broad.”

neva-4In 1716, by decree of Peter the Great, fishermen from Russia’s northern provinces were settled on the left bank of the Neva between its tributaries, the Murzinka and the Slavyanka, to supply residents of the capital with fish. Originally, the settlement was called just that—the Fishery Settlement [Rybnaya sloboda]. The name was later changed to Fishermen’s Village [Rybatskoye]. The locals still call the ravine in modern Rybatskoye Pike Harbor.

The Visyachka [“The Hanger”] is a ruined pedestrian bridge on a man-made embankment in the backwater of the Nevsky Shipyard in Shlisselburg.

neva-5The Neva smelt [koryushka] has long been considered a symbol of Petersburg. In 1705, Peter the Great issued a decree to support fishermen who caught smelt. According to legend, Peter called the smelt the “tsar fish,” since it could feed the growing population of his new capital city as it was built.

neva-6St. Petersburg ranks among the top per-capita consumers of water in Russia. Every twenty-four hours, the city “drinks” the equivalent of a lake one square kilometer in size and three meters deep. Despite the official ban, industrial waste continues to be poured into the river.

neva-7The origin of the name Neva is not completely clear. Some historians think it comes from the Finnish word neva, which translates as “bog” or “fen.”

Thanks to Ekaterina Vasilyeva for her permission to reproduce excerpts from her project here. You can look at her entire photo essay about the Neva on her website or on Republic. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Vicky Cristina Petersburg

vicky cristina barcelona

Barcelona should be compared with St. Petersburg rather than with Moscow. The city really resembles Russia’s cultural capital. It has its own language (the press is sold in two languages: Spanish and Catalan), its own traditions, its own attitude to bullfighting (bluntly negative), its own modernist architectural masterpieces, its own neverending construction project (the Sagrada Família), and many other things of its own, something most of the locals do not hesitate to declare openly by hanging the Catalan flag on every balcony, thus demonstrating their own importance and independence.
Salfetki, July 23, 2017

What is this inveterate world traveler on about?

Do Petersburgers have a bluntly negative attitude to bullfighting? Is there bullfighting in Petersburg? (No.)

Do they hang the offical Petersburg or Ingrian flags on their balconies? Do they even hang the Russian flag on their balconies? Do they feel independent from the rest of Russia? (For the most part, no.)

What neverending construction project does Salfetki have in mind?

On the other hand, Petersburg does have modernist architectural masterpieces, but almost without exception they are either ignored altogether or roundly abused.

Maybe there was something to the Soviet policy of keeping the vast majority of its extraordinarily happy socialist subjects locked up inside the country’s endless expanses, because now that Russians (with money) are free to travel the world, especially Europe, all they can see and want to see is either social collapse and rampant Islamization (the first of which they signally fail to notice at home, as they also fail to notice Russia’s rather large NATIVE Muslim population) or a different version of the Motherland, as in this woebegone travelogue.

salfetki-sexy girlfriend in barcelona with Fjällräven backpackSalfetki’s sexy girlfriend on the streets of Barcelona (or is it Petersburg?)—sporting a Fjällräven knapsack, of course.

It is true there are two languages in Petersburg (and the rest of urbanized Russia, as far as I know), although the second language does not have its own press per se. It is more of a patois, like the one spoken by Alex and his pals in A Clockwork Orange. You encounter truckloads of it on social media and trendy websites like The Village (whose blatantly English moniker is hardly accidental).

You also see a lot of it on the streets, as I did yesterday.

novy chiken gurme ekzotik

In Petersburg patois, the sign reads, “Novy Chiken Gurme Ekzotik.” This translates into English as “New Chicken Gourmet Exotic.” TRR

Photos by Salfetki and the Russian Reader

March 3, 2007 (March of the Dissenters, Petersburg)

the_dissenters_march_in_st-_petersburg_march_3_2007
Anti-Putin protesters gathered on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg next to the old City Duma building, March 3, 2007. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

A comrade reminds me that today (March 3, 2017) is ten years to the day from the first March of the Dissenters in Petersburg (March 3, 2007), in which thousands of anti-Putin protesters who had been kettled by riot police on Ligovsky Prospect near Insurrection Square broke through the police lines and marched, nearly unimpeded and without anyone’s “authorization,” all the way down the Nevsky to the old City Duma building, where various “ringleaders,” including the then-fearless and inspiring local politician Sergei Gulyaev, several Natsbols (during their “liberal” phase, now long since forgotten), and Garry Kasparov tried to mount the steps to give speeches, which they did with more or less success until the riot cops infiltrated the huge crowd gathered around the Duma and dragged them away to paddy wagons.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful day, one of the most memorable in my life, and a rare manifestation of real grassroots people power in a city whose populace is too often prone to wait for the cops to give them permission to stand in a dirty, invisible corner of town and hold up their handmade placards, which will be seen by no one except their mostly fairweather friends on Facebook.

If you weren’t there that day, but could have been, you made a big mistake, for which, I suspect, the gods of Ingria will never ever forgive you.

A great time was had by all. Really. TRR

Thanks to Comrade Oregon for the heads-up

Welcome to Nyen, Capital of Ingria

map of nyen

Leonid Storch
Facebook
March 26, 2016

This is one of my favorite maps. Drawn up between 1635 and 1645, it is a snapshot of my hometown seventy years before it was supposedly founded by Peter the Great. In reality, it has been founded by the Swedes way back in 1611 and consisted of the town Nyen (i.e., the Swedish name for the Neva River) and Nyenskans Fortress, situated on the right bank of the Neva. In the late seventeenth century, Nyen’s population had climbed to two thousand. It had a town hall, a hospital, and two churches (Swedish and German). On the other side of the Neva, where the Smolny Monastery is now, there was also an Orthodox church. Nyen had a number of good sawmills, and sturdy ships were built in the town. Merchants from all across northern Europe came to Nyen for the traditional three-week fair held in August. Rye, oats, peas, pork, beef, bacon, butter, salmon, tar, resin, hemp, flax, and timber were brought here from Novgorod, Tikhvin, and Ladoga. The Oriental fabrics (silk, plush, damask) that were all the rage in Europe, as well as skins, leather, fur, and canvas, came via Novgorod. Metals (iron, copper, lead) were shipped from northern Europe, as well as mirrors, English and Dutch cloth, German wools, velvet, and hats.

The Greater Nyen area encompassed forty villages, both Izhorian and Russian, and several Swedish estates. The village of Hirvisaari was situated on Vasilyevsky Island, where I grew up, on the shores of the Little Neva River. We can assume that by the time Russian imperial troops showed up, the population of the Greater Nyen  area was at least four to five thousand people, which was quite a lot at that time.

Russian historiography has preferred to efface ninety-two years of the city’s history and has presented the matter in such a way that, when the Russian imperial troops arrived, the Neva estuary was a deserted “forlorn shore,” on which stood Peter, who, “rapt in thought,” had decided to found the capital city of Sankt-Peterburkh there. Despite the “desertedness” of the Neva’s shores, the newly arrived Russian nobles settled in homes previously owned by the local Swedish aristocracy (e.g., the estate of Swedish Major Eric Berndt von Konow was turned into the Summer Garden); the bricks used to build the Peter and Paul Fortress had been produced right there, in Nyen; and produce was delivered from the villages of the Greater Nyen area.  Subsequently, Peter ordered Nyenskans destroyed, apparently in a bid to destroy his rival in the battle over historical primogeniture. The remains of the fortress were unearthed during archaeological digs in the late 1990s in the vicinity of Krasnogvardeyskaya Square.

The paradox lies in the fact that every city tries to find the roots of its origins and takes pride if it is able to prove its lineage was even a dozen years more ancient than had been previously thought. On the shores of the Neva, however, an entire chapter of the city’s history has been pitilessly expunged, robbing it of ninety-two years of life, at least. Personally, I refuse to recognize 1703 as the year the city was founded. The founding of the Peter and Paul Fortress by the Muscovites in 1703 was an event no more meaningful than the founding of Nyenskans Fortress by the Swedes in 1611.

P.S. The map is aligned from south to north (as was customary in those days) or, to be more precise, from northeast to southwest. To make it easier to recognize the locale, I realigned the image. Thus, in order to read all the inscriptions on the map, you must turn the image around again [as I have in fact done, aboveTRR]. You can find Russian translations of the Swedish inscriptions here. The same website also contains a description of the maps’s history and the principles by which it has been dated.

P.P.S. For more information about Nyen and the pre-Petrine history of our city, see also [in Russian]:

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the nearly indispensable Comrade AK for the heads-up