Thirty kilometres from the town of Lodeynoye Polye, between the Ladoga and Onega lakes, on the left bank of the Svir river, in the place of the village Verkhnie Mandrogi, which was razed to the ground during the Second World War, stands a reproduction of a traditional Russian settlement. The village is a unique centre for recreation and tourism. Mandrogi was designed to accommodate corporate guests and visiting families; here, every effort is made to create a warm, homely atmosphere and welcome each guest with personal attention.
The reconstruction of the village began in 1996, on the initiative of the businessman S. E. Gutzeit, who also sponsored the effort. Back then, the area was no more than an overgrown willow meadow on the banks of the river. In 1999, the Russian Federation government passed a decree to place the village of Verkhnie Mandrogi on the official Map of Russia.
At Mandrogi (which means ‘thresholds’ in the local language, Vepsian) a number of buildings have been constructed, including a series of traditional mansions decorated with intricate carving, two hotels, a post-office and artisans workshop imitating palatial Boyar terems, the homestead of a landowner and a large restaurant, called the ‘Gostiny Dvor’.
Multiple projects—historical, cultural, and commercial—are being implemented at Mandrogi simultaneously. For example, at the artisans’ workshop, masters of folk crafts not only create works of art, but also train all-comers in these subtle (and often long-forgotten) skills.
Beyond the ferry pier with its hand-hewn birch gates, in a virgin wood, one finds the Fairytale Meadow: an ensemble of wooden sculptures that recreate scenes from the prologue to Alexander Pushkin’s epic poem Ruslan and Ludmila. Here you can find the story-telling cat, the knights, the wizard Chernomor carrying the brave knight Ruslan, and the prince’s daughter, Ludmila.
Alongside these fictional characters is a small zoo, featuring the birds and animals that inhabit central Russia.
Adult visitors are sure to be interested by the Vodka Museum. The museum’s collection includes more than two and a half thousand different labels of vodka: this is the number produced in the homeland of this infamous drink. However, the museum staff do not encourage drunkenness—quite the opposite: they explain the benefits of consumption in moderation, and promote a sophisticated drinking culture. The village Vodka Museum is rather a museum that explores a part of Russian life, customs and traditions. The Bread Museum continues the exploration of life in Russian. The first building in the museum is a functional windmill, built to drawings made in the seventeenth century. The mill stands on a small peninsula overlooking the river, and can be seen by navigators far upstream. From the middle of the river, the windmill appears like a bird flapping its wings as it rises straight up out of the water. There are even plans to open an exhibition on peasant life in Russia, entitled “From dawn till dusk”, which will educate visitors about the items that were part of the day-to-day life of village dwellers, from first light to nightfall.
Mandrogi even has its own stable, the mainstay of which is a herd of pedigree Vladimir draught horses, bred and trained not only to pull sleds or carts, but also to carry riders. Visitors who have not yet learned to ride on horseback can take a ride in a Russian troika, a three-horse buggy that took immense efforts to train, but which efforts paid off many-fold, as the results far exceeded even the wildest expectations.
Visitors to the village will inevitably find far more of interest—far better to come and see for yourself than to simply read about it! Amongst those who have already visited Mandrogi are:
the Russian Federation President and Prime Minister, the President of Tatarstan, numerous foreign political figures, and well-known Russian and foreign celebrities and businessmen.
All of these visitors noted the cordial hospitality of the residents. During the summer, tourists from cruise liners are welcomed to the village. Alternatively, you can reach the village over land—by car—or even arrive by helicopter. It should be noted, that the buildings and projects at Mandrogi are not there for the visitors alone. This is not just a working village, but a place where people permanently live, where families are formed, and where children are born, go to kindergarten and attend school. What makes the project unique is the way in which monies earned are distributed. These funds are spent on further development, thewages of village staff, and they pay for the upkeep of the Gorchakov School in the nearby town of Pavlovsk. The school was also founded with sponsorship from S. E. Gutzeit, for children living in the local districts of Podporozhsky and Lodeynoye Polye. The school was designed to model the lyceum attended by A. Pushkin, and one hopes that it will produce plenty of educated and responsible alumni, who will one day make a positive contribution in their motherland.
Who works at Mandrogi? These are regular folks, who are happy to live in a community where they can work without sparing any effort to realize they own ideas. A mandatory condition is the observation of just two rules, which apply to everyone without exception: in the village there is no drinking, and no theft.
Another special feature of the Program is that there is no director—no manager and no boss. The village is managed (both day-to-day running and long-term strategy) by the collective itself. Decisions, depending on their importance and urgency, are made by three tiers of councils: the ‘small’ council is made up of a group of managers of different work areas, the ‘large’ councils are made up of all workers present, while the ‘general’ council is a role fulfilled by the village newspaper. Any employee can voice an issue in the newspaper, ask a question and get an answer.
What does the Program offer for the participants? The main benefit appears to be the firm knowledge that by doing good work one can secure a decent wage, with the added guarantee of respectable living conditions. More than this, village residents gain great pleasure from being a part of a lofty movement, into which they are happy to invest a part of their souls. But this is something that cannot be measured in terms of material benefits…