The Baltic Course  

When the bells solemnly ring…

By Olga Andreyeva

At the end of July this year the Russian city of Pskov celebrated its 1,100th anniversary. It’s one of the oldest cities both in Russia and all of Europe. It is almost of the same age as Russia herself, i.e. in the year 852 A.D. the land of Russia was first mentioned in Chronicles. Some fifty years later – this ancient city…

Photo: Pskov eparchy

In the Pskov-Pechersk monastery.

With the assistance of the Freedom House and the St. Petersburg’s Union of Journalists, a group of Latvian and Estonian journalists visited this beautiful city on the eve of its anniversary .


Saint Olga, and just a few lines of history

“The Primary Russian Chronicle” (Povest vremennich let) mentioned the city of Pskov for the first time in 903 A.D. So now it’s a good ground for celebration, and a good reason to ring the church bells. But when the bells solemnly ring, its time to dwell about other things...

From time immemorial, Grand princess Olga has been the symbol of Pskov. And again, there is a good reason for this, among other things that she attributed the title of Saint for her merits to the Orthodox Church. According to legends around these places some eleven hundred years ago, when crossing the River Velikaya, Igor, the Grand Prince of Kiev, spotted a beautiful girl. Olga was a native of Pskov and a Slav. He fell in love with her, and they married. Olga became Prince Igor’s wife, a wife of the first Prince in a dynasty that ruled Russia for centuries, Ruirik at Novgorod. That is if we stick to a Norman theory of Russia’s creation; there are, of course, several other theories.

Oleg’s thirty-three-year rule has left him a legend known as “Wise Oleg” (Veschij Oleg). Olga learned, of course a lot, she was “the wisest of women” a chronicle stated. Their son Prince Sviatoslav ruled from 964 to 972, but before that from 945 to 964, his mother Princess Olga ruled acting as regent. After having visited Greece, Princess Olga was baptized and slowly introduced the Orthodox confession to all Russian people. This part of the story ended with the fact that her grandson, Grand Prince Vladimir I, became the founder of the Russia’s Orthodox Church.

All that was not widely known to the residents of Pskov. But today, in connection with the glorious anniversary, Olga’s name is often mentioned in the Pskov media, her pictures are on posters. During the days of celebration, the city got two monuments of the famous person at the same time. Vyacheslav Klikov is the author of the first monument; it is located down town. The other monument was a present to Pskov by a sculptor from Moscow, Zurab Tsereteli, a famous and controversial artist not very much esteemed among Russians; the monument was placed in the square right in front of the hotel “Riga”. Mayor of the city, Mikhail Choronen said “of course, as a citizen of Pskov, I like V.Klikov’s monument more, but as it concerns Z.Tsereteli’s “Olga” -well, tell me – who ever refuses presents? Therefore both monuments are going to stay in Pskov”.


People fall in love, get married…

To put it bluntly, Pskov is not the richest city in Russia, far from it. Small villages surrounding the city are particularly poor. Two thirds of Pskov’s regional financial resources come from the Russian Federal budget.

However, according to the city’s mayor, during the last three years we’ve noticed growth indicators in our economy. The city budget revenues for the first time last year reached 1 billion rubles; 22% of which were allocated to the city’s needs. The average salary in the city in 2002 was around 113 US dollars per month, and increase by 43% compared to the previous year. The city’s residents welcome an increase in the birth rate and the number of marriages.

There is more direct evidence of changes in the life of local residents. The new-rich, or “New Russians”, have started to build “mini-castles” in various places of the city. And according to the city mayor, the citizen’s attitude towards them is changing for the better.


Everybody wants good neighbors…

Relations with neighbors, i.e. Estonia and Latvia, can be visualized in the city almost everywhere. Tens of joint enterprises operate in the city, mainly involved in wood processing. For example, Riga Street is covered with Latvian tiles. Pskov is a “friendship city” to Latvia’s Valmiera, another “friendship agreement” has also been signed with another Latvian city - Daugavpils. Representatives of Pskov’s City Council have opened their restaurant “Rasputin” in Tartu, Estonia. Examples are numerous…But the city mayor M. Choronen considers economic cooperation with the Baltic States insufficient, both sides, could be doing much more.


A day in the monastery

We were very lucky. We spent a whole day in the Pskov-Pechersk’s St. Assumption Monastery. Nobody knows when the first desert pilgrimages came here, found natural caves and started their living patterns here. But the year 1473 is a commonly accepted date of the monastery’s foundation. Some years ago, as a schoolgirl, I happened to visit these beautiful places. The Assumption Cathedral’s dark blue onions with white golden stars (“Russian Baroque” style) are really unforgettable. And now, once again, I can see this miracle of Russian architecture. It’s wonderful!

And again a blessing sign from my Russian motherland. Monk Alexander, our so called personal guide for the tour, came to the monastery 9 years ago from Riga. He has to do a lot of things around the monastery, at the same time: he operates the boiler-house, he is a bell-ringer, and a guide for “prominent” visitors. Following long-legged Alexander, we climbed the monastery’s hills, walked in the big garden, went down to the famous caves, visited the garden-house, which was built for Peter the Great, - a smoking place (it is forbidden to smoke in the monastery itself). We also tried to help Alexander – together we quickly decorated the monastery’s bell tower with ribbons, and afterwards, we enjoyed the sound of the big bell, watching how professionally the monks operated the bells from the ground, some of the bells weigh several tons. The largest of six bells was a present from Peter the Great and weights 4 tons.

We also attended service in the magnificent Church in Mikhailovsk. Afterwards we were invited for lunch in the monastery’s dinning room; a quite humble monastery meal was served. Then, for almost an hour, we spoke to the monastery’s host, archimandrite Tikhon, a pleasant man to talk to, who had to put certain efforts finding answers to questions of the young, scrupulous journalists.

After that we visited another famous place in Pskov, the ruins of the old city – Izborsk. The place is incredibly beautiful: hills, lakes in such a transparent blue color that it takes your breath away. In the local cemetery, we found again evidences that linked our countries – Latvian names engraved on the stones…

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to visit the places once inhabited by Pushkin, which, as people say, have been preserved in perfect condition. But that only means that we will have to return to this incredibly beautiful place once more someday.