Sep 122014

The Yusupovs were a Russian noble family descended from the mogul monarchs of the Nogai Horde who, by the 18th and 19th centuries, were renowned in Russia for their immense wealth which rivaled the Romanovs. They carefully competed with the royal family in their philanthropy and art collections. Prince Felix Yusupov II was famous for his involvement in the murder of Rasputin.

The Yusupov Palace is fascinating because, up until the revolution it was lived in by powerful members of the Yusupov family. The “palace” or mansion had gone through periodic updates or remodeling which reflected changing periods and fashion and is historically informative. The publicly accessible rooms are completely furnished which for me makes them far more interesting than the royal Romanov castles and estates. The “bonus rooms” are those in the basement depicting murder of Rasputin told flamboyantly by every guide.



Historically, Khan Yusuf allied himself with Tsar Ivan the Terrible. However these former allies eventually fell out. Khan Yusuf’s daughter Sumbecca was Queen of Kazan, and when Kazan was razed by Ivan, Khan Yusuf’s daughter was taken as prisoner to Moscow.

After Khan Yusuf died, another period of hostility between his descendants and the ruling families of Russia followed until the 17th century. Finally when Abdul Mirza, yet another descendant, converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity changing his name to Dmitry the family was accepted into mainstream society. After the conversion, Tsar Feodor I bestowed upon Dmitry the title of Prince Yusupov .

The last Yusupov Prince was Prince Felix Yusupov II, Count Sumarokov-Elston, the younger son of Zinaida and Felix Sumarokov-Elston, who is famous for his involvement in the murder of Gregory Rasputin. Felix Yusupov II married Princess Irina, niece of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. After the murder of Rasputin he was exiled to Crimea, but returned to St. Petersburg in 1917

In April 1919, he left Russia for good for Paris taking his most precious paintings by Rembrandt as week as family jewels. He was the last Yusupov prince. His daughter, Irina, married Count Sheremetev’s descendant. They moved to Greece with their children, although recently they were granted Russian citizenship by the Russian President and Irina consults with St. Petersburg Museums about her family’s history and estates. She has no property rights in Russia today.

Petrozavodsk–Shades of the Soviet Era

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Sep 122014

98737581_large_0_1b358_ea9119a8_XLPetrozavodsk is the capital of the Republic of Karelia extending along the western edge of Lake Onega. It is one of Russia’s thriving cities with many green parks and inviting squares flanking its broad, tree-lined avenues. With a university, the city has a large energetic student population and its proximity to Finland lends a markedly European atmosphere.

Literally meaning “Peter’s Factory”, the city was founded in 1703 to establish an iron foundry to manufacture and supply anchors for the Baltic Fleet during the Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden. Today the local economy is based on timber and paper manufacturing with some metal working. Employment rate is high and well paid jobs are prevalent.


Petrozavodsk is a blend of Russian and local Karelian culture evident in the local cuisine and language. As the capital of Karelia, it is a local hub for nightlife and shopping, with several new shopping centers opening in recent years. Architecture of the city is mainly neo-classical, however some traditional wooden buildings can be found off of the beaten track.

Our day ended with a quite wonderful Karelian performance of folk dancing and live music.

Kizhi Island on Lake Onega

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Sep 122014

16409332-lgBeginning in the 14th century, Kizhi Island was part of an exchange route between Novgorod and the White Sea. By the 16th century about a hundred settlements populated Kizhi including neighboring islands and the entire area became known as Spas-Kizhi Pogost. By then it had become an important source of iron ore. In the 18th century, because Tzar Peter I had begun industrial reforms, several ore mines and metallurgy plants were built on the Onega Lake (at the current sites of the modern cities Medvezhyegorsk and Petrozavodsk).

These plants demanded hard physical labor–cutting forests for wood, coal burning, ground works–all performed by local peasants. The labor was forced. If they disobeyed peasants were punished by public beating and fines that sparked local riots. The largest riot occurred in 1769–1771 and is known as Kizhi Uprising. Ignited by a governor’s order to send peasants during the harvest season to work at a metallurgical plant, the peasants disobeyed and boycotted the order. They were soon joined by up to 40,000 people from all over Karelia. The revolt was based in the Kizhi Pogost. The rebels sent petitioners to St. Petersburg, but those emissaries were arrested and punished. A military corps was dispatched to suppress the uprising and arrived to Kizhi by the end of June, 1771. After artillery fire the rebel peasants quickly surrendered. The leaders and 50–70 other peasants were publicly beaten and sent to exile in Siberia. Many others were conscripted into military service which was another form of punishment of the time. However, the recruitment of peasants for the construction of local plants and mine stopped.

Today Kizhi Island now is noted for its open-air architectural museum and reserve. The museum’s invaluable collection of wooden churches and chapels have been relocated from other parts of northern Russia. Today’s visit was apparently a more typical fall day. Instead of sunny Indian Summer weather it was a cloudy misty cool day. Of interest was the preponderance of Russian travelers fulfilling a lifelong dream to visit Kizhi and see examples of their historical rural heritage.