In the Kingdom of Samovars

Over Tea by Konstantin Korovin (1888)

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There is an old tradition in Russia to have tea from a samovar. In the olden days, in order to boil water in a samovar it was necessary to go through a complicated process named “starting the samovar”. Coals were put into a pipe that was inside the samovar and served as a heater. The next step was as good as a circus when a long boot was attached to the pipe and air was pumped onto the smoldering coals. Incidentally, when President Obama visited Russia for the first time, Prime Minister Putin treated the honourable guest to a Russian-style meal during which air was pumped into the samovar with a long boot, like in the olden days. The traditions of national tea-drinking are carefully preserved in the old town of Gorodets on the Volga which has the largest museum of samovars in Russia, with several hundred exhibits. It is a real samovar kingdom.

The variety of samovars on show is mind-boggling. You can find all sorts of samovars there, copper and silver ones, egg-shaped and spherical, pumpkin-shaped and wine-glass-shaped. The Spider-Samovar, called so for its fanciful thin legs, stands alongside with the Don Juan Samovar, stately and good-looking, in a patterned hat and with its arms akimbo. The Soldier-Samovar, on the contrary, stands at attention, an example of real military bearing. These handsome pot-bellies also differ in their capacity, says director of the museum Natalia Semisotova:

“The smallest samovars with a 75ml capacity are “egoists”. The largest one is a pub samovar for 53 litres. The tete-a-tete samovars make enough for two cupfuls. One tete-a-tete samovar has two taps and another has three taps, which is unique and can be seen only at our museum. There are also travelling, camp and army samovars – a great variety.”

All 400 exhibits are different from one another and all are in working condition: you can make tea right now! The oldest samovars take us to the past, to the days of Peter the Great, Natalia Semisotova says:

“The samovar acquired its modern appearance at that time and now we can say that it is our national invention, the Russian samovar. The forerunners of the samovar were saloop kettles and copper kitchens, - our guide continues. – The copper kitchen is a pan which cooks using internal heat. Its body is divided inside into two or more parts. Cabbage soup and porridge were cooked at the same time. Incidentally, these sorts of samovars served as the prototype for army field kitchens”.

The unique collection was amassed by local resident Nikolay Poliakov. Only half of it is displayed at the museum, all in all there are over 800 samovars. It all began many years ago with the family samovar which Nikolay inherited from his grandfather. There was a day when the large Poliakov family sat down together around this samovar. Nikolay was the thirteenth child in the family and now this grandfather-samovar is the most revered exhibit of the museum.

Apart from samovars, Gorodets is famous for other things as well. Gorodets painting is one of the most well-known Russian crafts, which is over 150 years old. It can hardly be confused with any other: the flamboyant colours of summer meadows, magnificent garlands of flowers, fantastic birds and dashing Gorodets horsemen speak for themselves.

Gorodets bakers make 30 kinds of delicious fancy-shaped gingerbread that is the best treat for a convivial sit-down and make for a wonderful souvenir. All visitors of the museum are offered a cup of tea with Gorodets gingerbread.

In this old Russian city founded in 1152, famous Russian warrior and commander Alexander Nevsky ended his days on the 14th of November 1263. On his way home from the Golden Horde, the Tatar-Mongol state, he suddenly fell ill and took monastic vows on his deathbed in the Gorodets monastery. As is known, in 2008 this legendary historical figure’s name was chosen as the symbol of Russia by a nationwide vote.

Source and Copyright: The Voice of Russia
1 June, 2011