The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire


There are curiosities everywhere, should one care to look.

Should one know where to look.

I knew only because a fellow passenger took my elbow and guided my eye and whispered in my ear about churches built without architects, a leaning tower, piers that launch some 300 ships each year, and ancient earthworks running down to the Volga - humble survivors of a fire that leveled even fortified walls at the end of the seventeenth century. She told me of an icon of the Virgin Mother of God known to have put an end to plague and cholera, and of the life-sized wooden image of Saint Nicholas the Wonder-Worker in a chapel of the Trinity Monastery. An image with the power to resolve any argument for no guilty party - Chuvash, Tatar, Cheremis, or Russian, baptized or otherwise - can bear to swear an oath in its presence. 

We were some 16 miles downriver before the tolling of the cathedral bell died away on the wind.

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