Monday, March 14, 2011

Siberian Wooden Houses

Local history is what makes the place unique. Europe is known for keeping its spirit of history.
The past surrounds you everywhere in Europe, you can see history, and feel it in your skin. Ancient cobblestone roads that recall Hannibal, castles built by knights, countless domes that store books written by monks' very own hands — all this helps us realize that the "past" was once the "present" and it was real for many people who lived before us.

Unlike Europe, Siberia can not boast of a rich historical heritage. People have inhabited in Siberia since prehistoric times, but not much remained from its early history. Archaeologists found primitive burial places of tribes that occupied the Altai mountains about a million years ago. Scythian burial mounds — this is almost all that can remind you about the ancient civilizations here. For a long time, Siberia was terra incognita for Russia. The history of Russian colonization of Siberia starts in XVI century, when Yermak began his voyage into the depth of Siberia. Russian cities in Siberia have a relatively short history of about 350-300 years. One of the tenuous clues that still connect modern Siberia with its past is Siberian wooden houses.

When I was a child, I enjoyed walking through old Barnaul. There were many old wooden houses that survived the great fire in 1917 and kept preserved the unique spirit of the old town. Those houses were richly decorated with fine lace-like patterns, and I thought that in the old times, dukes and tsars lived there. I believed that only members of elite society could enjoy that beauty. I think I owe my aesthetic taste to the old Siberian craftsmen.

Time went by. The old town, located right in the modern-day downtown, became a target for greedy developers. When my husband and I came back to Siberia after living in Europe for a few years, we couldn't recognize our hometown. The old wooden houses had been demolished almost everywhere. High rise apartments and offices stood in their place. Each of the wooden house was unique. All high rise buildings are alike. The city lost its face. The thread that bound us to the history of the place was cut. Our ancestors created beauty with nearly bare hands. Nowadays, we have technologies and produce ugly cubicles. Who can evaluate what we've lost? Children that walk on the streets today only see unified buildings. They will think that this is a normal view of a typical city. Their imagination will never be inspired by the beauty of craftsmanship.

Fortunately, not all cities share the destiny of my hometown. A few days ago I found a website with marvelous HDR photo gallery of the Siberian wooden houses.

I wish the houses could stay for centuries, so that our descendants could enjoy them, but let's be realistic. Wood is not the material that can resist time. Most likely, in a few years, these houses will be lost forever too, and this makes the photos even more valuable.