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Tragic History of Rzhev
July 29, 2015 10:05

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Rzhev, the first town on the Volga River, is not a tourist place, although a tourist path to Seliger goes through it. We cannot say that Rzhev itself has nothing to look at and to do, but it is not suitable for pleasant and informative tours. The reason for this is, of course, its tragic contemporary history. When Russians hear someone mention this town, they immediately recall the line of the poem about war – “I was killed near Rzhev”.

By the standards of Rzhev’s age, these events occurred not so long ago, because archaeological findings suggest that a settlement of Krivichi could appear here already in VIII century. The full-flowing river is the most important trade route and its banks just could not remain uninhabited. The first mention of Rzhev in the chronicles relates to 1216. This is the official year of the town’s foundation.

It overlaps with another chronology - the time that can be called “the years of death”: 1941-1943, seventeen months of German occupation. After the town was liberated only twenty thousand of its residents survived, whereas its population previously made up 150 thousand people. Rzhev was literally destroyed to the ground, a little more than two hundred houses and several churches survived - they were not bombed, because they were used as landmarks.

The Battle of Rzhev that lasted from January 8, 1942 to March 31, 1943 is considered one of the most bloodshed ones in the Second World War. The memories of eyewitnesses who broke through the fields full of corpses are really terrible. A million lives were lost in those fights, on the nameless swamps of Rzhev.

The diorama of the Battle of Rzhev reproducing one of its days - September 24, 1942 – is the main exhibit of the town museum. The museum itself was founded in 1916, and its old collection was also destroyed during the war. So it is natural that Rzhev cannot boast of historic town districts and architectural monuments. The town was rebuilt after the war, although some pieces of antiquity are still preserved in some places. Especially on the left bank of Volga, in Sovetsky district. One example is the estate of Obraztsovs merchants in a style of early classicism built in late XVIII century and falling into decay on Sovetskaya Square. Just next to it there is a State Bank building erected in 1908 as a part of the banking house of Ryabushinskys. A former women’s gymnasium (1893) can be seen on Volodarskogo Street - during the occupation it housed Gestapo, and a garment factory opened there later.

Military signs and obelisks are found on many streets. Sovetsky town district (the historical part of the Prince Fyodor) on the left bank was once considered a “Nikonian” part of Rzhev, and the old believers lived on the right bank, in the part of the Prince Dmitry (Krasnoarmeyskiy town district). On the right bank you can see the red-brick old believers’ Church of Intercession built in the beginning of XX century or the oldest cathedral of Rzhev - Okovetsky Cathedral built in 1839 and restored several years ago. Its main relic is the icon of the Mother of God of Rzhev/Okovetsk. The history of gaining this icon is intricate: people believe that it was found by four thieves that in some mysterious way gathered in a quiet location in the village of Klochky in order to exchange stolen goods. Today the territory of the restored cathedral has a pleasant atmosphere; swallows nest under the roof of the restored bell tower and fill the space with twitter.


Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: Rzhev     

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