The Charm of an Older Era: What to See in Veliky Ustyug

Veliky Ustyug, an ancient merchant town with two-storey mansions and narrow paved streets, is the traditional home of Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, the Russian counterpart of Santa Claus

Rambler.Travel invites intrepid travellers to visit the Slavic Santa’s hometown.

Grandfather Frost’s Home and the Post Office

The winter wizard’s official home is an old mansion in the heart of Veliky Ustyug near Cathedral Square. Grandfather Frost’s residence has a museum with presents sent to him by children from across the country and they play host to master classes in woodcarving, lacemaking and other traditional arts and crafts. Visitors can have their photos taken dressed up as Ded Moroz or Snegorechka, his assistant.

Next door is the Magic Post Office, which receives all letters addressed to Ded Moroz, their messages faithfully delivered there by the Russian Postal Service. As of today, the Magic Post Office has received nearly three million letters from around the world.

The letters are answered by the Magic Post Office staff, which puts on stamps, writes the addresses and encloses the traditional New Year greeting in the post office in front of visitors.

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Cathedral Square

Scattered around Veliky Ustyug are 28 churches dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. The town’s spiritual centre is Cathedral Square, home to the Assumption Cathedral, St. Prokopius Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Righteous and the Epiphany Church.

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The first structures on Cathedral Square were built in the middle of the 12th century on the site of an ancient Russian fortress. The Assumption Cathedral that now dominates the square was built in the 15th century in order to replace a 13th-century wooden church that had suffered from frequent fires. The Assumption Cathedral is a copy of the same-name house of worship located in Moscow’s Kremlin and is considered to be the first large stone cathedral in the Russian North.

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Severnaya Chern Factory

A tour of the Severnaya Chern Factory offers an opportunity to see the unique traditional craft of niello jewelry manufacturing. Visitors can see decorations being made from 925-grade silver, observe the factory’s artists as they engrave traditional patterns by hand using a centuries-old technique and even cut a design on different metal objects themselves, such as a snowflake on a lucky coin.

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The Severnaya Chern museum has a fascinating collection of historic and modern niello silverwork produced by the factory. The tours of the museum and the factory are by request only.

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The Museum of New Year and Christmas Decorations

Located in the 18th-century Church of Women Bearing Myrrh, the museum presents a wide variety of Christmas and New Year decorations and toys, some of which were made 150 years ago. There are dozens of Christmas trees with decorations dating from different time periods. The museum also features Christmas and New Year greeting cards, countless figures of Grandfather Frost and the Snegorechka, porcelain figurines, children’s toys and photographs from the 1930s and 1950s. One of the rooms contains an exhibition focused on Christmas and New Year celebrations in different countries.

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The museum houses a total of 1,500 exhibits, including century-old Christmas decorations made from birch bark, wood and ceramics.

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The Troitsko-Gledensky Monastery

This Russian Orthodox monastery is located on Gleden Hill near the confluence of the Sukhona and the Yug rivers four kilometres from Veliky Ustyug. Most of the monastery buildings date back to the late 17th and early 18th centuries and were constructed using money given by wealthy Ustyug merchants.

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The most prominent landmark of the monastery is the sumptuous Baroque-style iconostasis of the Trinity Cathedral, which is carved from wood. The monastery includes the Church of the Tikhvin Icon of the Virgin, the Assumption Church, an old watchtower and a gate.

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Opoki

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The small village of Opoki is located about 70 kilometres from Veliky Ustyug along the Sukhona River. Spectacular colourful cliffs that reach 70 metres in height form the opposite bank of the Sukhona. This unique geological phenomenon is more than 200 million years old.

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In the mid-1940s, Opoki was home to a prison camp and more than 1,000 prisoners were sent here to construct a hydro power station and a dam across the river. In April 1947, however, the dam was destroyed by floating ice, leading to the closure of the camp. The remains of the dam and lock chamber can still be seen today.

The fountain that is active year round on the opposite bank of the river first appeared in 1941 when geologists looking for quartz sand to support local glass production drilled into a basin of ground waters.