Last weekend a diverse group of Dutch-Russian cultural heritage supporters went to Rostov Veliky to help clean up the 17th century earth fortress located there. Besides being unique in terms of preservation, this fortress is seen as the uniting element in restoring the touristic potential to the site on the whole.

The Rostov fortress is an important monument with relations to the Old Dutch fortification system, as it was constructed with the help of Jan Cornelis van Rodenburgh, a Dutch engineer. This monument is rare in terms of its level of preservation and is a common heritage site for both Russia and the Netherlands that signifies the relationship between the two countries. There are few fortifications of this kind in the world that are so well preserved.  

The use of cleaning machines is not possible at the fortress due to its special status. Therefore NANR members, together with representatives from the Dutch Embassy, the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Tsaritsyno Museum in Moscow organized a subbotnik (volunteer day) at the site. The Rostov city administration and local businessmen greatly supported us in this initiative. 

After a pleasant train ride from Moscow we were warmly welcomed in Rostov with tea (poured from a real samovar!) and traditional Russian sweets. Our hosts also prepared all necessary equipment. For the next two hours we cut down old trees and removed excess vegetation and litter. As a result of the perfect sunny weather or our general enthusiasm we were able to clean up much more than our hosts had anticipated when we began. While we were working, our hosts made a traditional Uzbek dish for lunch – plov (rice pilaf). It was the best dish of its kind that most of us have ever had.

In the afternoon we visited the Nativity Convent and Rostov Kremlin. Both are incredible examples of 17th century architecture, but what seems even more important are the diligent and dedicated efforts of the volunteers and professionals who are eager to preserve their cultural and historical heritage. The day ended with a cozy dinner and warm conversations in a local restaurant. 

The next day we went to Porechye-Rybnoe, a small village near Rostov. Throughout its long history it has maintained fruitful connections with the Netherlands. Village residents have acquired a great deal of knowledge about gardening from the Dutch over the years and have successfully implemented much of what they’ve learned. One resident, Valentina Porygina, has organized a local museum, which locals have supplied with large and small everyday items that they and their families have been using for centuries. Some might find the collection rather modest, but it shows historical development on the local level and demonstrates the love that local residents have for their hometown. 

We hope that this initiative will help to preserve this amazing area and develop it into a larger historical and cultural complex. We are grateful to the Rostov city administration, the representatives of Russian museums and the Dutch Embassy in Russia for organising this trip. And of course, we would also like to thank all of the NANR members that joined us. 

A couple of participants shared their impressions from the trip.

Anna Soloveychikova:  "It seems that our subbotnik had two dimensions to it: physical and spiritual. What is more, during the whole trip we witnessed small miracles like in Russian fairy tales. Wasn’t it a miracle to see the mayor of the city working all day long with everyone, or to take a walk through a nearly destroyed monastery and see undamaged frescos on its walls? Or to receive help with our transport issues on the second day [we had just one car for nine people] by a motorcycle group that just happened to be passing by?"

Dmitry Zaytsev: "It was a real pleasure to get away from a stuffy Moscow office to such an old Russian town as Rostov. It was great to contribute to the development of the Rostov Kremlin, meet representatives of the kremlin and have lunch in an authentic atmosphere with a Russian samovar. And, of course, it was great just to spend a day with the alumni of Dutch universities, who also dared to wake up at 6AM on a Saturday morning and travel six hours in total just to participate in a subbotnik and a cultural programme."

Find more pictures here.