- By Peter Hobson
- Mar. 17 2013 19:41
Main industries: Ferrous metals, machine-building.
Founded in 1639
Interesting fact: Alapayevsk is the starting point of the largest working narrow-gauge railway network in Russia.
Helpful contacts: Stanislav Shangin, head of the municipal district of Alapayevsk. (18 Ulitsa Lenina;
Alapayevsk, Sverdlovsk Region — Though storytellers have labeled this Ural mountain settlement an industrial fairy-tale land, the town is known more broadly and infamously as the place where the Romanov dynasty ended.
Here walked the Mistress of Copper Mountain, the beautiful nymph of the rocks, with a malachite cloak and multicolored lizards, who indifferently dealt out good and evil, doing nothing for the bad, and only occasionally showing favor to the good.
That was the Central Urals as described in the early 20th-century folklore of Pavel Bazhov. Though the earth is poor here, underneath the low hills rests a fabulous wealth of ores, precious stones and metals.
In 1639, on the confluence of two rivers, Alapayevsk was founded as part of the long eastward expansion of the peasantry, whose wooden homes began to spring up among trees. In the first years of the 18th century, Alapayevsk gained a dam, a church and an iron works, which became the foundation of the town's prosperity.
Alapayevsk Metallurgical Factory
(14 Ulitsa Korobkina;
(1 Ulitsa Serova;
Alapayevsk Machine-Building Factory
(1 Ulitsa Tokarei;
This was one of Peter the Great's first industrialization efforts in central Russia, and the break with the past was evident from the beginning. Alapayevsk's Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, with its long body and high pointed spire, hardly resembles the Orthodox churches of old Muscovite Russia. And the original factory, the oldest ironworks in the Urals, still stands. Its rows of arched windows are reminiscent of industrial architecture the world over.
Bazhov looked back to a time of serfs, tradesmen and masters. For him, the region's mineral wealth was something both marvelous and dark, exerting a deep and sometimes distorting pull on the life of those who dwelled above it.
That pull was exemplified by the resource exploitation that followed close behind the first settlers — mining, smelting, lumber.
By the 20th century, Alapayevsk had sufficiently grown in stature to attract French capital for the construction of a narrow-gauge railway designed to transport charcoal to stoke the factory smelters' fires. The first line, with a gauge width of 750 millimeters and built almost entirely by manual labor, began operation out of Alapayevsk in 1898. Over the next 75 years, it became a network of more than 500 kilometers of track linking more than 40 towns, villages, factories, mines and lumber camps in a closed loop that facilitated moving people and raw materials.
However, by the 1970s, with the Soviet economy beginning to stagnate, a liquidation program for unproductive industry began. Lumber yards closed, villages emptied, and track segments were dismantled. The Alapayevsk Iron Works, once the destination on the line, tore up the section leading to its territory.
A: With the breakup of the U.S.S.R, industry suddenly froze. Unemployment shot up, and social programs, which had been provided by the factories, stopped functioning; the new market economy had little time for such obligations. New owners came and went. Some invested; others simply shut factories down.
The sudden loss of industry provoked a flowering of entrepreneurship and small business. A few factories were able to get a foothold, and production, especially machine-building, is rising. Alapayevsk has throughout been able to rely on the diligence and skill of its people. Since 2000 production has risen three times, retail turnover has risen in real terms by 3.7 times, and salaries by 4.5 times.
Q: Alapayevsk's past is industrial. How do you see its future?
A: The future is also industrial. Industry is in Alapayevsk's bones. The region has a fully functional industrial infrastructure, plenty of untapped resources and, most importantly, a deep pool of highly skilled professional workers.
But our future also lies in tourism and small business, which has become the psychological core of Alapayevsk. Regarding tourism, Alapayevsk is astonishingly rich in history and natural beauty. All of this we must open up and develop. Yet infrastructure is lacking. Investment and expertise are needed.
Q: How are people in Alapayevsk different from those in other parts of the country?
A: People here are independent, honest, straightforward. A doubter might say naive or simple, but this would overlook their strengths. Take for example Ivan Danilovich Samoilov, founder of the local Museum of Wooden Architecture and Folk Art. He saw the condition of our magnificent church and, on his own initiative, gathered a band of locals and every weekend for years went and renovated it. People here are talented, decent and straightforward. And they achieve great things.
Still, in 1990, Alapayevsk remained a powerhouse. Since World War II, the town had been a center of metallurgy and machine-building, along with other such facilities in the Ural archipelago of giant industrial enterprises. Factory workshops within giant fenced-off territories inside the town's borders, from which towers poked and steam billowed, continued to be the center of gravity for such settlements.
Alapayevsk has three layers. The historic center is made up of the main factory, church and dam. They are surrounded by the stone and brick houses of the old elite. Among them is the house of Ilya Tchaikovsky, the officer and engineer who brought his family to Alapayevsk when he became manager of the iron works. A year after their arrival, his young son Pyotr left to start his education in St. Petersburg.
The old center is surrounded by the Soviet contribution: solid white brick buildings, simple and functional with the occasional splash of provincially scaled and peeling neoclassical grandeur.
The third layer is made of wood. Row upon row of single-story wooden houses spread outward. Their straight lines are wrenched out of shape by snow and time. No two houses are the same. A mix of heavy logs and fine carving, some are fantastically beautiful. Beyond is the rolling landscape of the Central Urals, carpeted in slender white birch and red pine.
The market economy returned to Alapayevsk after the Soviet collapse with astonishing ferocity. Where once thousands people worked in each great factory, that number is now in the low hundreds.
Many men now make a long commute to the mines in the north, where conditions are harsh but the money is good. They work shifts: a week and a half on, a week and a half off.
As a reminder of local machismo, the town's representative to the State Duma, a young special forces veteran with four medals on his chest, looks out from billboards and promises law and order, always and for everyone. But looking closely at the people on the streets, there is a sense that many are down on their luck. Survival has been hard, as men in black jackets look buffeted and worn by life. The women seem better off, in their fur coats and spotless boots. Proof of limited disposable income can be momentarily detected in gold-toothed smiles.
The hardship is not universal. The well-kept streets of Alapayevsk are full of foreign cars. The buildings are clean. Property prices are rising. Small business is growing. The economy is stabilizing.
Billions of dollars worth of fixed assets — machinery and infrastructure — remain in place on factory floors, as the resources remain in the ground. Big business continues and is profitable. It is simply in the hands of individuals, no longer the mass enterprise it was in the Soviet era.
Having always had strong proletariat roots, it is not surprising that Alapayevsk had a role to play in revolutionary history, though since the time of Gorbachev's glasnost, it has taken on the identity of a great national crime.
Alapayevsk was where the extended family of the tsar was held under house arrest after falling into Bolshevik hands. On the night of July 17,1918, they were taken out into the forest and executed by the Reds, who were fearful of Admiral Kolchak's approaching White Army. Their bodies were thrown into an open mine shaft.
So repentance has become part of the local spirit, and even a source of pride: Alapayevsk knows it shoulders a burden on behalf of the whole nation.
When asked what distinguishes Alapayevtsy, as the locals call themselves, from other people, one resident answered, "the spark of God."
What to do if you have two hours
Stroll through the town center. Start at the hotel Metallurg on the south side of the Neiva River and head up Ulitsa Lenina. Crossing the iron-railed bridge over the river, to the left are the towers of drilling-machine maker Stroidormash; to the right, the twisting pipes and red-brick 19th-century walls of the Alapayevsk Iron Works, behind which rise steep cliffs as the river curls away. Pass the watchtower and through the center of the modern town before descending to the smaller Alapaikha River.
A: The children come from all over the Sverdlovsk region. Most of them are teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16, whose development lags behind that of their age group.
Q: How many kids enter the home each year?
A: Children below school age don't usually get to us, and in the occasional cases when they do, they don't stay long; we quickly find families for them. Only when brothers and sisters need to be taken together does the process take a little longer. Out of the 10 children that came to us in 2012, two below school age have been taken into care, and one has successfully started a professional education.
Q: How has the home's financial situation and level of public support changed in recent years?
A: Local residents are engaged and supportive, and we receive frequent offers of help. While, of course, more funds would always be welcome, state financing of food, materials and salaries has been stable in recent years.
Q: Who most frequently adopts your children?
A: Mostly it is residents of Alapayevsk that serve as foster parents, having gone through our training course. In the last two years, 31 children have been taken in, although there have been no cases of adoption.
Q: How will the ban on American adoptions affect the children's home?
A: The ban will have no affect whatsoever on us or the children here. Considering that local people here take in children, I view the new law positively.
Q: What do you aim to achieve in the coming years?
A: We also focus on the development of cooperation and partnership between the children's home and educational establishments of various types, with the aim of securing high-quality education for the children. We also work on the development of the teaching staff.
Here, amid the Soviet-era palace of culture and a range of beautiful pre- and early revolutionary buildings in various states of picturesque disrepair, is the core of the original industrial settlement. Where the first dam once stood, a bridge now crosses the river. Look down to see the four stone walls of the original factory workshop, dating from 1704.
On the opposite riverbank is the Holy Trinity Cathedral, open with free entry during the day. Built in 1702, this is the oldest stone church in the region, complete with multiple domes and a spire. It recently has been partially renovated, having spent its Soviet days as a bread factory.
Across the road is the stately home in which Tchaikovsky spent part of his childhood. The building now houses a museum offering insight into the formative years and family life of the young man. (30 Ulitsa Lenina;
Behind the Tchaikovsky museum is the house of Ignaty Safonov, inventor of the first water driven turbine in Russia. The location now houses a museum of local history (34 Ulitsa Lenina; phone: +7 343-463-3907). The building itself is also an architectural wonder for this area — stone with a wooden facade. However, its opening times are unpredictable. Call to set up an appointment.
What to do if you have two days
On the road from Alapayevsk to Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha stands the Male Monastery (1 Ulitsa Perminova;
To fully comprehend all the nuances of wooden house construction, head to the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Folk Art in the nearby Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha (phone: +7 343-467-5237;
You can also get around via the narrow-gauge train for the commute between towns and villages. The region has the largest functioning narrow-gauge railway system in the country, starting in Alapayevsk and providing a 270-kilometer lifeline to surrounding
The north-bound train will take you from Alapayevsk to Verkhnyaya Sinyachikha. The approach to the town moves along the lake above the dam toward the now-defunct metallurgical factory. The central station has closed, but the tiny Ugolnaya station on the town's northern edge still functions. Only 100 meters from the station are the steaming basins of Fankom, in which hundreds of birch trunks lie soaking, softening up for their consumption by the factory and their transformation into plywood.
The next station is Yelnichnaya. Once a burgeoning village with a factory producing railway ties and its own brick depot, half the wooden homes of Yelnichnaya are now empty, though the depot remains. Sit in a single carriage warmed by a wood-burning stove in its center, firewood stacked under your bench, and watch the forest pass by the window.
Where to stay
Alapayevsk's only functioning hotel is the Metallurg (2 Ulitsa Nekrasova;
Where to eat
In the middle of Ulitsa Lenina you'll find the most popular restaurant in town: Kichi (12 Ulitsa Lenina 12; phone: +7 950-652-2223). It is as stylish as it comes in Alapayevsk and offers snazzy Japanese, Italian and Russian dishes for about 300 rubles ($10) per person. Sushi fans will not be disappointed, though the classic Russian cuisine may be too experimental.
For an excellent chicken fillet in a price range a little below Kichi's, try Troika (27 Ulitsa Lenina; phone: +7 343-462-1261), further down Ulitsa Lenina toward the cathedral. About 450 rubles will buy a more upmarket experience, with bread warm from the oven, at Cherry (93 Ulitsa Pushkina).
An essential feature of all Alapayevsk restaurants is a good set of speakers. All of these speakers, wherever you go — though in Kichi the volume might be kept to a minimum — will be playing Russian pop music. Whether the music inspires the dancing or the need to sway inspires the music is an open question, but one way or another as the evening progresses people end up moving to the deafening pop beat. Many restaurants have open spaces in their centers to accommodate this, while at others, guests make do with whatever floor space is at hand. This is the essence of the town's nightlife.
For those who prefer a quieter evening, the concert hall at the Tchaikovsky museum and the palace of culture offer a range of events, from classical music to balls and beauty pageants.
Ask a local about locations of natural beauty, and you will get a stream of recommendations and, possibly, invitations. If you're interested, hunting and fishing opportunities abound in the Ural region, as well as equine sports. You can always talk about the weather, complimenting the blindingly beautiful fall, and see where the theme leads you.
How to get there
You can fly from Moscow's Vnukovo and Domodedovo airports to Yekaterinburg's Koltsovo Airport on any of 10 daily flights. Flight time is two hours. Starting prices with carriers Aeroflot and Ural Airlines are about 4,000 rubles one-way. With UTair, you may be able to purchase a round-trip ticket for a little less than 7,000. Alternatively the journey can be made in about 22 hours by train to Yekaterinburg. More than 10 trains a day leave from Moscow's Kazansky and Yaroslavsky stations. Ticket prices start at about 1,700 rubles each way and can be bought
The 150 kilometers from Yekaterinburg to Alapayevsk can be covered by car in 2 1/2 hours. Buses leave roughly every two hours from morning to evening from Yekaterinburg's central bus station, next to the central train station. Tickets can be bought at the ticket office for about 250 rubles one-way.
Two trains depart daily, at 3:12 p.m. and 4:59 p.m. Tickets cost about 200 rubles. The journey time is roughly 4 1/2 hours. Tickets are hard to find online but can be bought at the commuter train counter at the Yekaterinburg central passenger train station.