I first visited Tomsk in January 2008. A crazy hitchhiking trip through the cold of Siberia, 7 days on the road, first time traveling so far and into such a cold weather with the only purpose of visiting a good friend. I didn’t know anything about Tomsk, but I fell in love with the city from the first moment. A year later, on the way from Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk back to Moscow, I’ve visited the city again. And again it was winter.
What made me to come back for the third time? The Tomsk itself and my friends Dima and Anna. It’s like a tradition, to visit the city every winter.. But apart from that, I also had a planned concert.. That’s why, though Tomsk was quite away from the road to Kazakhstan where I was heading, I hitchhiked about 2000 km more back and forth to bid farewell to Tomsk before leaving Russia..
A Little Bit of History
Tomsk is located on the Tom river, about 300 km to North-East of Novosibirsk.. It was founded in 1604 under a decree from Tsar Boris Godunov, who sent 200 Cossacks under the command of Vasiliy Tyrkov and Gavriil Pisemsky to construct a fortress on the bank of the Tom River to protect Russia from the invasions coming from the south and make the Eastern border of Russia stronger..
In 1804, the government selected Tomsk to become the center for a new governorate which would include the modern cities of Novosibirsk, Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk and eastern Kazakhstan. The new status brought development and the city grew quickly..
The discovery of gold in 1830 brought further development to Tomsk in the 19th century.. However, when the Trans-Siberian Railway bypassed the city in favor of the village of Novonikolayevsk (now Novosibirsk), development began to move south to connect with the railway.. In time, Novosibirsk would surpass Tomsk in importance..
In the mid 19th century, one-fifth of the city’s residents were exiles.. However, within few years, the city would be reinvented as the educational center of Siberia with the establishment of Tomsk State University and Tomsk Polytechnic University.. By World War II, every 12th resident of the city was a student..
Even today Tomsk is famous as a students’ city.. It is said that every 5th resident is a student.. Walking on the streets of the city, you can see that it’s true..
Trans-Siberian railway is very popular nowadays among foreign travellers.. Many people every year take the Trans-Siberian train, but unfortunately, not many of them visit Tomsk, because the city is located a bit away from the railway.. Pity, because Tomsk is quite unique among the other cities of the region..
If Moscow is famous for its Red Square, St. Petersburg for its history, Tomsk is well-known for its old wooden houses with elaborately carved window patterns! This is a must-see!
Nowadays it’s quite common for all the cities of Russia to build tall buildings made of steel and glass.. Buildings that have no souls and no feelings.. Wooden houses are different.. They have a soul.. Wooden houses of Tomsk are like connectors between the past of Siberia and the present.. Each house has a story.. A story of those who were building it hundreds of years ago, in the wild cold, with their own hands, suffering a lot.. Working hard, they were indeed creating a masterpiece..
But unfortunately, as the capitalism hit Russia after Soviet Unions collapsed the cultural heritage was in danger.. As the country developes in new realities, the number of these wooden houses is constantly decreasing.. And the reason is the land, which nowadays is very expensive and can be a good business.. The old wooden houses occupy that expensive piece of cake and the only way to get rid of them is what the officials call the accidentally occurred fire.. There were even several cases when the houses were burnt during the night when people were sleeping inside.. Of course, in all cases the old electricity wires were blamed.. But once the house was burnt, a new building would arise on its place..
Few years ago the situation was really bad, but locals say it’s getting better now.. Although sometimes there are still fire cases, but seems that the government and people are more conscious about preserving their history.. And it gives a hope that Tomsk will survive as an open air museum of wooden houses and carvings..