Text and illustrations by Hugh Gatenby
“The town of Murom, in Russia’s Vladimir region, is some four hours by train due east of Moscow. Beautiful and historical; it was first mentioned in the 9th Century yet it’s not one of more popular ‘Golden Ring’ of classical Russian cities which are dotted outside the capital. A small town of some 120,000 inhabitants, I first learnt of Murom from one of my students, a native of the town and a frequent returnee. She once told me that Maxim Gorky, the Russian writer and revolutionary figure, said of Murom that: “He who has not seen Murom from the river Oka has not seen Russian beauty.” And so I decided that I would put Gorky to the test.
After checking in to the hotel, a twilight walk round the town didn’t disappoint. The town’s twin celebrity saints of St. Piotr and Favonia stood proudly together on their stone plinth, and the spires and onion domes of the newly restored Holy Trinity Convent were silhouetted against a fiery sunset.
In need of rest and succour, I go to Murom’s superb real ale pub, called appropriately enough, ‘Ale and Stout’, where Stas, the chief barmen, lovingly presides over an extraordinary variety of the same. There were indeed more ales and stouts than I’ve ever seen in a Russian pub. A place of genuine warmth and hospitality – foreign visitors are something of a rarity in Murom – the ‘Ale and Stout’ was to become my base for the next three days.
Murom boasts over a dozen fine churches and monasteries, the largest of which; the lavishly restored Preobrazhensky Monastery, is sited on a bluff overlooking the broad, brimming River Oka, which is spanned either side of the town by modern road and rail bridges. The promenade along the embankment is popular with couples and families out for an afternoon stroll. The best view of the town and its surrounds can be had from taking a ride on the big wheel in the Soviet era park, named, appropriately enough, the Lenin Park. My Murom student was brought up in an apartment on Lenin Street and was schooled in a fine, ageing, brick-built academy on Karl Marx Street. Provincial Russian towns and cities still retain their Soviet street and place names.
And so I reflected, as I downed my last pint at the ‘Ale and Stout’, thanked Stas and his trustees and promised to return, that the revolutionary romantic Gorky had a point. Murom is indeed a picturesque town, beautifully situated. I have looked on ‘Russian Beauty’. Recommended.
Top: Single-storey wooden houses tumble down to the river…
Bottom left: Storm clouds. A view into the town from the river embankment.
Bottom right: A high-viz church. The Church of St Nicholas on the Embankment.