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Borovsk is located in the Kaluga Oblast, not far from Moscow.Borovsk:
Painted in its own History

By Josh Wilson and Andrei Nesterov

Borovsk hasn't changed much in the last couple centuries. Passed over by railroad development plans and Soviet industrialization plans, the town became a museum relic depicting its own 19th century image, from a time when merchants used the river to harvest wealth from Russia's profitable trade routes. It is thus perhaps ironic that the city is now a darling of the Internet. Posted pictures and discussions of the work of local mural artist Vladimir Ovchinnikov are proliferating almost as fast as Ovchinnikov's murals, which are rapidly painting the town in its own history.

Vladimir Ovchinnikov (bottom left) explains one of his murals to a group of American students with an interpreter provided by SRAS.Located in the Kaluga Oblast just 67 miles south of Moscow, Borovsk was officially founded in 1358 (although people likely lived there for century or more before that), on a well-defended hill-top position in the midst of a thick pine forest, from which the city likely took its name. The word for "pine" is "bor" (áîð) in Russian.

It was during this time, at the tail end of the Mongol domination of Russia, that Moscow was becoming a major administrative center. In part to strengthen a defensive ring Moscow was constructing around itself, the Pafnuty Monastery was founded in 1444 just three kilometers outside the Borovsk and was designed to double as a fortress. This structure helped the economy and population grow. Strengthened several times over the years, by the time the Poles invaded the area in 1610, the monastery was described in Diary of the Events of the Time of Troubles as "reasonably strongly fortified, surrounded by deep water and entrenchments." The Poles only managed to capture it by convincing one of the guards to open the gates one fateful night. All 12,000 defenders inside were slaughtered.

The monastery was badly damaged, but still stands today and is open to tours. It's also become the object of at least one Internet enthusiast, who captured the monetary walls and surrounding countryside as a Quicktime 3-D image.

1610 would not be the last time that Borovsk saw battle or rebels. In the later 17th century, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced a schism as a group that would come to be called the "Old Believers" resisted reforms the Church leadership was attempting to implement. The Archpriest Avvakum, one of the Old Believers' most prominent leaders, was interred in the fortress-monetary of Pafnuty. Other prominent members of the group were held captive in a local chapel by the tsar's soldiers, where they were denied food until they would recant their beliefs. Several died of starvation.

Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Borovsk's mural artist. Photo by Sarah Kapp.In 1812, Borovsk was occupied by Napoleon's army as it tried to advance to the city of Kaluga on the way to Moscow. Napoleon stayed in Borovsk for three days, waiting for news from his general on the progress the advance was making. However, he was to be disappointed – his army was defeated. Napoleon was forced to make a retreat along the Old Smolensk Road, made more difficult because it was through territory these same troops had ravaged in their advance. The 2-storied building where Napoleon stayed still stands in Borovsk. As part of his recent series, local mural artist Vladimir Ovchinnikov has painted the likeness of the hard French retreat on the building walls.

Ovchinnikov, a retired construction engineer, petitioned the city government to draw his murals after discovering the town seemed to be losing sight of its own colorful history and former residents. There are a variety of scenes and peoples depicted. These include Admiral Senyavin, who was born near Borovsk, fought many successful sea battles for the Tsarist navy, and would later be idolized by the Soviets. Also pictured is the philosopher Fyodorov, who argued that someday humans can become essentially more than human through mastery of technology to overcome the restraints of the physical world. While his theories have not fully come to fruition, they did greatly influence such people as the scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, also born near Borovsk and also featured in the murals. Tsiolkovsky, in the 1800s, described a design for a manned space rocket that is shockingly close to the design NASA used for the Space Shuttle.

Prof. Galloway, three students, and a babushka strike an artful pose in front of one of Borovsk's many murals during a group tour of the Russian town.A great number of the murals, however, depict everyday people enjoying everyday work and relaxation, from girls carrying buckets of water to merchants enjoying afternoon tea. After all, most of the residents of the small town have always been "hard-working kitchen-garden workers," says a poem by Elvira Chastikova, a local poet whose work also accompanies one of the murals.

The mural project is proving to be highly effective. Many local residents have posted pictures, even entire sites about the murals and their town. Russians and foreign tourists alike are beginning to take a serious interest in Borovsk and its history, and are beginning to go out of their way to get to this secluded town to tour the murals (the artist himself is available as a guide!), patronize its surprisingly friendly shops and cafes, and to tour its historical buildings, which include numerous merchants' houses and a total of ten Russian Orthodox churches and four Old Believers' churches, all set in the quaint, forested countryside of "real Russia."

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