THE RUS­SIAN SE­CRET SPOT

Plyos, a me­dieval town in Rus­sia, is a va­ca­tion spot where you’d be sure to run into Putin’s pals

Muscat Daily - - FEATURES -

Many towns in Rus­sia’s Golden Ring - a com­pact net­work of an­cient, fairy-tale vil­lages north­east of Moscow - have con­nec­tions to the coun­try’s em­per­ors and czars. Ivan the Ter­ri­ble va­ca­tioned in the 11th cen­tury town of Yaroslavl; Peter the Great grew up in Pereslavl; the Ro­manovs were said to have links to the town of Kostroma.

“Ev­ery­where you look here there are sto­ries about power strug­gles or po­lit­i­cal in­trigue,” a lo­cal monk told the South China Morn­ing Post mag­a­zine in 2015.

But one Golden Ring town has been ex­empt from a po­lit­i­cally charged his­tory… un­til now.

Plyos, a me­dieval mer­chant town on the Volga with just 2,000 per­ma­nent res­i­dents, has scarcely been in the spot­light since it was set­tled by Slavs in the 10th cen­tury. Its claims to fame have typ­i­cally ranged from the ob­scure (tal­ented linen pro­duc­ers! Ex­cel­lent smoked sea bream!) to the cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant - the town was a source of in­spi­ra­tion for the great land­scape painter Isaac Le­vi­tan.

Fast-for­ward to 2017, and Plyos is oc­cu­py­ing an in­creas­ingly large share of na­tional in­ter­est. For one thing, Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev has been reg­u­larly va­ca­tion­ing in a sprawl­ing com­pound just a few miles be­yond the town’s main road - com­plete with a ski slope and chair­lift, a man-made lake, mul­ti­ple he­li­pads, and a 20ft tall fence to con­ceal it all. (Of­fi­cially, it’s a guarded, gov­ern­men­towned res­i­dence.)

And Medvedev is just one of a grow­ing num­ber of prom­i­nent lo­cal va­ca­tion­ers. The for­mer Rus­sian am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton has a dacha in Plyos, as does a for­mer gover­nor of St Peters­burg and Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. (The town is equidis­tant to Rus­sia’s two largest cities.) No sur­prise, the coun­try’s rich­est busi­ness­men are now sweep­ing up week­end homes. Even Putin him­self was ru­moured to be com­mis­sion­ing a house in the area.

So what’s draw­ing the Rus­sian elite to this bur­geon­ing Hamp­tons on the Volga?

A Seven-Fig­ure Cash In­jec­tion

Plyos’s re­vival is the re­sult of one (very wealthy) man’s cru­sade: Alexey Shevtsov. When the Soviet Repub­lic col­lapsed in 1991, Shevtsov nav­i­gated the rocky econ­omy and be­came one of the coun­try’s most renowned fi­nan­cial con­sul­tants.

Emo­tion­ally, Shevtsov was in­vested in Plyos as a place of great nos­tal­gic value - his grand­mother had owned a home nearby, and he’d al­ways dreamed of hav­ing his own dacha in the town that claimed his best sum­mer­time mem­o­ries. So with a few decades of fi­nan­cial suc­cess un­der his belt, he re­turned to Plyos in the early 2000s to dis­cover a run-down town in need of a se­ri­ous cash in­jec­tion. “I de­cided to leave stocks and bonds for younger peo­ple,” Shevtsov said of his de­ci­sion to switch gears from fi­nance to ar­chi­tec­tural preser­va­tion. “Plyos was in poor con­di­tion, and I wanted to do some­thing for our Mother Rus­sia.”

So in 1998, Shevtsov bought a plot of land along the Volga River, in the mid­dle of down­town Plyos, and got to work fig­ur­ing out what had been there be­fore. With the help of his­tor­i­cal records, he learned the ins and outs of the town’s dis­tinct ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage - and was able to re-cre­ate the for­mer home on his land.

Plyos had its ups and downs un­til a trad­ing boom in the early 1800s in­spired a wave of am­bi­tious de­vel­op­ment, largely in the form of highly or­na­mented wooden houses and churches. “Th­ese frag­ile wooden de­tails, they need to be re­stored like they re­store tem­ples in Asia, ev­ery 25 years of so,” Shevtsov said. “It’s com­pli­cated work and ex­pen­sive one, to keep this mag­nif­i­cent wooden town in all its splen­dor.”

But Shevtsov ac­cepted the re­spon­si­bil­ity, buy­ing one build­ing - then an­other, and an­other - un­til he amassed more than three dozen restora­tion projects within a roughly 1 mile ra­dius. (Plyos, ex­plained Shevtsov, is com­pa­ra­ble in size to New York’s Cen­tral Park.) When asked how much this has cost him, he laughed. “Many mil­lions I have spent.” More laugh­ter. “Many, many mil­lions. An im­por­tant per­cent­age of what I have.”

Plyos has had its fair share of posh vis­i­tors, past and present. “Le­vi­tan saved Plyos from obliv­ion when he cre­ated sev­eral well-known mas­ter­pieces,” ex­plained Shevtsov. The artist was alive in the lat­ter half of the 19th cen­tury and was at the peak of his fame in the 1880s and ’90s. “And af­ter that, Plyos be­came fash­ion­able among pain­ters, opera singers, ac­tors, bour­geoisie, and in­tel­li­gents.”

Plyos’s chic­ness sub­sided un­til Shevtsov’s work started to re­claim the town’s rep­u­ta­tion. By 2008 a re­porter re­vealed that Medvedev was de­vel­op­ing a com­pound nearby - and had stopped into a lo­cal restau­rant for lunch with two gover­nors. Overnight, Plyos’s star reemerged.

“A com­mu­nity has formed here: diplo­mats with well-known names, busi­ness­men, im­por­tant peo­ple, and in­ter­est­ing, in­tel­li­gent, suc­cess­ful peo­ple,” ex­plained Shevtsov.

(Bloomberg)

A house­boat on the Volga River pulls into Plyos

De­tails from a tra­di­tional wooden house in Plyos, fresh off a restora­tion The domes of the Res­ur­rec­tion Church, with the town of Plyos in the back­ground The Le­vi­tan mu­seum in Plyos, which show­cases land­scape paint­ings in­spired by the town

In Rus­sia’s early his­tory, czars would ar­rive to Plyos on the Im­pe­rial Yacht

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