In the footsteps of the ataman

To learn all about the history of the Don Cossacks, visit their former and present-day capitals: Starocherkasskaya Cossack Village and the town of Novocherkassk.

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This travel itinerary begins in the town of Novocherkassk. The preferred mode of transportation is a personal car. Rostov-on-Don lies midway along this route. Leaving Novocherkassk, take the road signposted to Starocherkasskaya Cossack Village, join the M4 highway and then take road R268 to Azov. From Azov, you should return to Rostov and take Malinovskogo Street to road E58. This will take you to Taganrog, with a midway detour to the Tanais Open-Air Archaeological Museum.

Until 1805, the capital of the Don Cossacks was the town of Cherkassk (now known as Starocherkasskaya Cossack Village), but the excess of buildings made it difficult to fight fires and the annual floods of the Don River. Matvey Platov, the chieftain of the Don Host and future hero of the Patriotic War of 1812, petitioned Emperor Alexander I for permission to move the capital. Not only did Alexander give him permission, he ordered Platov to draw a map of the future city. Platov decided to build the new capital in accordance with European templates, on a hill above the rivers Aksai and Tuzlov. On 18 May 1804, Ascension Day, Novy (New) Cherkassk was founded. Amid great fanfare, the capital was moved from Cherkassk a year later, but construction continued for many years.

The town still has two triumphal arcs, which were raised before Alexander’s visit in honour of the victory in the Patriotic War of 1812: the Cossacks did not know which direction the Emperor would arrive from, so they built an arch on each of the major incoming roads.
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The remains of Matvey Platov rest in the Don Host Cathedral of the Ascension, which has been given the status of patriarchal cathedral, along with the Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin.
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Key Don Cossack relics - precious army insignia and chieftain regalia, honorary weapons and suchlike - are kept in Atamansky Palace and the Museum of Don Cossack History.
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Starocherkasskaya Cossack Village is the former town of Cherkassk, the historical capital of the Don Cossacks. The main church, the Don Нost Cathedral of the Ascension, was consecrated in 1719. Peter the Great, who once issued an order forbidding construction of stone buildings anywhere outside St. Petersburg, personally insisted that this strategic cathedral be built of stone. He even took part in laying the foundations, as witnessed by the memorial plaque on one of cathedral’s walls. The main adornment on the cathedral is a carved, gilded icon stand with 150 icons, made by Moscow icon painter Yegor the Greek, who was specially invited to complete the task. Other notable details are the antique church chandelier weighing 500 kg (1,550 pounds) and the shackles nailed at the entrance. It is believed that these shackles were used on Chieftain Stepan Razin after he rose in rebellion at Cherkassk. The rebellion was put down and Razin was taken to be executed in Moscow.
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The cathedral is part of the historical and architectural open-air museum established in 1970 with the help of Mikhail Sholokhov. The writer suggested restoring historical buildings and establishing the Don Cossack museum. Today, Atamansky Palace hosts an exhibition entitled The History of the Don Cossacks in the 16th-20th Centuries. The house of Cossack Kondraty Bulavin hosts an exhibit about the man and the rebellion he organised in 1707, while the house of Cossack Stepan Efremov is dedicated to the traditions of Cossack cuisine.
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The principal landmark of the ancient town of Azov. It’s main attraction is the historical, archaeological and palaeontological open-air museum, which has many unique exhibits, all found in the course of digs around Azov. Moving from room to room, you can picture life in the ancient world as exemplified by a single town. In the palaeontology section, you will find the remains of prehistoric relatives of elephants, rhinos and giraffes: the Deinotherium, steppe mammoth, Caucasus Elasmotherium (giant rhinoceros) and Azov giraffe. The Treasures of Eurasian Nomads exhibition is dedicated to the culture of the Scythians and Sarmatians. There are rooms which describe the times when Azov was part of the Golden Horde and the Ottoman Empire, and those which depict the last three centuries, from Peter the Great to modern times. All of the exhibits include detailed descriptions, a large number of artefacts, costumes, weapons, reconstructions and interactive screens featuring displays such as the organisation of Azov Fortress during the Russo-Turkish War.
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Earth walls of the fortress is the only remaining part of the ancient Azov, but if you climb them, you will find an excellent view of the surrounding area.
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Between Rostov and Taganrog, slightly off the main road, is Tanais, one of Russia’s oldest archaeological open-air museums. An ancient town was built and destroyed several times on this site, beginning in the third century BC. It was a first a Greek town, then Sarmatian, then Italian and Turkish. In 1736, it became a Russian town. The first person to discover the remains of Tanais at the beginning of the nineteenth century was Colonel Ivan Stempkovsky. Archaeological exploration did not begin until 30 years later, but has continued to this day. The ruins of the ancient town cover acres of land and scientists have installed several large-scale models and reconstructions of ancient buildings to help visitors understand them. There is a hut typical of the Meotes people, a Roman bridge, and a Polovets (or Kipchak) sanctuary. Everything found during the archaeological digs - weapons, Greek vases (amphorae), jewellery, clothes, money and scribbled tablets - is sent to the museum collections located right here on site. There are interactive tours for local children and a craft school where they can learn to work with ceramics or do felting. Tourists are allowed to put up tents within the open-air museum.
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The Chekhov Drama Theatre, which was designed and constructed by Russian and Italian architects in 1866, is considered one of the most interesting provincial Russian theatres.
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One of the business cards of Taganrog is the museum-house of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov has celebrated recently its 100th anniversary. The building was created in 1850, while the Chekhov family moved there in 1859. A year after that the famous playwright was born there. The Museum House is not big but the exhibition are located on 30 square meters is impressive – there are objects of everyday life, books, icons for the first half of the 19th century, photos and documents of the Chekhov family.
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You cannot miss one of the first Chekhov places in Taganrog. The visitors of a small museum face a sing "Tea, sugar, coffee and other colonial goods". Pavel Chekhov, the father of the writer, brought his family to that building in 1869, opening a shop on the first floor, where people could buy perfume, sweets, soap, smoked food and even icons. Tea and coffee by weight in the store can be bought in the store even now. The museum exposition is located on the second floor. It is the place where Chekhov’s childhood and early years passed.