The flavours of the Russian South

Thanks to the merchant mansions and the colours of the Old Bazaar, the centre of Rostov-on-Don continues to exude its pre-revolutionary charm.

Valery Matytsin/TASS
The majority of the city’s old buildings can be found around Pushkinskaya and Bolshaya Sadovaya Streets. It is best to get around on foot; when you need to get to the left bank of the Don, you can take a taxi or use one of the public minibus taxis. This walk begins at one of the city’s main streets, Pushkinskaya, which is not even really a street, more like a very green boulevard planted with silver firs, birch trees and lilacs. Historically, the street was known as Kuznetskaya (Blacksmith), but it was renamed in 1885 in honour of the great Russian poet who visited Rostov several times on his way to the Caucasus resorts. The monument to Alexander Pushkin appeared much later, in 1956, and in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the boulevard was also decorated with wrought iron spheres depicting stories from Pushkin’s life and scenes from his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin.

On both sides of the boulevard, you will find impressive mansions built during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Legend has it that house #79 was imported in pieces from Italy by a local entrepreneur, Ivan Suprunov. Sabina Spielrein, one of the world’s first female psychoanalysts, a student of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, lived at #83. The neoclassical mansion of publisher Nikolai Paramonov was designed by Leonid Eberg, a Moscow architect who, in 1911, was invited to become the ‘superintendent in charge of Rostov’s development’.
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The beautiful house of lawyer Alexander Petrov at 115 Pushkinskaya Street became the Fine Arts Museum in 1938. Its collection includes still lifes by the Little Dutch Masters, genre paintings from the workshop of Rubens, Chinese vases and jewel boxes, Samurai swords, Piranesi drawings and Russian art, from the icons of the sixteenth century to the Peredvizhniki art group of the late nineteenth century and collages of the twenty-first.
Alongside Pushkinskaya Street, but slightly closer to the Don River, runs Rostov’s central street, Bolshaya Sadovaya. This is where the city’s administration and businesses have their offices and it is also the heart of Rostov’s cultural life. Until the mid-nineteenth century, this area was actually outside the city limits and was a genuine garden. But Rostov was growing and in the 1870s, a street appeared. Gradually, it filled up with banks, hotels, shops and private houses belonging to the rich residents of Rostov. Many of these mansions still stand to this day. For example, the House with Caryatides at 27 Bolshaya Sadovaya was built for Margarita Chernova, an actress at Rostov Drama Theatre, by one of her admirers. Back in those days, the house hosted magnificent balls with opera performances by Feodor Chaliapin and poetry readings by Nikolai Gumilev.

In addition to the shops, the Trading House of Yablokov at 64 Bolshaya Sadovaya was the location of a famous nightclub and one of the first cinemas in the region. The fanciest building, #47, is the City Council. It was built by the Provost of the Imperial Academy of Arts, Alexander Pomerantsev. If you think that the building resembles Moscow’s GUM department store, this is no coincidence: Pomerantsev designed the Upper Trading Rows of the GUM store, too.
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You can learn more about the history of Rostov’s mansions at the Local History Museum located at 79 Bolshaya Sadovaya Street. The museum has an interesting collection that includes artefacts from prehistoric times, such as the stone axes of primitive humans; a large scale model of the fortress of Saint Dmitry Rostovsky, and the diorama Animals and Birds at Home, depicting the fauna of Rostov Region.

Valery Matytsin/TASS
A block away from the Local History Museum is Voroshilovsky Avenue, which runs from Gagarin Square to the Voroshilovsky Bridge. This bridge was built in the mid-1960s, using a revolutionary gluing method: there was no welding and no screws; all of the junctions were connected with a powerful glue developed in a secret chemical laboratory.

In the pedestrian underpass at the junction of Voroshilovsky Avenue and Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, a unique Rostov landmark can be found: a gigantic mosaic panel made out of ordinary tiles that depicts the stages in a child’s life, from birth to high-school graduation ball. In the mid-1970s, there were plans for a metro system in Rostov and the construction crew was given the task of building and decorating pedestrian underpasses at those locations where metro station entrances would later be dug. Tiling expert Yuri Labintsev proposed his sketches to the head of the construction crew and the designs were approved. Underpasses at neighbouring streets also have panels created by Labintsev, but depicting other topics: at the junction of Budennovsky Avenue and Moskovskaya Street, the tiles were used to recreate scenes from the novel And Quiet Flows the Don, as well as sketches of Rostov life, views of the city and the region’s flora and fauna, while the underpass at the junction of Bolshaya Sadovaya Street and Budennovsky Avenue is dedicated to the Second World War.
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Around Sobornaya/Cathedral Square, next to Budennovsky Avenue, lies Central Market, also known as the Old Bazaar. Here you can buy anything, from sausages to fabric. And it is no exaggeration to talk about hundreds of square metres of meat: sirloins, filets, entrecotes, shanks and marbled beef, all of the highest quality and freshness, can be found here. Next to the meat is the fish: small fish are sold from behind the stalls, while larger ones - trout, salmon, red-finned mullet and carp - are sold from truck trailers where they await customers in big tanks. Caviar is kept in large gallon cans. Picturesque vegetable and fruit stalls are especially abundant in the summer, but since Rostov is a southern city and summer here lasts from April to November, apples, pears, strawberries and watermelons seem to be for sale practically all year round.

A separate farmers market opens at the weekend, next to Central Market. Farmers from all over Rostov Region bring their vegetables, fruit, herbs, crayfish, heather honey, baked milk, homemade sausages, cheeses and farmer cheese. The prices are quite low and towards the end of the business day, at 2pm, they border on symbolic only.
Looking out from the Paramonov warehouses, you get a wonderful view of the Don and its left bank, known locally as Levberdon. There are almost no residential buildings. Levberdon is like a local Las Vegas, although there are no casinos. There are, however, plenty of nightclubs, hotels and restaurants, which cater to any taste and budget, including miles of kebab houses where you will find lamb and veal liver, chicken wings and pork chops, all flavoured with plenty of vegetables and sauces. In time for the 2018 World Cup, Levberdon has a new stadium and the owners of local cafes and restaurants cannot wait for the football fans to arrive.