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Population: 9,500
Mayor: Avil Dyomkin
Main industries: airspace, tourism
Founded in 1246
Interesting fact: "Gorodok," Nikolai Zabolotsky's poem about Tarusa, became the lyrics for a song later covered by prominent Russian rockers Boris Grebenshchikov and Andrei Makarevich
Sister cities: San Miniato, Italy
Helpful contacts: Tarusa Tourist Information Center. +7 484-352-5757, +7 920-092-2148, tarusa.tic@mail.ru
River boat operators, organizing trips to Polenovo and to Richter's summer house. +7 906-509 8051, +7 960-519-6519

TARUSA, Kaluga Region — This relatively small town in Kaluga region, some 140 kilometers southwest of Moscow, has inspired major Russian poets, writers and artists who were fascinated with its peacefulness and surrounding beautiful nature.

To this day, Tarusa remains a rare place in Central Russia, little touched by industrialization, allowing it to preserve its natural landscape and artistic spirit.

"I live in a small town on the Oka River," renowned 20th-century author Konstantin Paustovsky wrote. "It is so small that all of its streets lead to the river, with its smooth and solemn curves, or to the fields, where the wind stirs the crops, or to the woods, where, among birches and pines, bird cherry trees blossom wildly in the spring."

Another famous line that he wrote pretty much sums up Tarusa's attractiveness to many people: "Perhaps nowhere near Moscow can you find any other places with landscapes that are so typically and touchingly Russian."

The first mention of Tarusa dates back to 1246 when the town, named after the river Tarusa, or Taruska, was the center of the estate of Prince Yury, the son of Prince Mikhail Chernigovsky.

In the mid-16th century, Tarusa was briefly controlled by Sigismund I, king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania, who was later forced to release control of the town to Moscow princes. Meanwhile, in the same century, the town survived invasions by the Crimean Tatars. And a century later, Natalya Naryshkina, an ancestor of Peter the Great, was born here.

The beauty of the surrounding landscape turned out to be Tarusa's main asset, which gave the town a boost in the late 1800s, attracting major painters to the area. Tarusa quickly emerged as an artistic community as painters Vasily Vatagin, Vasily Polenov and Viktor Borisov-Musatov moved here. They immortalized the peaceful splendor of surrounding fields and riverside in numerous paintings.

For MT
Alexei Naumov,
Chief engineer of the special design bureau for airspace devices, part of the Moscow-based Russian Academy of Sciences' institute for outer space research
Q: How did it happen that your design bureau is located in Tarusa?
A: Back in 1976, Tarusa hardly had any industries at all. And as part of a program aimed at developing smaller towns located around Moscow, a decision was made to set up the institute's design bureau here that would develop, produce and test devices for research in the outer space. At that time, the town did not have a proper sewage system or electricity grid. So, along with the construction of the design bureau, the institute built a new natural gas supply system, a new sewage system, a new electricity grid, and a residential neighborhood for the entire town. There were plans to further develop the company and the town, but, unfortunately, perestroika reforms were launched in the mid-1980s, and capital investment was substantially cut back.

Q: Do you get enough orders these days to be self-sufficient?
A: We cannot have steady workload. At times, we are overloaded, at other times we do not have enough work. But we are trying to find work all the time. So, we have to take jobs from the aviation industry as well.

Q: Do you have trouble hiring young people?
A: Recent graduates do want to come and work with us. But accommodation is a problem. At some point, the company downsized from 700 employees to just 240. Now we have to expand again but we cannot provide housing for new employees. Our dorm is overloaded and we will probably need to build a new dorm.

— Vladimir Kozlov

However, a few decades later, after World War II ended, the natural beauty of the area was in jeopardy as there were plans to extend railway tracks to the town. But Tarusa's residents protested, fearing it could lead to industrialization, and they would no longer be able to enjoy quietness and peacefulness. Strangely enough, the communist authorities gave in, allowing Tarusa to remain a rare oasis of beautiful nature, squeezed between industrial cities and towns.

A new page in the history of Tarusa was written in the 1960s and 1970s as it turned into a "dissident town." At the time, Tarusa attracted Soviet dissident authors — thanks to its cultural aura and to the fact that its location was "beyond the 100-kilometer mark." Dissidents and people convicted of political crimes were not allowed to reside within 100 kilometers of Moscow. In 1961, the literary collection "Tarusskiye Stranitsy," or Tarusa Pages, came out, triggering the communist censors' rage. But since it happened during the Khrushchev thaw, a visit by Paustovsky to the communist leader helped to resolve the problem.

Later Joseph Brodsky lived here, hiding from the police, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn visited the town.

Meanwhile, the best-known literary figures whose names are attached to Tarusa are Konstantin Paustovsky, Marina Tsvetayeva and Bella Akmadulina.

Renowned poet Tsvetayeva spent part of her childhood in a house on what is now called Ulitsa Rozy Luxemburg. The house was later turned into Tsvetayeva's museum.

Akhmadulina, whose poetry was especially popular among the 1960s and 1970s Soviet intellectuals, also spent some time in Tarusa.

Paustovsky, a prominent Soviet-era author, divided his time between Moscow and Tarusa in the 1950s and 1960s and created many of his works in his study with a view of Oka. His house is still there and, although the author's descendants live there, they have preserved Paustovsky's study and sometimes let visitors into the unofficial museum.

What to do if you have two hours

Walk around the town's central square, which still bears the name of Vladimir Lenin, while a monument of him stands there. However, the square's main sight is the recently renovated 18th-century Peter and Paul Cathedral. It was built on the site of the wooden St. Nicholas Cathedral, with the construction bill footed by Catherine the Great.

Then walk past the cathedral to the World War II monument on a hill overlooking the Oka River. This is probably the best place in town to admire the beautiful scenery of the river's curves and rural landscapes beyond it.

Turn right and walk alongside the river, checking out the monuments to Marina Tsvetayeva, Bella Akhmadulina and Konstantin Paustovsky.

Follow the path as it goes down the slope and to your right you will soon see "the Tsvetayeva Stone" — a cenotaph with the inscription "Marina Tsvetayeva wanted to rest here." The cenotaph is placed alongside a path that Tsvetayeva and her younger sister Anastasia, who would become a writer, took in the early 20th century when walking between the family's town house and the summer house in Pesochnoye.

While walking back, turn left and climb Voskresenskaya hill to Christ's Resurrection Church, Tarusa's oldest building, erected in the mid 17th century and renovated in the early 20th century. Before returning to the central square, check out the small wooden chapel of Bogolybsky Our Lady with a spring believed to gurgle with disease-curing water.

What to do if you have two days

Start with the Painting Gallery, located on the central square and adjoining the Peter and Paul Cathedral (1A Ulitsa Lenina, +7 484-352-5183). The gallery — open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mondays and Tuesdays — features a small yet interesting collection of Russian paintings as well as china and faience. Among the gems are Vasily Vatagin's wooden sculpture "A Lioness' Head," Vasily Polenov's sketch for his painting "Jesus and Sinner" and Nikolai Yaroshenko's painting "Female Student." A collection of old — and quite huge — padlocks and keys is worth checking out as well.

For MT
Avil Dyomkin,
Q: What is Tarusa's main tourist attraction?
A: I think it is the clean air. We do not have any factories that would pollute the air. Plus, the fact that well known poets, writers and artists lived here. People come from cities like St. Petersburg and Chelyabinsk to visit places associated with the names of Marina Tsvetayeva, Konstantin Paustovsky or Bella Akhmadulina.

Q: What is being done specifically to make Tarusa a popular tourist destination?
A: We opened a tourist center, which published booklets about the city and maps on which all the main sights are indicated. That's for now. But we are considering further steps because we are part of a regional program for cultural and tourist development, and something could be done under its auspices. Although bringing in tourists who spend money in the city does not benefit the local budget directly, there is still a gain for us as small business serving tourists pay more in taxes.

Q: Is there something in Tarusa that could interest foreign investors?
A: It is difficult to say. Probably, the hospitality industry, but it is very seasonal, with tourists mostly coming to the town in the summer. And we have problems with roads. Once we sort that out we could began thinking about foreign investment.

— Vladimir Kozlov

The local history museum (4 Ulitsa Engelsa, +7 484-352-5439, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Mondays) features, among others, recreated interiors of the 19th-century homes of local peasants, entrepreneurs and town residents. A special section is devoted to Paustovsky's life in Tarusa. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum often holds exhibitions of paintings and photographs, mostly focused on local landscapes.

If you are a fan of poetry, the Tsvetayev Family Museum (30 Ulitsa Rozy Luxemburg, +7 484-352-5192, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Mondays), located in the family's 19th-century wooden house, is also a must-see. It meticulously recreates the interior of the house where Marina Tsvetayeva, who would become one of Russia's most important poets of the 20th century, lived at a young age. The house's atmosphere served to inspire her early works.

Then take a walk alongside the Oka to a small cemetery where painter Viktor Borisov-Musatov is buried. The painter, known as the creator of "Russian symbolism," died in Tarusa in 1905. The tombstone on his grave, installed five years later, was made by his friend and classmate Alexander Matveyev.

From the cemetery, you can also enjoy a magnificent view of the Oka's right bank, with a church in the village of Bekhovo and the Polenovo estate. Polenovo (polenovo.ru) is actually another sight you could visit. Built in the late 1890s by painter Vasily Polenov, the estate was turned into a museum soon afterward. In addition to the painter's house and studio, which preserved their original look, you can check out the artist's collection of paintings and drawings. It features works by the likes of Ilya Repin, Ivan Shishkin and Viktor Vasnetsov.

In the summertime, the best way to get to Polenovo is by taking a motorboat from Tarusa, while in winter a taxi would be the best option.

The summer house of renowned pianist Svyatoslav Richter, built in the early 1970s, is located just outside Tarusa. Turned into a museum following Richter's death in 1997, it sometimes hosts concerts and music festivals. So try to time your visit to one of those events.

Where to eat

One of Tarusa's most popular restaurants is Yakor (4 Ulitsa Dekabristov, +7 484-352-5156). Its main asset is the view of the Oka, which is better to enjoy from the open-air terrace. The food is mostly standard Russian cuisine, like "merchant-style" veal, borshch or ubiquitous "Russian salad." Dinner will set you back about 600 rubles ($20) without alcohol.

A cheaper place also offering a view of the river is the Oka cafe (9 Ulitsa Dekabristov). The food is pretty basic, focused on soups, meat chops and pancakes, and a meal costs about 200 rubles ($6) without alcohol. The interior is somewhat reminiscent of the Soviet era and could give you an idea of what a typical Russian cafe looked like some 25 years ago.

The local version of fast food is Cheburechnaya (13 Komsomolskaya Ulitsa, verzilin-i-ko.ru). Despite the rather shabby and unremarkable interior decoration, the cafe offers pretty good chebureki, pelmeni and manty. A good meal costs about 300 rubles ($9).

Where to stay

The hotel complex Yakor (4 Ulitsa Dekabristov, +7 484-352-5581, tarusa-yakor.ru) is relatively new and primarily caters to those who come to the town for the weekend or a short vacation. Rooms range from 1,800 to 3,200 rubles. Yakor is located in the central part of the town, and most rooms have a riverside view.

The hotel Tarusa (11/20 Ulitsa Karla Libknekhta, +7 484-352-5386, tarusa.ru/hotel-tarusa) is also newly built. Rooms range from 1,500 to 5,000 rubles, depending on the size, season and day of the week.

Conversation starters

Tarusa residents place great value on their town's literary and artistic history. Ask someone about the directions to Tsvetayeva's cenotaph or Borisov-Musatov's grave, and they will willingly talk to you about various places in town that are linked to prominent painters, poets and writers.

If Paustovsky's house is brought up, local residents most likely will share their frustration about the fact that there is no proper museum of the Soviet-era author in Tarusa.

How to get there

Direct buses to Tarusa depart from Moscow's Tyoply Stan bus station. For the schedule, see: www.mytarusa.ru/city/cat_1123.html#automoscow. The trip takes about 2 1/2 hours and a single ticket costs 248 rubles ($8).

You can also take a commuter train to Serpukhov from Kursky station and then switch to a local bus. There is a commuter train station named Tarusskaya, but the name is misleading because it is located on the wrong side of the Oka River, and there is no bridge.

If you travel by car, take Simferopolskoye Shosse to Serpukhov and follow the signs to Protvino and then to Tarusa.

Contact the author at bizreporter@imedia.ru