The First Museum of Slavic Mythology
Few foreigners know about Russian culture and mythology. While there are many similar heroes and familiar tales, Slavic mythology is also unique. We visited the First Museum of Slavic Mythology to discover the legends and experience the historical culture for ourselves!
History and Structure
The First Museum of Slavic Mythology is located behind Voskresenskaya Hill and was established in Tomsk in 2007 by Gennadii Mikhailovich Pavlov, who graduated from Tomsk State University. Today, you can learn about Slavic mythology and hear Russian fairy tales while learning about the traditional customs of the ancient Slavic people. Guided tours are available in English and Russian to learn about the various Slavic artists whose works bring the rich and ancient culture to life.
Immediately inside the entrance, there is a souvenir shop with traditional Russian fares, such as matryoshkas, handpainted spoons, painted ceramics, and traditional clothing. On the second floor, you’ll find the Picture Hall with over 50 pieces of artwork, each with a Russian and English description. On the third floor, rotating exhibits are featured for a few months at a time, so be sure to visit often. It’s truly a place for Russians to be proud of and a must-see for visitors in Tomsk!
Our experience began on the first floor where we were greeted by our wonderful guide who invited us in and told us our first Russian fairy tale, By the Pike’s Wish. According to the tale, a lazy man, Emelya, was coaxed into going to the river for his sisters-in-law for water. He found a great pike there and caught it, but the fish pleaded for his life and promised to grant him any wish if he asked for it, saying “By the pike’s wish, at my command.” Emelya wished the pails of water home and became much more useful to his sisters-in-law, wishing for chopped wood and more. But the tsar heard about him and sent his guards to bring Emelya to him. They tricked Emelya to come to the palace where he fell in love with the tsar’s daughter. So he wished, “By the pike’s wish, and my command, I want this beautiful girl to fall in love with me.”
But the tsar wasn’t happy, so he took Emelya and his daughter and sent them down the river in a barrel. The princess was distressed, so Emelya wished them to the shore where they made their own kingdom on the island. The couple wished themselves a grand palace, and many servants, and for Emelya to be more attractive for the princess! Eventually, the tsar heard of this place and went to visit, but he did not recognize Emelya. When he met his daughter, she explained how everything came to be, and the family lived happily ever after, by the pike’s wish and Emelya’s command. After the story, we were invited to make our wishes and present them to the pike. We dropped our papers into the pike’s barrel and repeated, “By the pike’s wish, at my command,” but we won’t tell you our wishes and spoil them! Read the detailed fairy tale (and many more!) here.
We moved on to a great spoon, hand-painted in the khokhloma style, a common gift for first birthdays to bring strength and health. In the souvenir shop, we were presented the matryoshkas, the traditional Russian nesting dolls, or sometimes “babushka” dolls according to Americans. The last smallest doll, we learned, is traditionally a baby. With traditions and fairy tales learned, we were dressed by the friendly staff in traditional sarafan clothes and special celebratory kokoshnik.
Once we had time to explore, we were led upstairs for arts and crafts. The Museum prepared plaster horse plaques, the symbol of Tomsk. We were encouraged to use bright colors and given models of suns to paint in the traditional style. Like the artwork around us, each horse was painted in a unique and beautiful way!
On the roof, we were invited to a tea party where the staff served us tea from a beautiful, traditional samovar. They shared jam from pine cones and pine nuts and sushki (small, dry rings of bread). We looked over the city of Tomsk and noticed many landmarks that we had visited already. After a group photo and second-helpings, we briefly toured the special exhibit, The Ancient Aryans of the Tom River where we viewed maps, ancient pottery, and a reconstructed chariot. We looked through a microscope at the smallest matryoshka in the world. It measures only one millimeter! Impressed, we bought our own matryoshkas and souvenirs before leaving the museum.
Andrei Zviagin: I enjoys the workshops, because they offer a unique opportunity to interact with the culture and create art. These activities are typically for children, and this early immersion is invaluable for preserving tradition and remembering the past.
Kiley Miller: I was eager to experience the museum and continue to learn about Slavic culture and customs. Traditions and history seem to be an important aspect of everyday Russian life, so not only listening to stories but becoming a part of the culture has been fascinating for Americans and Russians alike.
Souvenir shop of the Museum (this video from the Museum site)
A matryoshka, also known as a Russian nesting doll, or Russian doll, is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another.
A khokhloma is the name of a Russian wood painting handicraft style and national ornament, known for its vivid flower patterns, red and gold colors over a black background.
A samovar is a heated metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water.