To comprehend the philosophy of nomadic reindeer husbandry, learn how to weave runes from bast and find out what offerings you need to bring to the Moon. You can see, feel and even try for yourself what the everyday life and activities of the indigenous peoples of Russia were like in specially recreated ethnoparks. Each of them preserves the centuries-old traditions and rituals of their cultures, which are now available to a wide audience.
You can touch the living history and become a participant in it yourself during mass festivities and folk festivals in special open-air museums that introduce you to the philosophy, life and world order of different ethnic groups, their gastronomic delights, crafts and worldly wisdom. We have collected for you a selection of colorful ethnoparks that are definitely worth a visit.
Ethnopark "Torum Maa"
Peoples: Khanty and Mansi
Where: Khanty-Mansiysk, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug – Yugra
On one of the seven sacred hills of Khanty-Mansiysk, at the bend of the Irtysh, there is an open-air museum "Torum Maa", which means "Sacred Land" in Mansi. Inside, there is a whole world created over the centuries by the northern people, the Ob-Ugrians (Khanty and Mansi): summer camps, winter settlements, a sanctuary, a hunting trail with intricate traps, and many objects of history and everyday life. Interestingly, the ethnopark was founded by the bearers of ancient culture themselves, who preserve the heritage of their ancestors.
The installation is hidden in the thicket of a dense spruce forest, which gives it even more naturalness. The originality is created by colorful details: a clay Khanty outdoor oven on stilts, in which bread is baked, a maternity hospital "Man Kol", which stores women's secret rites, a smoke sauna, a lean-to (a temporary shelter for spending the night in the forest). The houses store national costumes and household items that are still in use. The museum staff – representatives of indigenous peoples – will tell you how to build a chum and why crows are happy to see children, how to set a trap for an animal and why you need to take care of the fire.
Several times a year, the ethnopark comes to life: traditional national holidays attract families with children here, for whom great festivities are arranged. Crow's Day is an analogue of Maslenitsa. It marks the beginning of spring (it is believed that the crow is the first bird arriving in the North). On this day, a lot of games and fun activities are arranged; bubliks, symbolizing the sun, are hung on trees; and Yugra herbal tea is served as a treat. The holiday of Tylash Pori – the rite of bringing offerings to the Moon – looks quite different. The event is celebrated at night and is also filled with the spirit of family celebrations.
Where: Izhevsk, Udmurtia
The Ludorvay Open-air Museum is built on the principle of micro-villages, in which religious and public buildings are represented. On the territory, there are several Udmurt estates, a windmill, a family sanctuary for prayers, an apiary, and a Russian pochin. Here you can get acquainted with the traditional way of life of the Udmurt village: what rural life consisted of, how the rituals of the southern, central Udmurts and their neighbors Besermyans differed, what their mythological philosophy, that was reflected in the sacred holidays, was based on.
Guides will tell you about interesting folk rituals. For example, about the wedding of a baby, at which it was customary to dance to the blows of a poker on the stove flap; and the wedding of the deceased, during which sacrifices were made to calm the dead. The installation contains a number of interesting finds, for example, pases and tamgas (the ancestral signs of the Udmurts, with which they marked household utensils, patterned pillars with solar signs-amulets), kuala sanctuaries (part of the preserved pagan cults).
The ethnopark also hosts seasonal folk festivals and thematic workshops, where you can learn the history of the sundress, learn how to build a house, make thread dolls, get a lesson in national dances, and make perepechi: hearty Udmurt meat vatrushkas. Thematic exhibitions of modern art objects based on traditional culture are periodically held on the territory.
Ethnoecological complex "Yasna"
Where: Cheboksary, Chuvashia
Ethnopark "Yasna" was built on the place of power, around the 400-year-old oak Kiremet: a sacred place of the ancient Chuvash, where a large oak grove once rustled and ancestral rituals were held. After the revolution, the oak grove was cut down, only one tree remained, which to this day keeps its legends. According to one of them, Kiremet is the son of the supreme god Tur, who was once sent to earth to bring happiness to people. But, confused by the evil spirits, they did not understand the stranger's odd speeches and killed him. Then the immortal spirit rose high and took with him the chest of happiness, and people are still searching for it in vain on earth.
There are many authentic routes leading to the tree, introducing the history and traditions of Chuvashia. Next to the oak tree is a village, archaic and at the same time alive, where folk crafts and folklore, architectural monuments and the wisdom of generations are preserved. Here you can taste local cuisine, learn how to cook simple dishes and make herbal cocktails, visit the city of masters: see dolls, charms, Chuvash embroidery and wood carving. Those who wish, will be introduced to the ancient Chuvash script, runes, the symbols of which are woven from birch bark.
Many entertainment programs are organized for children: walks through springs with "live" and "dead" water, ethnographic games with old Chuvash swings, riddles and folk games. A theatrical performance in national costumes complements the local flavor. By the way, "Yasna" is not called the ethnoecological complex for nothing: in addition to the cultural component, the park is also a recreational area, where organic farming is practiced and medicinal herbs are grown.
Museum-reserve "Tomskaya Pisanitsa"
Peoples: Shors, indigenous peoples of Siberia
The largest ethnocomplex beyond the Urals is located in a pine forest on the banks of the Tom River. The center of attraction of the park is a group of rocks with petroglyphs, which here are called pisanitsa – ancient drawings-writings more than four thousand years old. In addition to the rich historical and archaeological elements, installations have been created here that reveal the traditions and customs of the peoples of Siberia.
Ethnocomplex "Shorsky ulus Kezek" demonstrates authentic residential and economic buildings of the Turkic-speaking people, which the local Cossacks called the Kuznetsk Tatars. The Shors called their settlements, which were formed around a single tribal community, uluses. In addition to the traditional log yurts with outbuildings removed from the territories of Mountain Shoria, here you can see a wedding ritual hut, a shaman's hut, a fishing camp, and the reconstruction of a cemetery.
A separate exhibition, dedicated to the mythology and epic of the Siberian peoples, installed copies of stone statues from Khakassia, Tuva, Altai and Mongolia, as well as reconstructions of stone altars and ritual hitching posts. In an interactive game form you will be told about the origin of the world and the myth of primitive society: what people believed in, how they composed legends about deities, and discovered places of power. And then you can walk through the Slavic mythological forest and compare the pagan attributes of idols and temples.
Ethnopark "Golden Horde"
Where: Irkutsk Oblast
Emotional and gastronomic immersion in the Turkic-Mongolian culture of the Buryat people in “Golden Horde” ethnopark begins at the threshold: guests are greeted here with a ritual khatag (a scarf, a gift of respect) and white food (a bowl with cream or milk, a symbol of Buryat hospitality). Inside the park there is a real city on the bank of a small river. Snow-white yurts are filled with craft exhibitions and workshops where you can learn the basics of national crafts. Guests are involved in ethnic rituals, fun activities and competitions, such as cleansing with fire, throat singing, archery and throwing the Buryat slipper.
The center of "Golden Horde" is a richly painted Mongolian khan-yurt, consecrated by the abbot of the local datsan. The twelve-walled yurt, completely carved out of wood, is a real work of art. The sacred symbols of Buddhism – the main religion of the Buryats – are encoded in its patterns: the wheel of dharma, lotuses, fish. The dome is supported by posts made in the form of horses – the treasure of these lands. Opposite the main one, there are smaller yurts dedicated to the three major tribes of Baikalia. Each has its own color and an ancestral totem animal.
In addition to getting acquainted with the cultural component, it is worth coming here for the sake of national cuisine. Traditional buuz – local dumplings – made of mutton or horse meat in the form of a Buryat yurt, here you can not only try, but also make yourself. The menu includes salads with fern, Baikal fish caviar, tartar sets, and a large selection of local snacks and main courses.
Interactive ethnographic museum "Tatar Avyly"
The Tatar village – as "Tatar Avyly" is translated into Russian – is located on the bank of the Volga. It is built in the manner of a Tatar settlement of the 15th–17th centuries. The exhibition is presented in the form of buildings typical of different strata of society at that time: pottery and weaving handicraft farmsteads, peasant huts, wealthy merchant houses. Inside, there are authentic tools, stoves, furniture and household utensils.
Master classes and national fun activities are arranged for children, and young guests will also appreciate the contact farm zoo: ostriches, peacocks, rabbits and various poultry. The "Tatar Avyly" acquires special local color on the days of national holidays. One of the brightest is Sabantuy, which is celebrated at the beginning of summer: a whirlwind of songs and dances, local café offering national pastries and tea from a samovar, and the hostess in the hut teaching how to cook potato cakes kystyby in a wood-burning stove.
Nature and ethnographic complex in the village of Gornoknyazevsk
Peoples: Khanty, Nenets, Komi, Selkup
Where: Salekhard, Yamal
On the banks of the Ob River in the tiny village of Gornoknyazevsk, or, in the Khanty language, Kanas Pokhal (“Prince’s City”), there is an ethnic corner of the small peoples of the North, one of the landmarks of Yamal. A camp for ten chums, covered with birch bark and deer skins, with a caravan of sleds and a collection of 400 simple household items of hunters and fishermen. The park is unique not only for introducing you to the culture and spiritual heritage of the Komi-Permyaks, but also for giving you the opportunity to become a part of this world for a short time: to try on national costumes, participate in rituals, and order a lunch of traditional treats while enjoying folklore performances.
Guests will be taught how to set up chums and prepare stroganina, will be initiated into shamanic practices and will reveal the secrets of the northern multisport competition, will be introduced to the techniques of bone carving and glass painting. The color of the national park is built around the preservation of the heritage of small peoples, so “argish” becomes the leitmotif. Loosely translated, it means the “path that each person walks side by side with a deer”: from gathering in a nomad camp to returning for wintering. Year after year, they travel thousands of kilometers across the snow-covered tundra in search of a temporary shelter, which will be the beginning of a new path.
The place for the park was not chosen by chance: since the 14th century, these lands were ruled by the Khanty dynasty of the Taishins – the rulers of the Obdorsky Principality, whose lands stretched to the Arctic Ocean. In Salekhard, the former Obdorsk, a rare monument of wooden architecture has been preserved – a manor of the 19th century, furnished with antique furniture. Workshops, fairs and themed holidays are held there as well. All museum complexes are equipped for people with limited mobility and hearing loss.
Ethnographic Museum of the Peoples of Transbaikalia
Peoples: Buryats, Evenks, Soyots, Semeiskie
Where: Ulan-Ude, Buryatia
The wide geography of the park covers all the cultural spaces that have developed to the east of Lake Baikal. Thematically, the territory is divided into ten complexes, each of which tells its own ethnographic chapter of the history of this region. All museum collections were brought here from neighboring settlements. An interesting feature of the reconstructed camp of the Evenki hunters is a gallery of wooden idols surrounding the shaman's chum. The Soyot nomad sector has traditional conical leather ursa dwellings.
Buryat complexes are divided into pre-Baikal and trans-Baikal buildings: winter estates, wooden and felt yurts, as well as a carved Buddhist temple dugan. In addition to the indigenous peoples, ethnic installations of Russians who once moved to these lands – Cossacks and the Old Believers – are presented here. The Russian long-term residents complex is represented by the estates of the village chieftain and the arable land peasant, which combine elements of urban and folk life. Semeiskie – that's how the Old Believers are called in Transbaikalia – Street became the most colorful in the ethnopark. Painted entrance gates, elegant houses and St. Nicholas’ Old Believer Church with a six-tiered iconostasis.
The ethnomuseum has its own creative workshop with master classes in ceramics and hand weaving, a zoo with a red wolf, Siberian roe deer, red deer, a tiger and even a bear. A lot of thematic contests, sports competitions and games are held for children. People with disabilities are provided with a separate set of services; in addition, some exhibitions are equipped with convenient ramps and signs in Braille.
Peoples: Finno-Ugric peoples, Samoyeds
Where: Yb, Komi
The cultural heritage of 24 Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic peoples is represented in a small Komi inn with a sauna, a wood-burning stove and a log hut, where visitors can have a detailed trip into the world of the northern man. In addition to the museum buildings, there is a stylized hotel and cafe on the territory, where venison and dishes with local fish will be served; and the world's only Oil Art Museum "Chutskoye Oil" with a gallery of works painted with oil.
For active entertainment, guests are offered Sami women's football, the main attribute of which is a floor-length skirt; as well as crossbow shooting, spear throwing and an extreme rope park "Versa Tui" (meaning "forest trail") with routes of varying complexity. At the master classes, they will teach how to bake rye chanezhki (open pies with stuffing), make a Vepsian doll and a bast horse (a defender from the dark forces), and also tell how to invent your own ancestral sign (pas), with which the Komi signed products made with their own hands.
There are also many interesting things in the vicinity of the park: holy springs, the ancient Chudskoye settlement, a trail with fairytale heroes, glades with medicinal herbs, and St. Seraphim Monastery of Yb with unique "crying" icons.
Where: Kolezhma, Karelia
On the shore of the Onega Bay of the White Sea, a couple of kilometers from the ancient 12th century Pomeranian village of Kolezhma, where the nesting grounds of rare waterfowl are adjacent to the haul-outs of bearded seals and pusas, and whales can be found in local waters, there is an ethnopark and glamping "Geografika". Here, naturalist guides will reveal the secrets and mysteries of the Pomeranian shipbuilding of karbasses and sea hunting – the main trade of the inhabitants of these places – and will also lead along secret paths to the places of power of the Karelian taiga.
Themed land and water routes on nearby islands will introduce petroglyphs and sites of ancient man, ruins of monasteries and sacred groves, worship crosses and sieidis – sacred stones of the Sami neighbors.
In addition to the cultural program, active adventures are waiting for guests in any season: in winter, snowmobile routes and the northern lights; in spring, visiting seals and walking along the terraces of hills with rocky outcrops; in summer, visiting the white whale maternity hospital; in autumn, installing camera traps and getting to know reindeer. Panoramic verandas and cliff houses can comfortably accommodate the whole family.