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Republic of Mariy El — 12rus

Mariy El- Map of attractions

Republic of Mariy El (12 rus), center — Yoshkar-Ola (formerly Tsaryovokokshaysk). It is situated in the center of the European part of Russian Federation, in the middle course of River Volga: A big portion of the Republic is to the North of Volga, and a part of Gorno-Mariysky District — to the South of Volga. Almost the whole area of Mariy-El is covered by woods: pine-trees in the West, fir-trees and spruce — in the North and Northeast, and mixed woods (conifers and broad-leaved trees) in the Southeast. A good deal of the area is a swamped plain, which in the East changes to the hills of Vyatsky Uval. Principal rivers: Volga (to be precise, Cheboksary water reservoir), and its left tributaries: Vetluga, Rutka, Bolshaya and Malaya Kokshaga, Ilet'; the Northeastern corner of the Republic belongs to the basin of River Vyatka.

Official languages of the Republic are Russian and Mari; 43% of the population are Mari. Less than the half of the Mari (formerly known as Cheremis), about 320 thousands, live in the republic; the rest are scattered, mostly in Bashkiria (Bashkortostan, about 105 thousands), and in Kirov Region (50 thousands). Mari ethnos is subdivided into three dialect and cultural groups: Gornye (Hill) Mari (right bank of River Volga — Gorno-Mariysky District), Lugovye (Meadow) Mari — between Rivers Vetluga and Vyatka, and Eastern Mari in Bashkiria. Mari language belongs to the Volga group of Finno-Ugric family of languages. This means it is as close to Estonian and Finnish as say English to Spanish. Mari is written on the basis of Cyrillic script, a number of newspapers are published. A majority of native speakers are however elderly people, and the Mari language made it to the UNESCO list of endangered languages. Despite the christianization that was forced over the centuries, a big part of Mari population still preserved pagan pre-Christian beliefs. Main folkloric festivals: Peyledysh payrem (flower festival) — beginning of June, the whole republic; Mariy muro payrem (Mari song festival) — July, Yoshkar-Ola. At the same time, traditional Mari feasts are different: Aga payrem — beginning of the agricultural season, before ploughing; Uginde payrem - feast of the harvest; Shyl Kas - Autumn cattle slaughter; Shoryk Yol - New Year (in the Winter).

Finno-Ugric tribes populated the area of modern Western, Northern, and Central Russia since prehistory. The archaeological sources discovered at the territory of Mariy El date from 1st century BC. Since these tribes were non-literate until modern times, all information we have on the history of Middle Volga comes from Russian sources. Cheremis are first reliably mentioned in 12th century. At that time, they had close relations with Volga Bulgar state, which was situated at the territory of modern Tatarstan and was destroyed in 1236 by the Mongol troops of Batu Khan, advancing to Russia. After that, apparently Mari allied with the Golden Horde, the Mongol (later Tartar) state. From 14th century, Mari also came in touch with Russians advancing to the East; in 1221, those founded Nizhny Novgorod in the middle course of Volga. Russian-Tartar clashes in Mari land became a common cause, with Mari siding with Tartars. Up to a certain moment Tartars and Mari managed to prevail, but then Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible brought things in order: In 1546, the lands of Hill Mari (right bank of Volga) fell under the control of Moscow, and in 1552 Tsar's army took Kazan', the capital of Tartars, and Meadow Mari started to pay tribute to Moscow. Afterwards, colonization began: Cheboksary was founded in 1557, Koz'modem'yansk in 1583, Tsaryovokokshaysk (now Yoshkar-Ola) — in 1584. As a result of forcible christianization, Mari escaped to woods, leaving the whole villages deserted behind. Things started to change under Peter the Great: Mari were drafted to the army; scientific investigation of the area began; first written sources of Mari language were compiled. Fist Mari grammar by Pucek-Grigorowicz appeared in 1792. Despite these developments, Mari massively supported Pugachev revolt against the authorities in 1773. In 1872, Kazan' teacher seminary was opened. Its main purpose was to give education to the representatives of Middle Volga people, including Mari. This gave a serious push to the national revival: Mari schools were opened, books in Mari language published, including school textbooks. After the 1917 October revolution, in 1920, the Mari autonomy was formed. Later it became Mari Autonomous Republic, and from 1991 — Republic of Mariy El. On the other hand, in 1920s they did not succeed in establishing the unified language norm - the Hill and Meadow Mari dialects were regarded to be on the par, which accelerated the vanishing of both dialects. In 1930s, similarly to other autonomous republics, almost all educated Mari and national intellectuals were executed. Slowly, Mari became a minority in their own republic, and stimulation to preserve Mari language diminished.

Yoshkar-Ola has a railroad connection to Zelenodol'sk, which is on the principal line from Moscow to Kazan'. The republic does not have any motorways and only two federal paved highways - "Vyatka" Cheboksary - Yoshkar-Ola - Kirov and P175 Yoshkar-Ola - Volzhsk - Zelenodol'sk. Other roads do not cross River Volga. Passenger and cargo navigation on Volga.

 What to see
2 Bol'shaya Kokshaga National Reserve — conifer forests of Mari Depression and oak woods of the flood-lands of River Bol'shaya Kokshaga.
2 Forest Lakes of Mariy El — see also karst lakes in Mariy Chodra National Park.
  • Between Rivers Vetluga and Rutka — transparent lakes Karas'yar, Nuzh'yar.
  • Between Rivers Bol'shaya Kokshaga and Malaya Kokshaga — Lake Tabashinskoe (Zryv), the deepest lake in Mariy El.
  • Between Rivers Malaya Kokshaga and Ilet' — Lakes Serebryanoe, Shirenga.
  • Karst lakes to the East of River Ilet' — Morskoy Glaz, Mushenderskie.
1 Kokshaysk — the oldest urban settlement of Mariy El (1574). Pokrovskaya Tserkov' (Intercession Church, 1793). Picturesque location on the left bank of River Volga, at the mouth of River Malaya Kokshaga.
3 Koz'modem'yansk — Old merchant Volga town (founded 1583), numerous attractions.
  • Quarters of old buildings, including carved wooden ones, 18th — 20th centuries.
  • Among architectural monuments — Streletskaya Chasovnya (Strelets Chapel, 1698), Troitskaya Tserkov' (Trinity Church, 1733), Tikhvinskaya Tserkov' (Church of the Tikhvin Virgin, 1827), Smolensky Sobor (Cathedral of the Smolensk Virgin, 1872).
  • Grigor'ev Museum of Art and History — a good collection of Russian art.
  • Ethnographic Open-Air Museum - devoted to the everyday life of Hill Mari, several dozens of historic buildings.
  • Merchant Life Museum.
  • Ostap Bender Humor Museum. Ostap Bender is the leading character in one of the most famous Russian satirical novels, The Twelve Chairs by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, a part of which apparently takes place in Koz'modem'yansk.
  1 Chalomkino — Nikolay Ignat'ev Museum of Art and Literature, featuring Hill Mari language, literature, and ethnography.
  1 VladimirskoeTserkov' Vladimirskoy Ikony Bozh'ey Materi (Church of Vladimir Image of the Virgin, 1713).
  3 River Volga and its elevated right bank
2 Mariy Chodra National Park — protects mixed conifer and broad-leaved forests and karst relief, including the lakes in the hills of Vyatsky Uval.
  • Klenovaya Gora Area — mineral springs.
  • River Ilet'.
  • Karst lakes — Yal'chik, Konan'er, Glukhoe, Mushen'er, Kihier.
  • Historical monuments — old Kazan' highway, Pugachev's oak-tree.
1 Morki — Morki Museum of Art and Literature; Bogoyavlenskaya Tserkov' (Epiphany Church, 1819).
  1 Chavaynur — Memorial Museum-house of writer Sergei Chavayn.
  2 Karman-Kuryk Mountain — geological denudations.
  1 Olyk'yal — Museum-house of poet Nikolay Mukhin.
1 Orshanka — Orshanka Museum of Peasant Labor and Life, with a big ethnographical collection.
  1 Staroe Kreshcheno — Museum-house of writer Yakov Mayorov-Shketan.
1 Sernur — Sernur Museum of Art and Literature, includes an ethnographic collection.
  1 Kuzhener — Kuzhener Regional and Historical Museum; Svyato-Nikol'sky Monastyr' (Nicholas Monastery).
  1 MarisolaPokrovskaya Tserkov' (Intercession Church, 1880-1888), presumably after a project of architect Gornostaev.
  1 Mari-Turek — Mari-Turek Regional Museum: District history and ethnography.
  1 Novy Tor'yal — Novy Tor'yal Regional Museum; Voznesenskaya Tserkov' (Ascension Church, 1819).
  1 Paran'ga — Paran'ga Regional Museum.
1 Volzhsk (formerly Lopatino) — Regional Museum: history of the town and ethnography.
  1 Zvenigovo — wooden Nikol'skaya Tserkov' (Nicholas Church, 1877); Regional Museum. Picturesque location at the left bank of River Volga.
2 Wooden Churches of Mariy El.
  1 Aktayuzh (Kilemary District) — Nikol'skaya Tserkov' (Nicholas Church, 1900).
  1 Chkarino (Sovetsky District) — Pokrovskaya Tserkov' (Intercession Church, 1915).
  2 Kum'ya (Kilemary District) — Pokrovskaya Tserkov' (Intercession Church, 1866).
  1 Pet'yal (Zvenigovo District) — Gur'evskaya Tserkov' (Gurias Church, 1896).
1 Yoshkar-Ola (Tsarevokokshaysk) . The city was founded in 1584 as Tsarevokokshaysk (Fortress of the Tsar on Kokshaga). Till 1920 a tiny district town with just 13 streets. In 1919 renamed to Krasnokokshaysk (Red Town on Kokshaga), and in 1920 became a center of the newly formed Mari Autonomous Region. In 1927 renamed to Yoshkar-Ola ("Red City" in Mari).
  • Remains of compact old (historic) town, 18th—20th centuries.
  • Troitskaya Tserkov' (Trinity Church, 1736); Voznesenskaya Tserkov' (Ascension Church, 1756); Tikhvinskaya Tserkov' (Church of the Tikhvin Virgin, 1774).
  • Tserkov' Rozhdestva Bogoroditsy (Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, 1818) in the village of Semyonovka.
  • Wood and stone carved houses.
  • National Museum of Republic of Mariy El: Archaeological and ethnographic collections representing Mari culture; applied art; natural exhibits.
  • Fine Art Museum: Mari art; Russian art of 19th century.
  • Museum of Folk Applied Arts.
  • Museum of History of Yoshkar-Ola.
  • Memorial museums of: Poet Nikolay Mukhin; composer Ivan Klyuchnikov-Palantay.
  1 Ezhovo — Female Ezhovo-Mironositsky monastyr' (Monastery of the Myrrh Bearing Women at Ezhovo), founded in 17th century, with preserved architectural monuments — Mironositskaya Tserkov' (Church of the Myrrh Bearing Women, 1719) and other monastery buildings (18th century).
  1 Medvedevo — Regional Museum: Mari life and ethnography; natural exhibits.
2 Yurino
  • Museum-reserve "The Sheremetev Castle" (1885).
  • Mikhaylo-Arkhangel'skaya Tserkov' (Church of Archangel Michael, 1869-1889).

 Additional Resources

Republic of Mariy El


Mari ethnos and language


Russian and/or Mari:

Resources for individual attractions

This is a provisional list. The references will eventually be relegated to the pages describing individual attractions.



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  Author of this page: Yaroslav Blanter. Last updated: 16.10.07.
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