Russian Peasants - Settlements



The Russian peasant settlement pattern varied widely, depending both on the configuration of the landscape and on the type of economic activity characteristic of a particular area. Perhaps the most typical pattern in the central Russian territory was the arrangement of houses on both sides of a single street, surrounded on all sides by cultivated fields (except where a swamp or a forest intervened). There were also "cluster villages," without a regular street pattern, and individual homesteads in forests. Larger villages with churches and small market towns usually had some public buildings and public squares with rows of stalls for the sale of agricultural products and other goods. Increased population and industrialization under the Soviet regime led to the urbanization of many areas and to the establishment of "settlements of urban type," with regular street grids, trolley lines, utilities, and the like. Many of the older villages are losing population or were in the past declared "unpromising," and new facilities were not built in them. Toward the end of the Soviet regime, this policy was reversed in an attempt to revitalize agriculture. To attract needed workers, collective and state farms and other enterprises undertook ambitious programs to develop social, educational, and medical facilities.

The spatial organization of houses and farmsteads varied from region to region but generally reflected the family organization. In northern Russia, where large extended families were common, the dwelling house, outbuildings, and farmyard were united under one roof, and access was obtained through a large and sometimes elaborate gate. In the more southerly regions, both the residential unit and the buildings housing it were usually smaller. The standard house-type in northern and central Russia was the "five-walled house" (with a central dividing wall), built of logs, with a thatched roof. The ritual center of the house was the hearth, usually located opposite the entrance, where guests were seated. The central and most important item of furniture was the clay stove, which served for heating, cooking, and bathing (unless there was a separate bathhouse). Near the stove, wooden shelves, which served in place of beds for sleeping, were attached to the wall.

In southern Russia, whitewashed adobe was used in place of logs for building houses. The layout and furnishing was broadly similar, but standards of convenience and cleanliness were markedly higher. For example, livestock were not admitted inside the house, as was common in the north.

At present, except in the most remote regions, the traditional log-and-thatch house has been replaced by a modern frame or brick structure, with furnishings of the urban type (chairs, iron bedsteads, kitchen ranges, and the like). Electricity, piped water, and indoor plumbing are available on the more advanced collective and state farms.

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