Yoshkar-Ola: a mosaic of European styles, paganism and Yoshkin cats
The capital of the Republic of Mari El will surprise even experienced travelers. In the center of the city the old buildings and Soviet blocks of flats neighbors with baroque palaces and half-timbered houses, and from the embankments “as in Bruges and Amsterdam” you can walk to the analog of the Moscow Kremlin in five minutes.
There are a lot of greenery and beautiful streets, cafes and restaurants offer traditional cuisine, and a peculiar culture of Mari people imposes an imprint not only on the architecture, but also on the traditions. I will tell you what to see in Yoshkar-Ola and how to plan your itinerary.
Yoshkar-Ola sights: what to see and where to walk
Historically, Mari El is the land occupied by the tribes of mountain and meadow Mari. Do not confuse them, these nationalities differ in language and culture. The Mari people did not want to submit to the power of Ivan the Terrible, who took over neighboring Kazan. To stop the uprisings, Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich in 1584 founded on the banks of the Malaya Kokshaga Tsar city on the Kokshaga – Tsarevokokshaysk. After the revolution, the city was renamed Krasnokokshaysk, and in 1928 – Yoshkar-Ola, or “red city” in the language of the Mari.
The entire center of the city is given to non-standard in every sense of the building, which is a mix of different styles. Its initiator was the former president of Mari El Leonid Markelov. He was fond of European culture, so in the 2000s there were a lot of buildings, which make a completely surrealistic impression. And on the background of these gingerbread houses and Gothic arches are good old panel buildings and buildings in the style of Soviet Constructivism.
It is these new and old buildings that you need to see in Yoshkar-Ola. They are all located near the Malaya Kokshaga River, you can walk around them in a day.
Fans of urban development of the 19th and early 20th centuries will enjoy walking along Anisimovsky Lane and the streets of Karl Marx, Voznesenskaya, Pushkin, Gogol and Sovetskaya. Do not run too fast past the old streets and buildings of Yoshkar-Ola: they are few here and almost all are in the center, close to each other.
The house of the merchants Korepovs is a beautiful blue building, which was owned by the famous merchant family of Tsarevokokshaysk. Now there are several state institutions. Photo: A. Komelin
The first floor of the house of the merchant Naumov stone, the second – wooden, decorated with carvings. It is a classic merchant’s house: the first floor was a shop, the second – the living quarters. Photo: A. Komelin
The house of merchant Bulygin was once a department of the OGPU, and now it is the Mari Memorial Folk Museum of the Gulag history. You can get in the museum only by appointment. Photo: A. Komelin
Chulkov Manor is an Art Nouveau house made of red brick with patterned masonry. Since 1996 it is a museum of the history of the city. Photo: A. Komelin
There is also a house of the merchant Pchelin (XVIII century), which is considered the oldest of the extant residential buildings. There are legends among the townspeople that the house is haunted, with secret underground passages and hidden treasures. Today the building is owned by the local diocese, and there is a small temple in the courtyard.
Piazza de la Repubblica and the Blessed Virgin Mary
From Chavayna Boulevard walk through the arch of the Annunciation Tower, a scaled-down copy of the Moscow Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower, and you will find yourself on Republic Square and Blessed Virgin Mary Square.
There are chimes on the Annunciation Tower, too: four dials on the perimeter and the classic sound of the chime at the beginning of each hour. Inside is a police station and the Tower contemporary art exhibition center. Photo: A. Komelin
In the appearance of the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary one can see elements of two iconic landmarks of Moscow and St. Petersburg: the Church of St. Basil the Blessed and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
Nearby is Arkhangelskaya Sloboda, a quarter of buildings in the Venetian style. There is a bank branch and a coffee house “Africa”, at the entrance of which there is a sculpture of Yoshkina the cat, whose birthplace the locals consider Yoshkar-Ola. Because of the consonance. By the way, in the original it is Yoshkin cat.
Walk across the square toward the river, to the Italian Park with the monument to Lorenzo de Medici It is located here for the same reason as all the other European attractions – so decided the mayor. The park was financed by local patrons, so there is a monument to the main patron of the arts in Europe – the Medici.
The area appeared in 2012, so it looks more like a garden: the trees have not yet had time to grow. But it is still pleasant to walk here, especially in the fall, when the leaves change color: at this time it is very picturesque.
From the Italian Park on the other side of the river leads to the pedestrian Theater Bridge, which ends with the Friendship of Peoples Tower – its appearance resembles the Suyumbike Tower of Kazan.
It begins just behind the Italian Park and leads to the second pedestrian bridge over the river Malaya Kokshaga – Voskresensky. Here, on a small piece of land behind each other are the Life-Giving Trinity Church, Trinity Chapel, and Resurrection Cathedral. Life-Giving Trinity Church (Church of the Holy Trinity) was built in 1736. In the 1990s, the dilapidated structure was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church and reconstructed.
Behind the Resurrection Cathedral is the Tsarevokokshaisk Kremlin. There are fairs, funny fights, master classes and exhibitions, the schedule of which you can see on the site. Entrance is free.
The Tsarevokokshaisk Kremlin is a new building, it is established where three hundred years ago there were fortresses. Photo: A. Komelin
Patriarchal square and the promenade of Bruges
The square begins just behind the Resurrection bridge. Five times a day – at 9:00, 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 p.m. – the clock on the main building shows a “12 Apostles” performance. Painted figures of Jesus Christ and his companions appear from one door and move toward the other, while shaking their arms and heads. The scene symbolizes the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem and is accompanied by music.
After the performance you can go inside the building – inside there is a souvenir courtyard “Yoshka-Matryoshka”.
The whole next section of the embankment is built in the recognizable Flemish style with Gothic elements. The houses on the promenade stand close together, just like in Bruges.
Here you can take pictures, send photos to acquaintances, and offer to guess where you’ve gone. Few people guess. Photo: unsplash.com
Both on this side of the shore and on the other you will find many monuments to famous personalities from different times and countries. Sometimes the monuments are very surprising. For example, near the wedding palace are the figures of Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly, one of the most beautiful and promising couples in the history of Europe. This prince’s reign saw the development of culture, so the mayor felt a kind of ideological kinship with him.
A monument to Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly, with which newlyweds are usually photographed. Photo: A. Komelin
Here, near the registry office, there is a boat station. In the warm season you can rent a boat and look from the water the main views of Yoshkar-Ola.
On the embankment of Bruges is a museum of history and archeology of the Republic of Mari El. During the tour you will be told about what archaeological finds there are in the republic and what are the pagan beliefs of the Mari people. Admission is 150 ₽. There are discounts for pensioners, students and schoolchildren.
Another museum here is the cheese museum, and inside there is a shop with products of the Sernur cheese factory. Go upstairs to the Terroir café, where they make excellent coffee and sell many desserts, including eclairs with different fillings. The average bill for a coffee and dessert is ₽300.
Amsterdam Embankment and Obolensky-Nogotkov Voivode Square
On the Amsterdam waterfront, the buildings are in the Dutch style. In general, it is better to walk here with a local or a guide: the architecture often has details that are not noticeable with a cursory look, but are very interesting. For example, weathervane and animal figures that hide on decorative roof grills and gutters.
Away from the river, on Leninsky Prospect, there is another beautiful place – Obolensky-Nogotkov Square, which is surrounded by buildings in Venetian style. There is also an art gallery “Mari Chimes” with the most accurate clocks in the republic (tuned by satellite!). They also show the performance.
At the beginning of each hour, a mechanical donkey moves out of the left door and disappears into the right. The plot is based on a Christian story about the rescue of the icon “The Holy Trinity. Photo: A. Komelin
On the square there is a reduced copy of the Moscow Tsar Cannon and monuments: to the first local governor prince Nogotkov-Obolensky and to martyr Leonid – bishop of Mari. Photo: A. Komelin
Near the square there is a monument to Yoshka the cat, which sits on the bench and invites to be photographed with it with a wide gesture. I refused, but kids and cat lovers don’t leave town without such shots.
T. Yevseev National Museum
Mari people (both mountain and meadow) are considered the last pagans of Europe: they still practice the rites of their traditional beliefs. At the heart of Mari paganism is a belief in the powers of nature. The Mari pantheon is large: about 140 gods. It is interesting that even today in Mari El there are sacred groves where Maris arrive for traditional prayers. There they also cook a ram on the fire and eat it together.
If you want to dive deeper into this subject, go to the national museum named after T. Yevseev. Admission: 150 ₽, for pensioners, students and schoolchildren – discounts. Prices for guided tours are on the website of the museum.
At the exhibition in the museum named after T. Yevseev you can learn more about the life and culture of the mountain and meadow Mari. Photo: A. Komelin
What to see near Yoshkar-Ola
If you come to Mari-El for a few days, I recommend getting to Sea Eye Lake with its unusual color for fresh water – greenish, like a sea wave. The lake is deep, you can scuba dive in it, and there are horseback excursions on its shores. 130 kilometers from Yoshkar-Ola is better to go by cab or private car. The destination is the village of Shariboksad, nearest to the lake.
In general, the Republic of Mari El has beautiful natural places – lakes, forests and the Volga – so the townspeople often choose to rest at campgrounds, for example in Yalchik.
From Yoshkar-Ola you can also go to the village of Yurino, where the castle of Sheremetev is located. Rich landowner and nephew of Count Sheremetev bought this land on the bank of the Volga at the beginning of the XIX century, the castle appeared one hundred years later. Now you can get here with a guided tour, inside there is a hotel and museum. In summer, there are open-air theater seasons. To get to the castle, you need to bypass a wide part of the Volga – the total route from Yoshkar-Ola will take 200 km one way.
German architects were involved in the construction, so the main style is late Neo-Gothic, which is unusual for Russia. Photo: A. Komelin
Where to eat in Yoshkar-Ola
For traditional cuisine, local guides advise to go to “Warm River” (by the way, next to it there are monuments to the Mari dumpling podkogol and the letter y), “Sandal” and “Mari”. Order meat noodle soup (lashka), the same podkogol and pancakes made of several kinds of flour (kom melna).
A traditional meal costs ₽700-800 or more for meat and by-products. I particularly remember the comma melna – something between a pancake and a casserole, hearty and unusual in flavor, soaked in butter. I definitely haven’t tasted anything like that anywhere else.
A popular chain of canteens (or, as they call themselves, culinary shops) in the city is Simple Food, where I have had lunch and breakfast on more than one occasion. There are several in the center: for example, on Chavayna Boulevard and Bruges Quay. You can recognize them by the yellow bird on the logo. It’s clean, cozy, has a separate bar with a coffee machine and desserts. The assortment is big: well-made catering classics, dietary and vegetarian dishes, soups. Super combo lunches start at ₽129.
Exotic items include the Mexican bar Sangrita. It was memorable for its bright interior, friendly staff, homemade sauces and lemonades, and several kinds of craft beer in original cans (I took them away as souvenirs). Having lunch for ₽500 is a mission accomplished.
Another nice place is the triple restaurant “Vasya from Guangzhou” (Asian cuisine), “Shavi” (Georgian cuisine) and “Flour and Apron” (European cuisine, pastries and desserts). The place is trendy and popular, in summer it has a veranda, the price tag is close to Moscow’s.
When to go to Yoshkar-Ola
If you come here in the summer, it makes sense to get to one of the lakes or the Volga for swimming. The season here lasts from late June to early August, the average water temperature at this time is 19-24 °C. The hottest month is July when the air is heated to an average of 20-25 ° C, but sometimes hotter.
In the fall, swimming is no longer possible, but all the natural places of Mari El are even more picturesque. The climate here is the same as in the entire middle belt: not too frosty in winter, not too hot in summer (with rare exceptions).
Yoshkar-Ola in winter has its own charm: red brick buildings look bright against the white snow, and it’s rare to see European architecture against drifts anywhere else. The coldest month is January, the temperature can drop to 17°C below zero.
The temperature in Yoshkar-Ola in summer is 20-25 ° C, in winter – down to minus 17 ° C
How to reach Yoshkar-Ola
You can reach Yoshkar-Ola by any convenient means of transport: by car, bus, train and plane.
Airport is next to the city, you can reach the center in 30-40 minutes by public transport (40-50 ₽) or by cab (20 km, from 150 ₽).
Railway station and bus station are in the southern part of the city, from them to the center you have to go along Sovetskaya street, the stop “Bulvar Chavaina” – by cab or by bus number 1 (20-30 minutes). In good weather you can also walk: along Sovetskaya and Voznesenskaya Streets, it will take 40-45 minutes.
How to move around the city
Public transportation in the city works well, there is an extensive network of buses and trolleybuses. The city museum even offers a trolleybus tour, but you should ask about it at the museum itself.
There are several local car rental companies. There are also scooter rentals in the city: the nearest rental place is at Central Park, at the intersection of Komsomolskaya Street and Chavayna Boulevard. There is no bicycle rental.
Where to stay in Yoshkar-Ola
Hotels in Yoshkar-Ola have low prices – about 2,000 ₽ per night in a double room. Look for options in the center, in the area of Bruges and Amsterdam embankments, Chavayna Boulevard and Voznesenskaya Street. If you live here, all the major attractions will be within walking distance.
For example, the hotel “Revizor” is located on the embankment of Amsterdam, “Onar” is a five minute walk to the Republic Square and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and “Stone” is a little further from the center (800 m), but close to the city park.
There are more budget hostels and apartments in Yoshkar-Ola too, but all of them are further from the center. For example, the hostel “Comfort” is near the railway station. If you come to the city by train, it may even be convenient: you will not be late for departure and will not need to drag luggage far. But you will have to get to the center by public transport or by cab.
What to bring from Yoshkar-Ola: souvenirs and gifts
In Yoshkar-Ola, many craftsmen are still engaged in traditional folk crafts: embossing, woodcarving, wool felting. You will find pottery, wooden handicrafts, jewelry and, of course, Yoshkina the cat in any incarnation – from magnets to branded vodka.
You can bring as a gift to your friends:
- balsam “Ogni Mari El”;
- goat cheese from Sernur plant (good both hard and soft – with white mold, in birch bark boxes);
- candies “Bird’s Milk” of the local factory;
- fruit marmalade in packages with views of the city.
Tips for tourists
1. If you are interested in Mari culture, see the repertoire of local theaters. For example, at the Drama Theater named after Shketan. Shketan are staging productions based on Mari folk stories: the drama “Yugorno” and the musical “Silver Pampalche”. Note that many of the performances are in the Mari language.
2. To find a good local guide, ask the staff of the city museums – they usually have contacts of tour guides who have a good command of historical information.
3. there is a little trick for those who want to visit all the city’s museums: ask at the ticket office of the first of them a single ticket, it costs 500 ₽. You can use it to visit six museums and exhibitions over three days.
4. The center of Yoshkar-Ola is beautiful at any time of the year, but especially so when the river is not covered with ice and gingerbread houses, towers and carved brickwork are reflected in the water. At night, the buildings are beautifully lit, so visitors explore the local beauty in detail during the day, and return in the evening for beautiful photographs and a romantic stroll.
Attractions of Yoshkar-Ola
Yoshkar-Ola is the cultural center of the Mari-El Republic with a favorable moderately continental climate and many cultural monuments. Over the last decade, tourist interest in it has grown considerably. Tourists come here to relax, have fun, learn about Mari culture, see local historical sites and attractions.
What to see in Yoshkar-Ola in 1 day
Yoshkar-Ola is called the city of selfie-tourism because of its beautiful buildings and unique natural scenery. It has its own historical sights, places of active recreation, parks and nature reserves. Speaking about what to see in Yoshkar-Ola for a tourist, we can mention not only the original local attractions, but also replicas of foreign historical monuments. It is mandatory to visit famous monuments to historical personalities, heroes of urban folklore.
Famous tourist places of Yoshkar-Ola amaze with a variety of architectural styles, fusion of the best features of Western European and Russian architecture. Choosing where to go and what to visit in Yoshkar-Ola, you should first of all pay attention to the city center – it is here that most of the architectural copies and stylized buildings are gathered.
Below are the main attractions and memorable places of the Red city.
Analogous to the Moscow Kremlin, the architectural monument was erected on the ruins of a medieval fortress. In the center is a monument to Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, who played an important role in the development of Yoshkar-Ola (historical name – Tsarevokokshaysk).
The museum is situated at 58, Voznesenskaya Street.
How to get there: the bus stop – “Tsarevokokshaisk Kremlin”, bus 9.
Open from 10:00 till 20:00.
Clock “12 Apostles”.
Part of the sculptural complex on the Patriarch’s Square, based on the biblical motif of the entry of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem – the Savior on a donkey, the apostles are behind him. From 9:00 to 21:00 every 3 hours the sculptures leave the gate on the left edge of the terrace.
Address: 37 Tsargradsky avenue.
The stop – “Patriarchal Square”, route cab 10, 11.
The sculptural complex in the Venetian style is dedicated to the memory of Ivan Obolensky-Nogotkov, the first governor of Yoshkar-Ola. His bronze statue graces the center of the square. Nearby is a sculpture of Mari bishop Leonid and a copy of a Moscow landmark – the Tsar Cannon.
Address of the monument is Leninsky Prospekt, 24A.
Stop – “Teatralnaya”, bus 5.
See other places of interest:
A replica of the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower, the clock chimes on the building are the most accurate in the city. The theme of Annunciation is also revealed in the nearby statues of the Virgin Mary with the Child and the Archangel Gabriel.
The tower is located on the Republic Square and Blessed Virgin Mary, 1.
The transport stop is “Boulevard Chine”, route cab 1, 9.
A compact and picturesque garden in the style of the Italian Renaissance. The central figure is the monument to Lorenzo de Medici the Magnificent. The sculpture symbolizes the triumph of science and art and the revival of the tradition of patronage.
The attraction is located near the Sunday Embankment, on the Republic and Blessed Virgin Mary Square, next to the Academic Russian Drama Theater.
The stop is “Pension Fund”, trolleybus 2, 8.
The building, built during the reign of Elizabeth of Russia. The historical attraction combines the ancient Byzantine temple style with the European Rococo style.
The building is located on 31 Voznesenskaya Street.
Stop – “Pharmacy № 1”, trolleybus 10, 11.
Open from 7:00 to 19:00.
House of the merchant Pchelin
The oldest stone building in Yoshkar-Ola built in the XVIII century. The house is made in the style of classicism with baroque elements. It’s a historical place worth visiting for tourists.