ITMO: Top Five Places in Russia You Can’t Really Visit

We’re all tired of traveling restrictions but what about travel destinations that are impossible to visit at all times? I’d say it’s still fascinating to learn more about them. Check out our list of (literally) legendary locations of Russian folklore.

Tridevyatoe tsarstvo
Many Russian fairytales begin with this line: “В тридевятом царстве, в тридесятом государстве…” (“In Tridevyatoe kingdom, in Tridesyatoe country…”). This name definitely sounds like it has to do with numbers (tridevyatoe – tridsat’ devyat’ – thirty-nine) but researchers still aren’t sure about the true meaning behind it.

Tridevyatoe tsarstvo refers to a magical reality a hero enters in order to complete his quest. There, he meets mythical creatures (such as and ), fights evil (personified by characters like ), and in the end gets rewarded for it by winning over a princess or receiving magical artifacts (e.g. apples of youth). Sometimes Tridevyatoe tsarstvo is also used simply as a synonym for “somewhere far away” but the mythological meaning is much more fascinating. You can learn more about this kingdom in Alexander Pushkin’s fairytales.

According to the legend, Kitezh, sometimes referred to as “Russian Atlantis”, is an underwater town in lake Svetloyar near Nizhny Novgorod. It is said that when Batu Khan, a ruler of the Golden Horde who tried to conquer Russia in the 13th century, wanted to attack Kitezh, people living there didn’t try to defend themselves. Instead, they prayed for salvation, and it came – the city suddenly began to submerge into the water. Many stories claim that you can still hear bells chime under the lake, meaning that the magical town of Kitezh is still there.

Cat who lives by the oak-tree in lukomorye, an illustration for Alexander Pushkin’s fairytales by Ivan Bilibin. Credit:
Cat who lives by the oak-tree in lukomorye, an illustration for Alexander Pushkin’s fairytales by Ivan Bilibin. Credit:
“У лукоморья дуб зеленый, златая цепь на дубе том…” (“There is a green oak-tree by lukomorye, there is a golden chain on it…”) is another line pretty much every Russian knows by heart. That’s how Alexander Pushkin starts his famous “” poem. But what is lukomorye? You won’t find it on modern maps. At the same time, it wasn’t Pushkin who came up with it – this name has a far more ancient history.

The term dates back to the 11-12th centuries and back then it meant a bay or a bight, so, you can actually find several lukomoryes on very old maps. In Slavic mythology, however, it’s a magical place where the arbor mundi, or the world tree that grows throughout the three levels of the universe (the underworld, the human world, and the heavenly upper world) is located.

You might’ve heard this peculiar word in sentences like “it’s in the middle of nowhere, in some Tmutarakan.” Although it was a real-life city in the Middle Ages, in modern Russian it is used as a term to describe some super distant location you have no idea how to reach. The real-life Tmutarakan, however, had more specific coordinates. It was located in Krasnodar Krai and ruins attributed to it still can be seen there.

Byan is a town on an island often mentioned in Russian folklore. Like Tridevyatoe tsarstvo, it’s a mythological location filled with magical objects that help heroes fight evil. For example, an oak-tree where the Koschei’s death is hidden as described in Pushkin’s “” grows there. Buyan is also important for the mythological worldview of ancient Slavs: Alatyr, a sacred stone, “a mighty force that has no end”, and the axis mundi, is placed on Byan. All wishes of those who manage to find it come true.

Hope this list of places no one – except for fairytale characters – can ever visit made you feel better! For stories about far more accessible locations, see our recent articles, such as on medieval architecture, or – with locations for book lovers.

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