You know, cities are just like people: their backgrounds are different, their prospects are not the same, and in the course of time they change so much, you can barely recognize any traits from their early days when they reach a ripe old age. So, one has to be very perceptive and observant to discover a city’s true character. Let us take a closer look at some of the historical facts that might give you a clearer picture of the city of Novosibirsk and its people.
Firstly, Novosibirsk must be the only city in Russia that has been renamed so many times. The first settlement, which was established by railway workers in 1893, was called Krivoshekovo. This is a combination of two Russian words: “krivoy” (uneven) and “sheky” (cheeks), and the choice of this name suggests that the founders had a poetic perception of the virginal nature of the area — “uneven cheeks” referred to the banks of the Ob River (which passes through the city) being of different heights in the place where a railway bridge was constructed.
By the end of the 19th century, the town’s first stone church had been built — the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral — thanks to donations from the Alexander III Charity Fund, so the grateful citizens of this remote Siberian village felt they were obliged to rename it in honor of their beloved Tsar. This is how Krivoshekovo turned into Alexandrovsky.
When the rule of Nicholas II began, the village authorities were quite practical-minded about changing the name of their town once again. The railway had brought more and more people who stayed in Alexandrovsky for good (by the end of the 19th century, the population was well over 10,000 people). So, the village authorities asked the Tsar to grant city status to their hometown, which meant, of course, more investment from the treasury. In order to encourage a rapid and favorable decision, they renamed it Novonikolaevsk (New Nicholas City), and their ploy worked – very soon, Novonikolaevsk became a city.
A fourth and final name change came after the Great October Revolution, as the ruling party definitely did not want to be reminded of the past by this eyesore bearing the name of a Tsar right in the middle of the country, although it took them quite a long while to notice it. In 1925 there was a nationwide contest in the Soviet Union to select the best name for a modern Siberian city. Various ideas were put forward, for example: Vladlen (contracted from Vladimir Lenin), and Krasnooktiabrsk (Red October). Eventually, most votes were cast in favor of renaming the city Novosibirsk (New Siberia), and that is what it has been called ever since.
However, the Cold War did cause yet another attempt to change the city’s name. By 1962, less than 70 years after Novosibirsk was founded, its population had reached 1,000,000 people. It had taken Chicago — one of the fastest growing American cities — 100 years to achieve the same figures. So, to show off in front of their American adversaries, some Soviet politicians suggested calling the city Sibchicago.
The last but not the least important piece of information we would like to share with you relates to local artisans, as there is no better way to tell what sort of person you are dealing with than to have a chance to see what this person can produce. Have a closer look at the face of present day Novosibirsk, with its modest St. Nicholas Chapel, and busy Lenin Square. Do the many Khrushchev-era five-storied apartment buildings make it look dull? Well, its coat is definitely not as fashionable and trendy as that of its European area brothers — even Siberian log houses with intricate wooden decorations look so simple compared to marble columns and elaborate stone carvings. But has it ever occurred to you that if you could figure out the meaning of the different wooden decorative elements, you could learn the history of the city by reading the messages carved by the skilled hands of true Siberians? In fact, these decorations reflect all of their intimate hopes and fears, yet their meaning needs to be deciphered.
This is the essence of Novosibirsk — what you see is what you get, and the depth of your understanding is limited only by your wish to get to know it. Cities are just like people, aren’t they?