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Russian Izba. Its Origin and Interior

Russian Izba

Russian izba is part of Russian culture. Its unique architecture reflects the loyalty to ancient traditions in dwelling construction, but its characteristic feature is its durability and unique construction. Organization and interior of izba had been created for many years. Today there are not many traditional Russian houses left, but they still can be found in some regions.

What is Russian izba?

Russian izba is a house build from square frames of logs. Slavic people used to live in this type of houses for centuries. At that time, the ancestors of the Russian people loved their home, so their whole life took place within the walls of this unique building. The word “izba” originates from “истьба”, which in Old Slavic means “house” or “banya”.

Origin of Russian izba

Russian Izba

Until the 10th century Russians used to build their houses from wood. Logs of trees which were partially put into the ground to ensure greater reliability and durability of the structure served as the foundation for the future building. Then the main part of the izba was build. There were no doors or windows. There were 1-metre high holes. There was a stone hearth inside, but since there was no chimney, all the smoke went through the entrance hole. In the beginning, the floors in the house were earthen, but later people started to cover them with wooden boards. People step by step improved Russian izba, and in the end, there appeared the type of Russian izba which is familiar to everyone: with windows, a door, and a Russian stove.

External and internal organization of Russian izba

In Russian izba, there was only one room which the owners separated into several parts. The stove corner which was separated with a curtain was an obligatory part of the izba. There were also separate zones for men and women.  All corners in the house were built according to the four cardinal points, and the most important among them was the Eastern (red) corner, where the family had the iconostasis. It was the icons that the guests had to pay attention first after entering the izba.

Russian Izba

Porch

Hosts always paid special attention to the construction of the porch. It was carefully thought out. Artistic taste, ancient traditions, and creativity were the main components in the construction. Porch connected izba with street and was seen by guests and passersby. Traditionally, in the evenings the whole family and neighbors gathered on the porch, where they sang songs and danced.

Seni

Seni is a room that was built in order to separate the living area from the street and keep the house warm. A high threshold was built to separate seni and the heated area, which prevented the cold air getting into the house. Also, seni was used to store necessary things and food.

Russian Izba

Russian stove

Russian stove used to be the center of Russians’ everyday life. It was used for cooking and heating; it also was a sleeping place and a bath. There were places for various utensils in the walls of the stove. In the traditional Russian izba the stove was the main element of the house; it was placed in the main area, to the right or to the left of the entrance.

Since ancient times, there were a lot of beliefs associated with the stove. People believed that domovoy lived on the stove. People also never took out the garbage from the house. As a rule, they used to burn it in the stove, believing that this way all energy remains in the house and it contributes to prosperity and wealth in the family.

Stove corner

Stove corner or as it is called “babiy kut” is an important space in the life of Russian women. It performed a number of functions. It was separated with a curtain, sometimes with a wooden wall.  All kitchen utensils were kept in the corner. In the stove corner women washed and dried linen, cooked food, healed children, and read fortune. Brides were waiting for their grooms on the day of their wedding. Here, women gave birth to their children and breastfed their children, hiding from behind the curtain.

Russian Izba

In those days, almost every woman did handicraft, so the stove corner was the most convenient place for privacy. Men were absolutely banned from the stove corner, even the men from the family, and especially great insult to the hosts was if a stranger man got behind the curtain.

Men’s corner (conik)

Men’s corner was always situated on the right from the entrance. There was a wide bench which had wooden fence on both sides. Boards were cut in the form of a horse’s head, that is why the men’s corner got its second name – conik. Men kept their tools and other things they used for construction work or other male jobs under the bench.

In the corner men used to mend shoes and utensils, as well as made baskets.  All guests who came for a short time could have a sit in the corner. The most important function of the corner – men slept and had rest here.

Russian Izba

Red corner

Red corner is a sacred, lightest and most important place in Russian izba. It had always been clean; there were icons and embroidered towels. The icons of the Virgin and Savior were the most important ones. Freshly baked bread was always kept under the icons and it was covered with towels. There was a big table in the red corner and people had their meals there.

If you come to a Russian village today, you’ll see that a lot of houses look similar. They are the final result of the development of the traditional Russian izba, but despite their similarity, each house is still unique because of its individual design.

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