Tobolsk, the old capital of Siberia. Russia

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Tobolsk is a small town North of Tyumen and it’s not well known outside Russia. However, Tobolsk can compete with many touristic cities in Russia and it’s worth coming to the town for 2-3 full days.

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In the days of the Tsar Ivan the Terrible (end of the 16th century) Tobolsk was the capital town in Siberia, wealthy and self-sufficient because Tobolsk was the main market of sable fur known as Siberian Gold. Later as most of the Siberian towns it became the place of exile for many Russian intellectuals and aristocrats including Dostoyevsky and the family of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II.

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We visited Tobolsk during the info-tour arranged by the Centre of Tourism of Tyumen Region. We had two days of guided tours and excursions in Tobolsk, so here’s our list of the must-visit places in Tobolsk:

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  1. Like many old Russian cities Tobolsk has a Kremlin and Red Square. The Kremlin is white as well as the square. Red (krasniy) – used to mean beautiful, hence this. The Kremlin is a fortress that was built on a steep bank of the Irtysh river. Because in the past there were many floods, Swedish prisoners of the Tobolsk prison were forced to dig a new mouth for the river further away from Tobolsk. So now the town has an upper side with the Kremlin and the lower side with lots of old wooden houses.

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The Kremlin has small museums archeological exhibitions, restaurants and several Orthodox Churches to visit. The area is not large and it’s worth taking photos from all the sides.

2. As most of the towns in Siberia for centuries Tobolsk was a place of exile. The Russian Tsars exiled political prisoners there and since many of the oppositionists were noblemen just a prison wasn’t enough, so in Tobolsk you can visit the Prison Castle.

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It’s just next to the Kremlin and Red Square. Later though it became a prison for ordinary criminals. The Soviets continued using the buildings as a prison that lead to the fact that Tobolsk became a very criminal town in the 1980s.

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After that the prison was finally closed and now it’s a museum. Besides, you can stay overnight in a prison cell, as there is a hostel located in the same building. A very creepy place though for sleeping, especially after visiting the museum and hearing all the stories.

You can watch a short video about the Prison Castle here:

3. Siberia and Tobolsk are famous for a Mammoth Bone Carving Art.

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There are two small private factories in Tobolsk that hold excursions and sell souvenirs made of bones. After spring floods of the river of Irtysh people used to find a lot of bones of a Mammoth. These days they are common too but cost much more and brought from the North of Tyumen region.

The craftsmen also work with bones of cows, reindeer and teeth of a walrus. The art works vary from 10 to 1000 US$ and are sold with a certificate.

4. The Museum of History in Tobolsk tells about the development of Tobolsk how from a small wooden fortress set up by the Cossacks it turned into a prosperous Capital of Siberia.

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It also has a corner of the Tatar culture, as Tatars had lived on that territory before Russians; and the hall of Mendeleyev – a Russian chemist, the inventor of the Periodic Table of Elements was born in Tobolsk

5 Governer’s Museum is the first museum in Tobolsk opened in 1870. It has a skeleton of a mammoth in the main hall, an archeological collection and an exhibition of stuffed animals characteristic for Western Siberia.

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Next to the Museum you can have a nice walk in a small park with huge Siberian Cedar trees. It’s a good viewpoint to the Kremlin and you can take great photos especially at the sunset.

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6. If you are interested in the tragic story of the last Tsar Nicholas II and his family, Tobolsk has a museum of the Romanovs.

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The family stayed in exile in the Govener’s house for 6 month after that they were relocated to Yekaterinburg where they would be executed. In Tobolsk the family stayed with their servants and teachers of the children.

The Museum of the Romanovs was refurbished in 2018. It has a lot of personal belongings of the Tsar’s family, the furniture of those days. It’s better to have a guided excursion to learn more about the days of the Romanovs in Siberia.

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Other than that Tobolsk has a lot of cozy restaurants with a old Russian décor and traditional dishes. The most famous souvenir from Tobolsk is not bone carving but Siberian fish! Here they eat it smoked or simply frozen. Frozen white fish is called ‘stroganina’, it’s staple food of the native Northern people Mansi, Khanty and Nenets. Siberian fish such as muksun, sterlet and sturgeon don’t smell like fish, have almost no bones and the meat is very fat and nourishing.

We bought fish at the local market and sure we couldn’t leave Siberia without buying Siberian vodka!

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