The trip to Yoshkar-Ola, the capital of the Republic Mari El, Oct. 10, 2018

Until 2009, Yoshkar-Ola, 270 thousand inhabitants, was probably a unimpressive provincial town with mostly undeveloped area along the banks of the Malaya Kokshaga river passing through it, that were being flooded every year. The appearance of the area along the river has radically changed in the past 9 years: the river was contained within high concrete banks, a large reservoir was created, and all the new water fronts were being filled with new buildings in fairytale pseudo-styles inspired by places from all over Europe. So there is now a children's puppet theatre in the form of a medieval Bavarian castle, a long Brugge Embankment, a square inspired by Venice' Piazza San Marco, and two tower clocks showing processions of apostles on every hour, walking/riding on the outside (a competition to the famous Prague astronomical clock? - at least the crowds of tourists are gathering in front of these clocks in the same way as in Prague). Some buildings are still unfinished. All this boom was apparently the idea of the former head of the republic, whom the local residents seem to be still grateful for what he did for the city, in spite of the fact that he has been imprisoned in a remand centre in Moscow where he is being investigated for allegedly taking a huge bribe. And in spite of that the Wikipedia article on him claims that Mari El budget deficit kept mushrooming under his watch, and there were human rights allegations against him.

(Click on each picture to open the full size photo.)
The current fairytale building boom has nothing to do with the original culture of the native inhabitants, the Maris, who live mostly in the countryside. They have resisted for centuries the attempts of their neighbours to first Islamize them, and later to Christianize them. About one third of them are estimated to still adhere to this old religion with a Roman-like pantheon of about 60 or 100 goods. Mari El is thus the last region of the Europe with an official "pagan" religion. Many Mari may be bi-religious, i.e., observing both their old customs and some Christian ones. Some have added Jesus into their pantheon as a wise man.
One cannot see the old pagan customs in the towns, but Yoshkar-Ola has the Mari National Theatre performing in the Mari language, and several schools and kindergartens with instruction in Mari.
Mari religion, with the institution of sacred groves, is responsible for the fact that Mari El is mostly covered with vast forests (unlike Tatarstan, which is mostly filled with well cultivated fields). Maris consider forests to be sacred, living entities. They have never cut down their forests, and were trying hard to prevent others to log their forests.

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