Discover Russia



Typical Russian souvenirs include Matreshka dolls and various handicraft associated with folk culture such as Gzhel, Khokhloma and Palekh. Samovars are also among most popular presents from Russia. Elements of ethnic Russian clothes — “kosovorotka” shirt and “ushanka” warm hat — for men; “sarafan” dress, wool “shawl” and “kokoshnik” head decoration — for women — are also on high demand as well as typical ethnic Russian musical instruments gusli, balalaika and garmoshka. Russian vodka and caviar are among the most popular edible souvenirs. Apart from the traditional souvenirs, some regions tend to have a variety of their traditional tokens, that are normally influenced by the prevailing ethnic culture of the region.

Matreshka, also known as a Russian nested doll, is a set of wooden hand-painted dolls of decreasing sizes placed one inside the other. The first figure can be pulled apart to reveal another figure of the same sort inside. It has, in turn, another figure inside, and so on. The number of nested figures is usually five or more. The word “Matreshka” is presumably derived from the Russian traditional female first name “Matrena”. The dolls have no hands except those that are painted. Traditionally the outer layer is a woman dressed in national dress Sarafan. Some of them  are decorated in a way to show the present famous figures like Soviet political leaders, American presidents, pop-music and sport stars.

Samovar is a heated metal container traditionally used to heat and boil water in and around Russia. Since the heated water is usually used for making tea, many samovars have an attachment on their tops to hold and heat a teapot filled with tea brew. Russian name “samovar” translates as a “self-brewer”. In everyday use it was an economical permanent source of hot water in older times. Samovar combines practical and emotional function: it became a unifying symbol for people gathered together to have a good time and friendly conversation while a tea-party. Traditionally heated with charcoal, most nowadays samovars use electricity and heat water in a similar way as electric water brewers.

Ushanka — a Russian fur cap with flaps that can be tied at the chin to protect ears from frost or tied at the top of the cap. The word Ushanka derives from “ears” (“ushi”) in Russian. Most foreigners buy black and grey military hats with faux fir decorated with military badges. But the Russians prefer ushankas made of expensive natural fur like mink, nutria, fox, muskrat, mixed leather-and-fur hats or original ushankas made by fashion designers.

Valenki — Russian national winter felt boots, warm and comfortable for foot walks in frosty and snowy climate. Valenki can be easily worn in severe – 40C frost and below. It makes valenki irreplaceable footwear in towns, villages and  countryside. In big cities valenki are not popular nowadays, however some cool-designed valenki with applique’s work and embroidery made by fashion-designers are in favor as an expensive and exclusive souvenir.

Palekh — the village of Palekh is located near the Kostroma town, one of the major points of the Golden Ring of ancient Russian cities. Palekh became famous for its unique folk crafted miniatures. Bright tempera paint is used to decorate a black background of lacquer-ware (small boxes for jewelry, papers, powder, cigarette holders, pill-boxes, etc). Palekh miniature painting became famous in the beginning of the 20th century, however the art-school is based on the centuries old icon painting traditions and techniques. The decoration plots of the Palekh painting usually include heroic events of Russian and Soviet history, scenes from faily tales and popular legends as well as everyday scenes.

Khokhloma is one more famous Russian craft, that emerged in the Nizhny Novgorod region in the 17th century. The painting technique of Khokhloma (named after the village of the same name) has hardly changed for centuries. The wood-cutted objects are covered by a special base, smeared with aluminum powder and painted with heat-resistant dyes. Being covered with lacquer the patterns turn to vivid gold color. The traditional decoration consists of grass and flower motifs. The Khokhloma painting is used to decorate pottery, furniture, various souvenirs, spoons and other household items; it is resistant to water and organic acids.

Gzhel is a traditional Russian ceramic works. The festive hand-made  blue-patterned porcelain is extremely popular all over the world. Designers and potters use the traditional shapes and decor for more then 200 years . The range of items made is extremely diverse, but the most traditional items are teapots, jugs, mugs, butter-dishes, sugar-bowls, honey-pots, and sweetmeat stands.

Orenburg shawl (kerchief) originated in Orenburg area on Urals about 250 years ago today is one of Russia’s symbols along with Matreshka or Ushanka. The shawls are made from a blend of silk and indigenous goat fiber, similar to cashmere or mohair. The first-class shawl must pass the following test — although it’s quite large, it can be pulled through a wedding ring because the knitting is so fine. Shawls are very light, soft and warm. The efforts of the French in the XIX century to import Orenburg goat were not successful: goats need their thin down hair to keep warm and the warm climate of France was not favorable for it. Orenburg goats in France degenerated and turned into ordinary goats with rough thick down hair.
There are several kinds of Orenburg shawls: grey (seldom white) thick shawls, quite dense kerchiefs used for every day wear and very thin kerchiefs known as Pautinka (“spider’s net”). As a rule thin Pautinkas have got fancy patterns and are used as fine decoration for any evening dress of whatever style on special occasions.

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