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Two major icons of Russian culture celebrate their birthday today. Read on to find out who…
Два великана русской культуры / Two Giants of Russian Culture
Today is the birthday of two giants of Russian culture: Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin and everyone’s favourite block-dropping game, Tetris. In honour of this great and noble day we present you with a brief overview of the history of both!
Poetry for the Soul
Alexander Pushkin, widely renowned as the greatest poet in Russian history and the founder of the modern Russian language, was born in Moscow on June 6th 1799. His father came from a long line of Russian nobility, whilst his mother was of Swedish and German noble ancestry. Interestingly enough Pushkin’s great grandfather on his mother’s side was Abram Petrovich Gannibal, an African page who was given to Peter the Great as a gift by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and who rose to become a prominent member of the Russian court.
Pushkin’s talents were first recognised during his studies at the Lyceum at Tsarskoye Selo just south of St Petersburg. After finishing his studies Pushkin remained in Saint Petersburg, where he wrote his famous extended poem Ruslan and Ludmila (Руслан и Людмила) and became involved in political activism. It was for this activism that Pushkin was exiled from the capital in May 1820. In exile Pushkin spent time in the Caucasus, Crimea, Central Ukraine, Chișinău in Moldova, Odessa in southern Ukraine, and Mikhailovskoe near Pskov in north eastern Russia. In Chișinău Pushkin wrote two of the poems which began his rise to prominence: The Prisoner of the Caucasus (Кавказкий пленик) and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray (Бахчисарайский фонтан).
Pushkin was recalled from his exile in 1925 but as a result of the fact that some of his early political poems had been found amongst the belongings of participants in the Decembrist Revolt, which had taken place earlier that year, Pushkin was not given free reign to write what and as he wished. Instead his writings were subject to censorship by no less than Tsar Nicholas I himself.
From here Pushkin when on to write such celebrated works as, Eugene Onegin (Евгений Онегин), Boris Gordunov (Ворис Гордунов), and the Bronze Horseman (Медный всадник), amongst many, many others. His death came on February 10th 1837. His wife, Natalia Goncharova, had become embroiled in an ever worsening scandal due to rumours of an affair between herself and the Frenchman Georges d’Anthès. Pushkin ended up trying to settle the matter by forcing d’Anthès to fight him in a duel. The duel took place on February 8th; d’Anthès fired first, hitting Pushkin in the hip. He died from the wound two days later.
If you want to learn more about the life and works of Pushkin you have plenty of options whilst in St Peterburg. You can visit the National Pushkin Museum on the River Moika, the Lyceum at Tsarskoe Selo, the Pushkin Memorial Apartment and Museum in Pushkin’s own former lodgings, and you can even visit the Literary Cafe on Nevsky Prospect where Pushkin was taken after his fatal wounding.
Puzzles for the Brain
For those who have never played it, Tetris is a puzzle based video game which challenges players to stack “tetriminos” (geometric blocks made up of four smaller square blocks) on top of each other to create rows of blocks without any gaps in them. The game was created by Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov, an artificial intelligence researcher at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, in order to test the computing power of the Soviet “Electronica 60” computer.
The first playable version of the game was created on June 6th 1984. It quickly became popular amongst Pajitnov’s colleagues at the academy, two of whom, Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov, created a version of the game for the IBM PC. This PC version found its way to Hungary where it caught the attention of western game developers and publishers. What followed was a confusing battle over publishing rights between several different companies. A PC version of the game was published in the west by the American company, Spectrum Holobyte, in 1987, but what really kicked off the game’s popularity outside of Russia was the decision to bundle copies of the game with sales of Nintendo’s new Gameboy system.
The rights to the game have now been reacquired by Pajitnov, who created the Tetris Company in 1996. The Tetris Company now sets various rules for any and all official Tetris games, including what the colours of the different tetriminos should be, how they should behave, and the mandatory inclusion of Tetris’ signature theme song, “Type A”, which is actually a version of the Russian folk song Korobeiniki (Коробейники).
Unfortunately there’s no dedicated Tetris museum in Saint Petersburg but can find out more about and even play other Soviet games at the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games near to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.