The photos were taken by the Comdig Urban Exploration. They are photographers and urban explorers based in Russia. The Comdig has been documenting urban decay, industrial abandonments, and rural decomposition since 2010.
Dachas are not just a type of building in Russia; they are a cultural institution. These cottage-like holiday homes often exist in tiny villages or colonies, in both suburban and rural areas. Dachas are not defined by a specific architectural style — rather, they are defined by their function.
What is a Russian Dacha?
A dacha is a seasonal or year-round second home, often located in the exurbs of Russian-speaking and other post-Soviet countries. The 1980s saw the peak of the dacha boom, with nearly all affluent families — over a third of families in urban areas — having a dacha of their own.
Dachas are a place to temporarily escape urban life and reconnect with nature by growing your own food, observing the surrounding wildlife, and returning to a simpler mode of existence.
The History of Russian Dachas
The word dacha actually comes from the word davat, which means “to give.” Initially, dachas were small plots of land, given as gifts by the Russian tsar throughout the 1600s. It is unclear which tsar specifically began this practice, but Peter the Great is credited with endowing dachas with a special significance.
During Peter the Great rule from 1682 to 1725, the upper class and nobility used their dachas to host social gatherings, holiday retreats, parties, and fireworks displays. The concept of the dacha gained traction throughout the 1700s and 1800s.
By the end of the 19th century, the dacha became a favorite summer retreat for the upper and middle classes of Russian society. In the tsarist era, dachas tended to have pleasure gardens but were not used much for growing food. Maxim Gorky wrote a novelette entitled Dachniki (1885), about newlywed city-dwellers living a ‘simple’ summer life of walks in the countryside
After the revolution of 1917, the larger dachas of the nobility were nationalized and turned into houses of rest for the working class. The seniormost Soviet leaders all had their own dachas, and Joseph Stalin’s favourite was in Abkhazia. New dachas started to be built in larger numbers during the 1930s, and dacha colonies for artists, or soldiers, or various classes of party functionaries, started to form.
The dacha took on a more utilitarian connotation in the aftermath of WWII. By then, Russia was under Soviet rule and supply shortages ravaged the country. In the 1960s, in the Khruschev era, the authorities instituted programs to give small parcels of land to citizens. This led, as was hoped, to many citizens growing food on their own to alleviate food shortages. Fruits and higher-value vegetables were favored by these new gardeners. Many also built housing on the land, although that was not always approved by the state.
The authorities later increasingly gave permission to build housing, leading to many two-to-four-story brick cottages replacing the small wooden cabins that were more common before. Meanwhile, the individual plot could not exceed six “sotok.” In the singular, the word in Russian is “sotka” and is derived from the Russian word for 100 and denotes an area of 100 square meters. It is still the most common unit of measure for a dacha plot.
The 1980s saw the peak of the dacha boom, with nearly all affluent families—over a third of families in urban areas—having a dacha of their own. Dacha houses built since the late 1980s are significantly larger than older ones because legal size restrictions were liberalized, and new dacha areas became fields of relatively big houses on tiny land plots.
The harvest was a special pride for many people – some sold their produce, while others gave it away to their neighbors and friends. It was common to share the seeds of rare plants with others. Real fans think about their dacha all year long. In winter they plant tomato, cucumber, pepper and eggplant seeds in small pots that they keep on the window sills of their apartments – and at the beginning of May they re-plant them at their dachas.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the land was once again privatized, and families were then able to ‘buy’ their dachas from the government. For many Russians, growing food at the dacha was how they survived the social and economic collapse of the 1990s.
By the end of the1990s, most people had the opportunity to privatize their dachas if they wished. Those in high places did their best to keep their summer homes – in most cases they negotiated a lower price with officials.
Russian Dachas Today
The average modern suburban dacha has more than one floor, running water, electricity, and sewage systems. Sometimes these are limited to septic tanks, private wells, and generators.
Dachas nowadays are still generally used for small-scale gardening as well and, perhaps tellingly, economic crises are often accompanied by people investing into dachas – by adding greenhouses, for instances. However, most dacha gardens now represent hobbies rather than a means of income or survival.
Advantages and disadvantages of Russian Dacha
Due to the rapid increase in urbanization in Russia, many village houses are currently being sold to be used as dachas. Many Russian villages now have dachniki as temporary residents. Some villages have been fully transformed into dacha settlements, while some older dacha settlements often look like more permanent lodgings.
The advantages of purchasing a dacha in a village usually are lower costs, greater land area, and larger distances between houses. The disadvantages may include lower-quality utilities, less security, and typically a farther distance to travel.
Photos of Decaying Russian Dachas
Expert on Urban Planning and Abandoned Places
|Mr. Gregory Hooqe is a highly experienced expert on Urban Planning and Sustainable Development. Mr. Gregory Hooqe has been focusing on Urban Development since 2000 and has written extensively on the subject.|
He was awarded the 2009 Korea Foundation Professional Award for his research on Korean Smart Cities, as well as the 2016 Korea Development Institute, Global Ambassador Award for SD and Innovation