The archive stores a multitude of state documents, manuscripts and other items dating all the way back to the 11th century.Ruslan Sukhushin
The Saeco coffeemaker appears out of place in Yevgeniya Lykova’s office. Centuries-old manuscripts are scattered around chaotically, a vintage typewriter rests on a shabby cupboard. The coffeemaker is one of the few symbols of the modern world in this room full of antiques.
Lykova, deputy director of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents (RGADA), enters the cream-colored building daily. She joined the archives soon after she graduated from the Moscow State Archive Institute, and has now been working here for 40 years.
“I find something new here every day and this varies my work routine,” says Lykova.
The archive receives around 400 private requests a year to process, in addition to regular duties. The requests come from historians looking for unique research material, and from ordinary people who seek to reconstruct their genealogical history.
“Sometimes we have to carry additional seats inside to accommodate everybody,” complains Lykova.
Originally built in 1886, the archive building stores a multitude of state documents, population censuses, manuscripts and other items dating back to the 11th century.
The director’s workroom is itself an attraction for visitors. Preserved in its original shape from 1886, the workroom is a typical example of 19th century design.
The archive’s repository is also a first-rate attraction. The dim labyrinth with its numerous exits and a spiral staircase keeps histories of the past alongside shelves of neatly arranged books and boxes.
“Before the floor was equipped with these metal latticed panels the archive’s employees used to use small metal cards fixed on wire cables to navigate between the numerous shelves of the repository,” explains Lykova.
The latticed panels that have remained here since the pre-revolutionary period were mounted only after a number of accidents, with some of the workers falling out of carts swaying at a height of five storeys.
People, however, are not the only victims of unfortunate accidents in the repository. On October 14, 2008, a pipe from an old heating system running along the inner walls of the storage area burst open and hot water flooded the lower floors of the repository.
“We had to dry every single document but we were able to save everything,” said Lykova.
Since then, the old heating pipes have been replaced with a brand new air-conditioning system.
On a more positive note, the repository provided a scene for a fiction book by popular Russian novelist Boris Akunin. The first book in his well-liked Extracurricular Reading series featured a scene in which a mysterious adversary confronts the protagonist, detective Nicholas Fandorin, inside a repository of one of the Moscow archives.
“It’s our archive that he wrote about!” Lykova exclaimed when I remind her of the book. “That scene unfolds here!” She admits it gave her a sense of joy to read about the place to which she has dedicated 40 years of her life in a national page-turner; an unexpected reward for her love of history.
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