Barrow of Glory, Minsk. (Postcard, 1969.)

Despite the liberalization and relaxation of Soviet tourism during the “thaw” era from mid-1950s onwards, state sponsored sights were still popular – or at least the politburo wanted them to be. After the victorious war, patriotic attractions actually multiplied all around the Soviet Union during the 1960s, and made their way also to the postcards. Here we see the “Barrow of Glory” near Belarussian capital Minsk. It commemorated the so-called operation Bagration during the Great Patriotic War, as the World War II came to be called in the Soviet Union. The enormous amount of tourists lining up to the monument tells how important the patriotic sights were.

Central department store, Riga. (Postcard, 1962.)

Soviet tourism was not only about ideology. Especially after the war, during the so-called Khrushchev “thaw”, traveling began to loosen up, and one could now have a proper beach holiday, take sightseeing tours without Lenin places – and even go shopping. It would have been too much to promote such frivolous amusements in Moscow or Leningrad, but in the Baltic states shopping was OK. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been occupied by the Soviet Union during the war, and in the 1960s they still had many exotic features that the Russian part of the union lacked, like street caf├ęs. They also carried wider selection of goods in the shops, and that’s why trips to Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius turned into shopping tourism. Here is a postcard of the central department store of Riga. The image stresses the modern side of the city, with the neon lights and all, and there is also a sign for a restaurant.

Komandorski Islands. (Postcard, 1981.)

Most Soviet tourists flocked to the typical holiday destinations like Crimea and Caucasus. The state, anyhow, wanted to boost also other places, if not actually for tourism, then to advertise the grandeur of the Soviet Union. For this reason even some extremely remote places ended up in tourist postcards. Here is a postcard from 1980s showing a village in Komandorski Islands. The island group is situated in the middle of Bering sea, almost 200 kilometres from the mainland and the Kamchatka peninsula. They are treeless and rocky islets, basically wasteland, and didn’t probably get any tourism. Still, the Soviet Union printed a series of postcards of the Komandorski Islands, and with quite distinctive style, too.

Moscow University. (Found photography, 1960s-1970s.)

Private holiday photographs can tell lot about the Soviet tourism. Where brochures, postcards and other Intourist materials reflect the perspective of the state to tourism, photos people have took themselves reveal the more private side of travelling. Here is a snapshot bought from the messy stacks of Udelnaya flea market at St. Petersburg. It is clearly a tourist photo, with the tour busses and the famous Moscow university building in the background, taken sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. The appearance of the woman in the forefront speaks volumes about the ordinary Soviet tourist. She seems bit timid but still enthusiastic, and she has dressed up for the occasion to highlight the importance of travelling. Fundamentally, tourism in the Soviet Union was about the same things than everywhere.

Crimea. (Brochure, 1970s.)

Crimea was THE destination of Soviet tourism from 1920s, when bolsheviks belonging to the nomenclature had their dachas there, right into the 1980s, when Soviet mass tourism was at its peak. Moreover, Crimea was, and still is, symbolically important, as the latest events in the area have shown. Soviet Union marketed Crimea also to foreign tourists, and there were some hotels that were open only to western holidaymakers. Here is a brochure printed in Finland in 1970s, advertising Crimea and the Caucasus as a destination. All the vacation cliches are there: deep blue sea, golden sand, nature and tranquility. Even freedom is hinted, as travelling is done by a private car. In the late Soviet era, tourism in Crimea had many features in common with the western tourism of the same era.

Welcome to Soviet Moldavia. (Brochure, 1980s.)

If you think Soviet tourism as gray and colourless, think again. At least advertisement was full of excitement. Already in the 1930s some of the notable Intourist posters were very artistic and full of colour, and from 1970s on this became almost standard in the Soviet tourism aesthetics, especially outside of the Soviet Union. Here is the cover of Finnish language Intourist brochure advertising the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The drawing combines hippie style, cute naivism and garish palette to promote the little-known state, famous for its wine, tranquil country life, and – of course – brutalist white tower block.

Travel agency of Lomamatkat. (Advertisement, 1960.)

When a westerner wanted to plan and buy a trip to the Soviet Union in the 1960s, she didn’t go to a dark and dusty office with angry lady asking too many questions. Tourism to Leningrad, Moscow and especially the Black Sea coast was increasing and even getting fashionable in the latter part of the 20th century, and package trips were sold in fancy premises. Here is the headquarters of the Finnish travel agency Lomamatkat (“Holiday Travels”), which was specialized in Soviet and Eastern European holidays, depicted in the advertisement of Ajan Kuvat (“Images of our Time”) magazine. Stylish modern woman is planning her trip with three snappy clerks ready to serve her. Will it be Crimea, or maybe Kiev?

To Bashkiria. (Postcard, 1978.)

The different ASSRs (Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics) were featured prominently in the postcard series of the Soviet Union. Producer of the postcards was ultimately the state, and the patronizing orientalist attitude was prevalent in the imagery, especially when representing different ethnic groups. Here is a postcard of Bashkiria, small area between Ural mountains and Kazakhstan border. Old traditions, partly folklore, partly fakelore, are highlighted to the point of kitsch. Stance towards national traditions and cultural heterogeneity changed from time to time. In the field of tourism it was more accepted and even desirable to bring forth the national heritage, especially in the last decades of the Soviet Union.

City’s new suburb, Vyborg. (Postcard, 1970s.)

During the late Soviet era city postcards still clung to the idea of representing the most modern buildings, like in the beginning of the Soviet Union. Vyborg, a former Swedish town at the western border of Russia, has a pictueresque old town, age-old walls, and it even boasts a castle, but here we are with a Soviet postcard titled “New microraion of the city.” Microraion was a word that was used in the Soviet Union about new, huge suburbs, many of them towns in their own right. They were considered as pride of any city in the 1970s, when many microraions were built to ease up the cramped living in kommunalkas, and of course they found their way to the postcards – with sea view and wasteland beach.

In Crimea. (Brochure, 1980s.)

What was dream vacation like in the Soviet Union? During the 1970s and 1980s it meant a trip – preferably a car trip – to Crimea, and few weeks in a “kurort”, as the health spas were called in Russian after German model. In the late Soviet Union holidays were less ideological and more about rest, fun and freedom. Here is a full page illustration from an Intourist brochure promoting private car trips to the Black Sea coast. Apart from the inevitable Lada Zhiguli car, the photo could be from any European travel ad. Of course, in the Soviet Union only marginal part of the common citizens ever had an opportunity to travel to Crimea, let alone with a private car, so for most it remained literally a dream vacation.