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.

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.

Forest Combine. (Postcard, 1963.)

Not all postcards show picturesque landscapes or sunny beaches. Sometimes they present one with good old forest combine in Ukraine – at least when it comes to Soviet postcards. Industrial sights were deemed as an important propaganda tool in the state-led tourism of the Soviet Union already in the 1920s, and later the were integrated as a normal part of practically all the package tours. Factories, dams, sawmills etc. were supposed to prove the rapid industrial development of the Soviet Union for its citizens. So of course they also appeared in postcards. Here is one card from the series presenting Ukraine. Other themes include, for example, big cities, hiking in the forest, and the Black Sea coast. Forest combine with frozen logs, smoking crane and dirty snow is natural continuation of these.

Gostinitsa, Rzhev. (Postcard, 1970s.)

What is often remembered from Soviet tourism are the gigantic Intourist hotels in the bigger cities – especially as many of them are still standing and in use. But in smaller towns, where tourism was not exactly blooming, the hotels were more compact and adapted into existing buildings. Here is the city hotel of Rzhev, town situated in the western part of Russia between Moscow and Latvian capital Riga. There was no special attractions in Rzhev at Soviet era – it was a medieval city, but the old buildings were wiped out in the World War II. So small hotel was quite enough to serve the travellers passing by. Nevertheless, it was immortalized in one of the postcards from the postcard series of Rzhev.

At the Sea, Abkhazia ASSR. (Postcard, 1970.)

According to famous quote, “there is no sex in the Soviet Union”. But Soviet postcards seem to indicate otherwise, or at least some of them got pretty daring during the last few decades. Soviet leisure tourism was gradually liberalized and westernized from the 1960s onwards, and even the state produced postcard series got few relaxed postcards among all the Lenin statues and pompous buildings. Here is a postcard from 1970s depicting almost erotic beach life at Pitsunda in the Abkhazian coast of the Black Sea. This kind of imagery, so familiar to western tourists from holiday postcards, was quite exceptional in the Soviet Union.

The hut of V. I. Lenina at Razliv. (Postcard, 1960s.)

Some attractions in the Soviet Union were excessively political, to the point of being comical. The so-called “Lenin’s haystack” is one of them. Just before revolution Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin went hiding. One of his refuges was a peasant hut and nearby haystack at Razliv, some twenty kilometres west from St. Peterburg. After the revolution and especially Lenin’s death in 1924, the symbolic importance of the hut – and the haystack – was realized. The hut was museumized already in 1920s, and later a granite memorial was erected there, and even the haystack was reconstructed. In the end of the 1960s the place had become a proper tourist attraction with a brand new museum building, the replica of the haystack, nice forest paths and even a pier for passenger boats. Of course the “Hut of V. I. Lenina at Razliv”, as it was officially called, was featured in postcards, too. Here is a postcard from the end of the 1960s where one can see the haystack and the granite memorial – with Lenin’s name written on the top in gilded letters. And the best part? Yes, it’s still there.

Theatre named after Maxim Gorky, Rostov-on-Don. (Postcard, 1978.)

During the latter part of the 20th century Soviet tourism spread out to the roads. Train was the main means of transportation in the 1920s and 1930s, and remained important also after the war, but bus travel grew with the increase of tourism and improvement of roads. City tours with tourist buses were popular among Soviet tourists. Here are famous LAZ-buses, which were employed extensively in sightseeing trips (one can discern the word “TURIST” on the window), standing in front of the Maxim Gorky theatre at Rostov-on-Don.