Abandoned grain elevators, Yaroslavl

   - darkometer rating: 4 -
A complex of grain elevators on the edge of the city of Yaroslavl, Russia, that have long been abandoned and are a local destination for urban explorers, adventurers, graffiti artists and probably druggies et al. too. I was taken there by my hosts when I visited the city, as a special treat for me as a dark tourist. And I do not regret having done this!   
More background info: There is next to nothing I've been able to find out about the history of these particular grain silos, apart from the assertion by my hosts that when they were young these installations were still in operation, i.e. during the Soviet era. So I can only presume that they were probably abandoned during the economic crisis years following the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s and were subsequently just given up and left to looters and urbexers.
About grain elevators in general: they are agro-industrial facilities for the storage of grain in bulk in tall silos. Strictly speaking the 'elevator' is only the tower with a bucket conveyor system inside that transports the grain up and into the silos, but in common usage the term is also applied to the entire facility including the silos and all ancillary structures they come with.
They started out as comparatively small structures made from wood, but with increasing industrialization, larger and larger grain elevators were built from reinforced concrete incorporating dozens of silos. Especially well known are the enormous grain elevator complexes in North America (USA and Canada), in particular in Buffalo, in upstate New York, which was once the largest grain handling harbour in the world. But since Buffalo's status as a grain-trade hub more or less collapsed after the opening in the 1950s of the St Lawrence Seaway connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic, many of the old grain elevators in the harbour have since been standing idle and abandoned.
I remember seeing these impressively huge concrete monsters when I visited an uncle in Buffalo back in 1990. Especially legendary is the so-called “Elevator Alley”, the world's largest cluster of such structures. This includes a complex now called “Silo City”, where you can go on guided tours of the abandoned grain elevators, either staying on the ground, or climbing to the top, or by kayaking past on the waterways they stand next to. They also run special photography sessions there. Sounds very enticing, actually ...
But back to Russia. I had no idea that something of this nature, albeit on a smaller scale, would await me when I travelled to Yaroslavl in the summer of 2017. But that was the treat my hosts had in store for me. The excursion is described below.
What there is to see: I didn't know this was coming but as soon as we had dropped our luggage at our hosts' flat in Yaroslavl, they took us out on an “adventure”, without specifying what it would be. They were aware of my penchant for dark tourism, and this is what they saw as fitting this best in their home town: clambering about in a complex of abandoned grain silos. Industrial urban exploration, really, but dark enough for my liking. I love industrial ruins and the aesthetics of decay and dilapidation in general. So it was right up my alley.
We drove out of the city centre, took a bridge across the Volga River and headed north. As we got nearer I saw what we were heading for. A group of tall concrete grain elevators/silos. I got my camera ready quickly.
We parked and walked past one of the large clusters of silos and towards one of the elevator towers, the tallest of the structures here. Inside we found the staircase and started ascending. At first it was plain sailing, but then the stairs became a bit dodgier. Whole sections of outer wall were missing (see photos) and at one point it got particularly dicey as an entire landing was missing, so we basically had to clamber sideways from the top of one set of stairs to the bottom of the next set of stairs, very carefully, so as not to drop down a floor (unfortunately I didn't take a photo of this – I was too busy concentrating on the clambering).
Eventually we got to the top floors and nosed around there a bit. Everywhere there were big holes in the floor, where, so I presume, scrap metal hunters had hacked out bits they deemed worthy of taking away. The whole place, by the way, had been heavily looted and vandalized (unlike the Silo City grain elevators you can visit in Buffalo, USA – see above). Barely anything made of metal was still in place.
And then we got to the very top, from where we enjoyed the cool views over the land, as far as the “skyline” of Yaroslavl, and also towards the neighbouring silos and elevator towers … and of course straight down to the ground.
That's when I noticed we were not the only ones exploring here. At the top of a neighbouring grain silo cluster a few people were dangling their legs over the edge … and on the roof we encountered a lone explorer who just said a quick hello and otherwise just kept staring into the distance.
We had a little picnic on the top floor, including a shot or two of samogon (Russian for 'moonshine'), even though I wasn't sure if dicey urban exploring goes with some mid-afternoon drinking, but try declining the offer of a drink from a Russian! You can't. Fortunately it didn't get out of control and soon enough we departed before becoming noticeably inebriated.
Anyway, we made our way back safely, taking extra care this time at that especially dicey part of the staircase with the missing landing, and got back down to the ground level. By then the late afternoon sun had dipped enough to shine in through a hole in the wall to illuminate the flooded basement level giving it an eerie reddish-brownish back-lighting.
We got back into the car and drove down to the banks of the River Volga nearby, where the former loading pier for the grain elevators used to be. Now only two concrete stumps stuck out of the water and no ships stopped here to moor. The river beaches further on were just filled with locals enjoying the summer, even going for a splash in the river's waters …
Of course, going for stint of urbexing in these grain elevators outside Yaroslavl is something very few foreign tourists will experience. Without some locals taking you there you won't even see the grain elevators from a distance, let alone go clambering inside. There's no public transport anywhere near as far as I could make out.
But as it's a good story and provided cool photo ops, and given that urbex is seen by many as at least overlapping with dark tourism, I thought I'd give it a chapter here too …
Location: just beyond the northern fringes of Yaroslavl, Russia, on the eastern side of the River Volga, ca, 10 miles (16 km) from the city centre.
Google maps locator:
The tower we climbed: [57.7579, 39.7929]
Former loading pier by the Volga: [57.7564, 39.7811]
Access and costs: difficult without a car and local guidance, but otherwise freely accessible.
Details: I was lucky enough to just be driven there by my Yaroslavl hosts. Otherwise I would never have made it there (or even have known of the existence of the place). To get to the grain elevators independently you'll most likely have to have a car or, if your Russian is up to it, try to hitch-hike or flag down and pay a driver to take you there (the latter is a very Russian mode of transport). It might be possible to get close by public transport, too, e.g. a marshrutka to a village in the vicinity and then walk the rest, but again that would presuppose a good ability to negotiate the Russian transport system. Without any of that it'll be nigh on impossible to get to the place …
But if you do manage to get there it is at least freely accessible at all times (though I wouldn't recommend it during non-daylight hours).
Time required: anything between an hour and several more hours, depending on how many towers you want to climb and how thorough you want to explore every bit of the complex. We poked about for maybe an hour and a half or two hours in total.
Combinations with other dark destinations: see Yaroslavl.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Yaroslavl.
  • grain silos 01 - approach through the undergrowthgrain silos 01 - approach through the undergrowth
  • grain silos 02 - grey concrete monstergrain silos 02 - grey concrete monster
  • grain silos 03 - tall towersgrain silos 03 - tall towers
  • grain silos 04 - gapsgrain silos 04 - gaps
  • grain silos 05 - we find the stairsgrain silos 05 - we find the stairs
  • grain silos 06 - slightly dicey way upgrain silos 06 - slightly dicey way up
  • grain silos 07 - view from half-way upgrain silos 07 - view from half-way up
  • grain silos 08 - near the topgrain silos 08 - near the top
  • grain silos 09 - view from the topgrain silos 09 - view from the top
  • grain silos 10 - on the edgegrain silos 10 - on the edge
  • grain silos 11 - Yaroslavl in the backgroundgrain silos 11 - Yaroslavl in the background
  • grain silos 12 - we are not the only ones urbexing heregrain silos 12 - we are not the only ones urbexing here
  • grain silos 13 - compared to 2016, yesgrain silos 13 - compared to 2016, yes
  • grain silos 14 - back at the bottomgrain silos 14 - back at the bottom
  • grain silos 15 - late sunlight illuminating the flooded basementgrain silos 15 - late sunlight illuminating the flooded basement
  • grain silos 16 - former pier by the Volga Rivergrain silos 16 - former pier by the Volga River
  • grain silos 17 - today just a recreational beachgrain silos 17 - today just a recreational beach


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