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First and foremost, Shunga is one of the largest and oldest villages in the Zaonezhie (the Lake Onega area in the Republic of Karelia, Russia). First mentions about Shunga’s peasants were made in 1375.
It is interesting that more than a hundred years ago it was considered to be the richest and the famous settlement of the Povenetsky Uyezd (the Olonets Governorate). The main source of village’s income was trade fairs.
It is reported that as long ago as in the 15th century the Novgorodians traded with the Pomors within the territory of Shunga village. But people first heard of Shunga’s fairs in 1644.
Since that time the largest fair in the North of Russia was held in Shunga. The reason for it is geographical location of the village. Shunga is located on a road, which used to be one of the main roads of the North of Russia connecting White Sea and Onega Lake with Novgorod. Historians believe that at first Shunga was a king of stock point that later developed into a market.
In the 19th century a kind of wooden caravansary was built in Shunga. It looked like a row of shops. At the main street of the town merchants organized special booths and tents, where people could buy groceries and hardware goods. Apart from it, during the fairs circus performances were held, children could ride on a marry-go-round. Young boys and girls went for a sleigh rides and played traditional games. People danced, sang and played different musical instruments. There were three taverns in Shunga village. Two of them specialized in soft and strong drinks and snack food. In the third one people could find cooked meal.
During the year several fairs were organized. For example, in January there was Epiphany Fair known as the largest one in Shunga. In 1862 its trading volume accounted for more than one million rubles that is about 12,5 million dollars in accordance with current currency rate.
Historians claim that at the best of times about seven thousands of people took part in trade fairs in Shunga. Merchants not only from neighboring provinces, but also from Moscow, Novgorod and other Russian cities took part in them. Shunga’s fairs attracted also many merchants from Finland, Sweden and Norway. Therefore, locals even called it the centre of international trade.
Local people boarded merchants during the fairs and earned money. Some of the locals managed to live off this money throughout the year. In addition, peasants did such simple job as watching over cartloads or lading goods. Besides, they actively participated in trading. Earnings were usually spent on church and other peasants’ needs.
At first, merchants traded only fish and hunted animals, furs, horses and other domesticated animals. Later craftsmen from Zaonezhie started to trade handmade goods including ones made from shungite. They traded mainly jewelry and crockery. Besides, at trade fairs people could buy tea and coffee smuggled from Finland, as well as some rare things from Western Europe and even from the US.