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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a Russian, primarily rural, log-frame dwelling (until the 17th or 18th century it was also an urban dwelling); in the narrow sense of the word, any premises with heating installations. The archaic Russian words ist’ba and istobka (from istopit, “to heat”) are mentioned in tenth-century chronicles. In southern Russia, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine a rural, often log-frame dwelling is known as a khata. A peasant house consisted of a single izba, an izba with a sen ’ (covered entranceway), an izba with both seni and a klet (shed), or two izbas with sent. During the winter a family’s life was concentrated in the izba, and young livestock were also quartered there. An izba that had an ancient stove without a chimney was called a black, or chimneyless, izba. An izba equipped with a chimney was referred to as a white izba.

The layout of an izba was determined by the location of the stove. The front, or red, corner, where the table and benches were placed and the icons were hung, was located diagonally across from the stove. The middle area, or women’s corner, was in front of the stove; this area was used by the mistress of the house for the preparation of meals. The corner containing a konik (wide bench), on which the master of the house usually slept and the men performed their household chores, was located diagonally across from the women’s area. Above the stove, to one side, planking was affixed to the wall; family members slept on the planks. A wooden box (golbets) was placed beneath the planking.

Izbas were built primarily out of softwood (coniferous) logs whose ends protruded from the building. More rarely, the logs were trimmed square at their extremities, forming a right-angled flush (dovetail). The height of the substructure, or first floor (podklet’) was determined by the level of the range of logs (venets) at which the floorboards were attached. In northern Russia the substructure was deeper than it was in the central regions. In central and southern Russia the floor was usually earthen; therefore, there was no substructure. Zavalinki (mounds of earth) surrounding the izba served as insulation. In northern Russia the roofs were made of wood; in southern Russia, of straw. Initially the roofs were supported only by the pediments and the layer of logs forming the gable triangle (samtsy); later they were supported by rafters (in this case the izba had not only two but three or four gables). The small windows (volokovye) of a black izba were arranged in two adjacent logs and were equipped with sliding shutters. The windows in a white izba were called kosiashchatye, or red, windows; the window frames were filled with sheets of mica (in the 18th and 19th centuries panes of glass and shutters were used). There were single doors with thresholds.

The decoration of the izba reflected the artistic taste and skill of the Russian peasants. The roof of the porch and the carved ridge beam (konek or okhlupen’) crowned the silhouette of the izba. The pediment was decorated with carved bargeboards (pricheliny) and ornaments along the edge of the roof (poloten-tsa); the flat walls, by the casing of the windows. The window casings often reflected the influences of the architecture of the city (for example, baroque or classical). The ceiling, door, walls, stove, and, less frequently, the exterior pediments were painted.

With the development of capitalist relations and class stratification among the peasantry, izbas more complex in design appeared—for example, izbas with five walls or with several rooms. The five-walled izba was divided into two residential areas by its fifth log wall. Izbas with several rooms had movable furniture and additional stoves.


Russkie: Istoriko-etnograficheskii atlas. Zemledelie, krest’ianskoe zhili-shche, krest’ianskaia odezhda (seredina XlX-nachalo XX v.). Moscow, 1967.
Russkie: Istoriko-etnograficheskii atlas. Iz istorii russkogo narodnogo zhi-lishcha i kostiuma (seredina XlX-nachalo XX v.). Moscow, 1970. (Bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A Russian log cabin, log house, or hut.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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