The word dacha comes from the Russian verb “to give” (davat), and when it first entered the language, which seems to have happened in the Petrine era, it referred to land that the tsar “gave” (daval) to his associates. Usually such dachas were estates on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, but they could also be large parcels of forest that the recipient could harvest and sell. Whatever the case may have been, dachas were the domain of wealthy people with ties to the court. Nobody else had anything of the sort.
City folk have always enjoyed retreating into nature, but in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, only those with the means and not tied down to a job could do so. In summer, the privileged few would travel to their suburban estates and live there for a few months before returning to Moscow or Petersburg. You could only manage that if you had a lot of free time and the necessary wagons and carriages to transport yourself and whatever would be needed for your stay. Your serfs would get your summer residence ready for you – cleaning, heating, fixing – and you would arrive at your cozy home away from home ready to enjoy “fresh air.”
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