Staraya Russa is located 100 km south of Novgorod, on Lake Ilmen. It grew as a town economically based on saltworks, an extremely profitable business, particularly given easy extraction from mineral springs on the southern shore of the lake, and waterways connecting to the Black, Caspian, and Baltic seas.
The mineral springs also established Staraya Russia as a health resort starting in the middle of the 19th century. The Tsar and his family were the first to put to use the curative powers of the waters and mud, and eventually facilities were built for the general population. The properity of the town and the constant flow of high-ranking visitors to the spa, led to the building of the first theater in the Novgorod province, with a repertoire much like that in the larger cities.
Staraya Russa is perhaps most known by association with Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who also came to the spas to treat his epilepsy. Here he wrote many masterpieces such as The Brothers Karamazov (action of which is set in Staraya Russa), The Adolescent, and The Possessed.