Russian dolls are famous all over the world. Their official name is Matryoshka, which is derived from the Russian word for 'mother' - mat'. Other names for the dolls include Babushka (the Russian word for 'Grandmother'), and Russian nesting dolls.
The Russian nesting doll is a lot younger than you might realise, and has only been around for a little over 100 years. It was the creation of a Russian by the name of Mamontov, who was a businessman and patron of the arts. He discovered a Japanese religious icon, which was made of two sections. When opened, it contained another 5 figurines, and it inspired him with the idea for Matryoshka.
So, the first doll was made in the workshop of Mamontov in 1898. It consisted of 8 dolls, starting with a girl, then a boy, and alternating in this fashion until the last doll, a baby.
In 1900, the Russian doll received an award (and international recognition) at an exhibition in Paris. Since then, it has found admirers all over the world, and become one of the most well-recognised symbols of Russian culture.
We all recognise the Matryoshka as a souvenir, but their original purpose was as a toy for children, and a very useful one indeed. It teaches small children important physical development skills - assembling and pulling the dolls apart, and comparing colors, height, width and volume.
As a general rule, the dolls are made from the wood of deciduous trees such as birch, or the lime tree (which is considered the best).