Rendezvous with Russian History

PHOTO by Ilya Timin / TASS
Where a traveller can get in touch with the spirit of ancient Russia

On May 24, Russia marks the Day of Slavic Writing and Culture. Every Russian city celebrates it in its own way – some suffice with a concert of Slavic music, and some stretch the celebrations for several days. The Lenta.ru news website tells about three tourist destinations which will introduce you to the Slavic culture at any time of the year.

Ryazan

In the winter of 1237, a huge Mongol army approached the borders of Ryazan, then called Pereyaslavl-Ryazan. Its residents held the defence for six days, but the enemy's forces vastly outnumbered the locals. On the seventh day, Ryazan’s defence was crushed and the city was razed to the ground.

But by the 14th century Ryazan was completely rebuilt, becoming the centre of the principality and the largest city on the Oka river still attracting tourists with its multiple historic sites.

The first thing shown to travellers in Ryazan is the Kremlin: the Assumption Cathedral of the 17th century, the Glebovskaya, the Tainichny, the Ipatian, the Ryazan towers of the 13-18th centuries.

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The Uspensky Cathedral, the Church of the Epiphany and the Transfiguration Cathedral in Ryazan

Those who want to take a deeper plunge into history can visit the shores of Oka and a small town Spassk-Ryazansky to observe the ramparts of Old Ryazan – which was also called the Russian Troy – the largest ancient city of the 12th-13th centuries.

Among the most curious monuments of antiquity located here are the remains of a church from the beginning of the 20th century, built on the site of the Borisoglebsk cathedral, and 13 wooden pillars standing a high hill near Spasskaya Luka. There is a theory that this structure was an ancient observatory constructed about four thousand years ago, a kind of "Ryazan Stonehenge".

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A view of Ryazan

Novgorod the Great

Ninety percent of all birch bark letters (inner layer of birch bark was used to write documents in ancient Russia – Ed.) known at the moment were found on the territory of Veliky Novgorod. This city is a true custodian of a thousand-year literacy in Russia.

The oldest Slavonic book, the Psalter, is on display in the Novgorod Museum-Reserve. Here you can listen to authentic music of ancient Russia, take a look at multiple birch bark letters and other artifacts unearthed during archaeological excavations.

Adviser to the Governor of the Novgorod Region Nikolai Novichkov urged all interested in history to visit the Vitoslavlitsy museum of folk wooden architecture. "Do not forget that Veliky Novgorod is the oldest centre of Christianity in Russia. The oldest active stone temple of modern Russia, St. Sophia Cathedral, is located in our Kremlin. Its history dates back to 1045-1050," says Novichkov.

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In the museum of folk wooden architecture "Vitoslavlitsy"

Another local pride, St. Yuriev's monastery, the oldest in Russia, was founded in 1030 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise.

If you are lucky to get to Veliky Novgorod in the near future, then it is possible to get acquainted with an exhibition of liturgical manuscripts and printed books of the 18-20th displayed to wide audience to mark the Day of Slavic Writing and Culture.

Nikolai Novichkov adds that Veliky Novgorod may soon be included in the cultural routes of the Council of Europe. As of today, Russia is participating only in one of them, the Hanseatic League. "Veliky Novgorod is quite capable of joining other routes of this programme, for example, ‘The Viking route’ or ‘St. Olav's route’ named after the Scandinavian saint, who is recognised by both the western and eastern branches of Christianity," the governor's adviser said.

Thus, Novgorod will be able to attract not only Russian, but also foreign tourists, which would help this beautiful city to build up its infrastructure.

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St. Yuriev's monastery in Novgorod

Karelia

Valaam and Kizhi islands are a must-see if you travel to Karelia.

The Transfiguration Monastery on Valaam is one of the oldest in Russia. Some sources claim that it has been operational since the 11th century. However, a reliable documentary history begins with the 14th century, and the officially recognised year of its founding is 1407.

By the 16th century, the monastery was home to about 600 monks. Then the island was taken by Swedish invaders. In 1715, Russian tsar Peter the Great retrieved the lands and signed a decree on restoration of the Valaam monastery. In Soviet Times, the monastery was closed, and its ancient walls housed a school for boatswains and cabin boys. Later, the school was replaced by the House of Disabled of War and Labor, and then, in 1979, the former monastery was turned into a museum.

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Interiors of the upper church of the Transfiguration Cathedral on the island of Valaam

Today, tourists can observe the very first and largest skete of All Saints, built in 1789-1796, the Nikolsky skete and the Church of St. Nicholas, the Resurrection skete on Mount Zion, where, according to legend, the Apostle Andrew erected a stone cross.

The easiest way to get to the island is from Sortavala. A high-speed vessel "Meteor" travels from there to Valaam five times a day. Tickets in both directions (including excursion) cost 2,300 roubles ($40,8) per person.

Kizhi can also be reached by "Meteor". The road from Petrozavodsk and back will cost 1,475 roubles ($26,2). Tourists come here to take a look at the perfectly preserved ensemble of wooden churches and the belfry of the 18th-19th centuries.

Kizhi became a museum before Valaam, in 1966, and the reserve was established here in 1945. In 1990, the Kizhi Pogost was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. A trip to Kizhi is like a journey through time, and the past is quite comfortable – with guides, souvenirs and master classes.

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Architectural ensemble of Kizhi, Karelia

History lovers should also visit a small village of Kinerma, 100 kilometres away from the capital of Karelia. Last year, Kinerma was included in the list of the most beautiful places in Russia. There are only 16 houses here, and the permanent population is only four people. Here you can see the traditional Karelian architecture, get acquainted with the local way of life, and also try out a "black bathhouse" where the smoke escapes through a hole in the ceiling darkening the banya’s interior wood.