Breath of Antiquity: Seven Ancient Towns of Russian Golden Ring

PHOTO by Vladimir Smirnov / TASS
A brief guide to seven brightest gems of the Russian Golden Ring which preserve the memory of the most important and significant events in Russian history

Sergiev Posad

When Russians talk about Sergiev Posad, they most usually mean The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, the most important Russian monastery and the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church located in the city about 70 kilometres north-east from Moscow. This unique monastery, founded in 1342 by Sergiy Radonezhskiy (Sergius of Radonezh), one of the most highly venerated Russian saints, will take at least a day to fully observe. That’s why it is better to dedicate a whole weekend to a visit to Sergiev Posad which also boasts the Toy Museum, the Historical Museum-Reserve and is believed to be the birthplace of Matryoshka, the Russian famous traditional doll. Earlier this month, Sergiev Posad was reconised the most popular town of the Moscow Region.

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Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiev Posad

Pereslavl-Zalessky

This very city, founded in 1152 by Prince Yury Dolgorukiy (who is also the founder of Moscow), gave birth to the Russian saint and national hero Alexander Nevsky who expelled German knights from the Russian North in the 13th century. Here, on the waters of the Pleshcheev lake, Peter the Great conducted a series of tests for his “amusing flotilia”: taught by the best Dutch shipbuilders, the young tsar and his comrades-in-arms constructed about a hundred of ships. It was the first Russian navy – a harbinger of the future maritime power of Russia. Nikitsky and Goritsky Monasteries, Nikolskaya Church, decorated with unique stone ornaments and the Uspenskiy Cathedral represent truly rear examples of the Old Russian architecture. If you're a foodie, don't miss a chance to visit Pereslavl and the surrounding region to try out original Russian cheese and an Escargot à la Pereslavl.

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Nikitsky Monastery in Pereslavl-Zalessky

Rostov the Great

A pure example of the Russian provincial towns: a majestic Kremlin, a marketplace selling Chinese junk, two-storey mansions, bad roads on the outskirts, marvelous landscapes with the Nero lake on the background. The Kremlin of Rostov was built in the second half of the 17th century. Its main “place of power” is the Uspenskiy Cathedral (built in 991, it burned and was restored again many times) which preserves an amazing baroque iconostasis. The Kremlin Belfry has 15 bells, each of which has its own name. The biggest of them, Sysoy, was named after Metropolitan Jonah Sysoyevich and weighs about 33 tonnes.

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The Kremlin of Rostov the Great

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl is a city that always welcomes tourists. Clean streets and embankments, cute cafés, polite museum workers – everything here reflects how Yaroslavl residents work tirelessly on their town’s image. This year, Yaroslavl marked an impressive 1005th anniversary. The city’s main attraction is the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral, decorated by the decree of Ivan the Terrible. Among other must-see places are the Tolgskiy Monastery, Cathedral of Nikola Mokriy and the Uspenskiy Cathedral (a new one, built on the site of the ancient cathedral demolished during Soviet times). Sometimes referred to as the Capital of the Golden Ring, Yaroslavl has no lack of attractions.

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The Church of Prophet Ilya on the Soviet Square in Yaroslavl

Kostroma

In 1781, the plan of Kostroma was approved by the Russian Empress Catherine II. Rays of streets diverging from the city centre, Susanin Square, nicknamed “pan” by the townsfolk, represent an example of the fan-shaped layout – one of the most widespread principle of the Classicism era. Kostroma’s main site is the Ipatiev Monastery where young Mikhail Romanov, first of the last Russian tsar dynasty, was crowned. Boyars’ chambers and the amazing frescoes covering the walls from floor to ceiling are definitely worth seeing here. One of the most beautiful Russian roads can be found on the outskirts of Kostroma (hint: better visit in winter to catch its beauty in full swing).

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Shopping rows of Kostroma

Ivanovo

Ivanovo is the city of textile-spinning mills and factories, and the attractions here correspond to the dominating industry: the Ivanovo Calico Museum, where one can see quite curious samples of fabrics and clothes from different decades, and the Museum of Industry and Art will tell a lot about this “land of textile”. Part of exhibits from the latter museum was relocated to Moscow and St. Petersburg, but a large collection of Lev Tolstoy’s private items as well as exotic astronomical clock are still there safe and sound. And, of course, Ivanovo is also rich with churches: Vvedenskaya, Kazanskaya, Ilyinskaya and the Temple of the Assumption top the must-see list.

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Monument and the Church of Saint George in Ivanovo

Suzdal

There’s no other place in Russia with such a great number of ancient architectural monuments preserved to this day. The Kremlin, shopping rows, Christmas Cathedral, Spaso-Yefimyevsky and Pokrovsky monasteries are just a small part of Suzdal’s treasures. The first chronicle mentions of Suzdal date back to 1024, a hundred and a half years before the foundation of Moscow. Five hundred years later, the city became the religious centre of Russia – at that time, there were more than ten monasteries here. Later, the local economy fell into decay, and by the beginning of the 20th century Suzdal was already considered a remote province. But today it is a city with well-developed tourist infrastructure, decent roads, some of Europe's best hotels and a lot of places where you can try traditional Russian drinks – sbiten or mead.

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A horse-drawn carriage drives tourists around Suzdal