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A week round the Golden Ring, Russia 2007


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The Golden Ring is the tourist name given to a loop of old towns to the north east of Moscow. This is a rewritten trip report from Slow Travel which describes a week spent visiting some of them in September 2007. All the pictures can be found here.

Background to the trip

We visited Estonia and were enthralled by the architecture of Alexander Nevski Cathedral. We decided we wanted to see more of Russia. Moscow and St Petersburg didn’t appeal being huge cities. We kept seeing references to ‘The Golden Ring’. A google image search left us with jaws dropping and a strong desire to go.

Neither of us speak Russian so we immediately discounted thoughts of trying to do this ourselves and approached Audley Travel based in Witney to design a tailor made trip for us with a car, driver and English speaking guide. Once satisfied this was right for us, we filled in application forms for a Russian visa and waited with fingers crossed there wouldn’t be a problem.

We were thankful to have a driver and guide with us for the trip. The Cyrillic alphabet makes interpreting signs difficult. There is little English spoken or understood, even at museums, or by traders dealing with tourists. There is little information in English provided in museums.

We had the same driver and guide all week. Our guide was very much the old fashioned, soviet style guide who stuck rigidly to the itinerary and set spiel. It was a bit like turning on a record player, you got the full story and it was impossible to stop it once started. She wasn’t too happy about questions. This may be a throw back to the Soviet days when guides were asked afterwards what questions tourists asked and who they spoke to. Tourists had to be rigidly controlled in case they saw something the State didn’t want them to. Tourists were definitely not expected to wander off and do their own thing. It took us a couple of days to come to terms with this and start to ‘manage’ our guide.

It is therefore important to get the itinerary right before the holiday. We found that requests to do something different were not well received as ‘it is not on the itinerary’.

Most trips to the Golden Ring start with a few nights in Moscow. We didn’t want to do this and asked to drive straight to Suzdal from the airport for our first stop. It was a long drive but was well worth it. We spent four nights in Suzdal. We were booked into the Convent of the Intercession of the Mother of God (Pokrov Convent) in Suzdal, a marvellous place which unfortunately no longer offers accommodation.

We then had one night in Yarislavl in a large international style hotel, and two nights at Rostov Veliky. This is not on the usual tourist route and sees few foreign tourists. It took a while for Audley to find suitable accommodation there.

From there we drove back to Moscow for the flight back to the UK.

We asked for a day to ourselves in Suzdal. Tom at Audley had expressed concern about what we would do but we assured him that we would just enjoy wandering and taking in the atmosphere. We did and it was one of the most enjoyable days of the trip.

In September the weather was changing rapidly. When we arrived all the leaves were still green. However the weather turned a lot colder half way through the week and the trees began to change colour overnight.

We loved the old Russian towns with their wooden buildings, kremlins (citadels) and old churches. Many of these had been shut or destroyed during communist times, but some are now being restored as churches again.

We found that Russia is addictive. You want to go back.

General impressions

First impressions were of a rather run-down country that is unkempt (though not untidy, we saw no litter) and a countryside of fields not being cultivated. Then the contrasts emerged; the juxtaposition of the brand new and the traditional, of prosperity and poverty. The pedestrian crossings every few yards that aren't used because drivers don't stop at them, the petty-fogging bureaucracy of some minor officials. But above all, our lasting impression is of the friendliness and good humour of the ordinary Russian.

In many ways I was reminded of life in England 50+ years ago - and even that is modern in some ways. There was still a lot of poverty and the old fashioned ways are probably necessity rather than choice. You got the impression that a lot of people have very little money. The traditional houses are built of wood and surrounded by a small plot of land to grow flowers, vegetables and fruit. Many are over one hundred years old. Some have been renovated. Others are dilapidated and falling to pieces around their owners, usually the very old.

Wood was later replaced by stone and even large and once impressive buildings are in need of a little TLC.

In September there was often a small box with a pile of apples (it had been a bumper year), a few carrots, onions or potatoes for sale outside the house. The more enterprising Babushkas toddle off to the market place with their wooden trolley with a pair of kitchen stalls to sell their produce.

From the 1950s onwards all new housing has been apartment blocks. These are suffering all the problems of damp and cracking, rotten concrete found in our 1960s monstrosities. Nearly everyone lives in these apartment blocks.

The newer ones look better - superficially until you look closely at the standard of the brickwork. It reminded me of the walls the junior kids used to build when they were taken on a visit to the construction department of our local FE college. General maintenance is dreadful and the state of the roads and pavements is as bad.

In 2007 Putin was regarded as marvellous as he promised the earth. One of the cities we visited had a major celebration of 400 years of (can’t remember what now). Putin promised that all the roads would be mended and all the houses repaired in time for it. Having watched how quickly the road menders were working using techniques which might have seemed modern to Noah when he built his arc, we didn’t think there was much chance of this chance being achieved.

Older towns have a Kremlin which was the walled Administrative centre with the cathedral.

Each of the towns had Trading Arches in the centre of the town which were long buildings with separate booths for use by the different merchant, with a storage area above. There were separate buildings for linen, flour, butter, gingerbread, etc. Many are still used.

Shops just seem to sell one type of thing. The food stores just sell food - no toiletries, washing powders, pet food, hardware, towels, electrical goods - just food. The shops don’t have displays in their windows so from the outside you can’t see what they are selling. Some have a name above them, but not all. There are small shops selling electrical goods, chemist, mobile phones. wallpaper, drapery etc. Everyone uses calculators to show what the price is. Oh, and by the way post offices are open until 8pm on a Saturday (and even later during the week).

The countryside flat and is mainly birch forest. When we arrived in early September, all the leaves were still green. However the weather turned a lot colder half way through the week and the trees began to change colour overnight.

You are not aware of much agriculture and don't see hedges or fields or animals. We saw few farm buildings. We tried to find out about land ownership and agriculture but didn't get an answer. We weren't sure whether this was because the guide didn't know, didn't understand us, or whether tourists are not supposed to ask questions like this. We did see the remains of some large collective farms near Moscow which were now derelict and unused. We understand few people want to farm now. It is hard work byyourself and it was a lot easier to farm in a large group when there were others to help, and also maybe to share costs of tractors and machinery.

The settlements are surrounded by high rise blocks. These make even quite big cities feel compact in size as there isn’t the low rise dormitory development seen round our towns. The boundary between town and country is sharp.

Love of the countryside runs deep in the Russian soul and many town dwellers own a country cottage, Dacha, with a bit of land where they grow flowers, vegetables and have a few apple trees, as well as rampant weeds. They spend weekends and summer holidays there. The dacha are often gathered together and look a bit like a shanty town. A lot of the countryside looks uncared for and unloved - a bit like set aside on a massive scale. Driving back through England, the countryside almost felt manicured.

A health warning…
Tap water presents a serious risk of giardia. Either drink bottled water which is readily available, or use purifying tablets.


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Since Glasnost, the Russians are beginning to rediscover their history and religion. Many of the C18th buildings are being restored back to what they originally looked like. In Soviet times a lot of the churches and monasteries were shut. The buildings were either used as a museum, left to moulder or were pulled down. Several of these building have now been re-consecrated and are being restored to their former glory and this includes the gold leaf covering some of the domes. Russia has always had a lot of gold from Siberia and many of the cathedral and church domes were, and still are, covered with gold leaf. We were told it took 4.5kg to cover one of the bigger domes.

Inside the churches, all available walls were covered with frescoes, many dating back to the C17th
Over the years these had got dull and had been over painted many times. In some churches, the layers are being carefully removed to reveal the original paintings. They are lovely muted pastel colours, compared with the later C19th paintings..

Many of the older frescoes are now in need of restoration. Iron pins were used to hold the fresco to the wall and over the years have begun to corrode and appear as light spots on the fresco. If left, the fresco will begin to flake off over the pins.

During restoration of frescoes, the metal pins are replaced by clay plugs.

In the earliest churches, the nave area was separated from the high alter by a stone wall which was plastered and painted.

Later this was replaced by a highly carved and decorative wood iconostasis. Depending on the status of the church this is made up of up to five rows of icons. In the centre are the Holy Gates which lead to the altar area behind. Only the priest is allowed through here. During the service you hear his disembodied voice from behind the iconostasis sounding just like the voice of God. At different times he appears through one of the doors to swing a censor or to show a holy icon to the worshippers. You do not see what is behind the door. We asked our guide about this but she said she didn’t know either.

The icon on the bottom row to the right of the door is a representation of the dedication of the Church. There is a strict hierarchy in the order of the icons on the iconostasis. The top row has paintings of the Patriarchs. Below are the prophets with the apostles below them. The next row celebrates church festivals and the bottom row is for local saints.

Very often there are two churches built close together, a summer church and a winter church which was smaller and had a boiler to provide some warmth.

In Soviet Times, religion was banned and churches and monasteries were Shut. The buildings were either put to other uses (museum, warehouse, gymnasium), left to moulder or were pulled down. Some of the building that survived have now been re consecrated and are being restored to their former glory - and this includes the gold leaf covering some of the domes.

To our surprise photographs were allowed in most places, if you paid for a permit.

Women are expected to cover their heads when entering a church and there are often scarfs tied to the door handles for those who need them. Some churches also take exception to women wearing trousers. Here a large ‘apron’ is provided to tie round the waist to look like a skirt.


We had a guided tour of Suzdal and then had a full day exploring by ourselves.

Suzdal is one of the oldest towns in Russia and in the C12th was the capital of the area, with its fortified Kremlin built above the river Kamenka. The posad inhabited by craftsmen and traders grew up to the east of the kremlin and was also fortified with ramparts and walls. By the C14th it was an important political and economic centre which was minting its own coins. Two new monasteries were founded in the C14th - the Monastery of our Saviour and the Convent of the Intercession.

By the end of the C15th, Suzdal had lost its independence and had become subordinate to Moscow. Many people moved away but it remained a strong religious centre with 7 churches and the cathedrals within the Kremlin, another 14 churches within city ramparts and 27 more scattered round local monasteries. From the C14-C18th it was the centre of the Bishopric with the archbishop living in the Kremlin.

Many of the wooden buildings were destroyed by a huge fire in 1719 and the churches were replaced by stone buildings. At the end of the C18th the Bishopric moved to Vladimir.

The town was by passed by the railway in the C19th and became a forgotten backwater. In 1967 it was given federally protected status which limited development in the area. The centre is undeveloped and unspoilt and retains the feel of the old Russia. Cows graze on grass verges outside the houses.

There are many old wooden buildings along tree lined streets with little traffic, although some high rise concrete buildings are appearing in the outskirts. Tourists have now discovered the town and it features on all Golden Ring itineraries.

The C19th neo classical trading arches remain the main shopping area of the town.

There is a small square in front of them with a low wall separating it from the road. Local women collect here to sell home grown produce.



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Suzdal Kremlin

At the heart of the town is the old KREMLIN, which was the fortified ecclesiastical and administrative centre.
This was founded in the C10th and is still surrounded by its earth ramparts and water filled ditches.

It is dominated by the CATHEDRAL OF THE NATIVITY (Dormiton or Rozhdestvenskiy cathedral) which is the oldest building in Suzdal, being built in the C13th. Only the base of the walls survive as the rest was rebuilt in the C16th. The five blue domes, added in 1750 which have golden stars scattered on them.

The church was undergoing restoration when we visited in 2007. It has an unusual metal tiled floor and a striking iconostasis.

The Golden Gates are C13th and the panels have images of the life of Christ. The handles in the shape of a lion’s head. Gold was mixed with mercury which was applied to etched copper plates. The mercury evaporated leaving gold on the copper.

There was a beautiful C16th silver tomb of an archbishop. The walls have the remains of C13th and C17th frescoes.

The ARKHIEREISKIE CHAMBERS with their white walls and green roofs are C17th and are connected to the Cathedral.

THE ARCHBISHOP’S PALACE is C17th on the south side of the cathedral yard and has an attached bell tower. Two ceremonial staircases lead up to a spacious hall. This is now SUZDAL HISTORY AND ART MUSEUM covering social, political and economic history, architecture and the restoration of the Kremlin. It also has a large collection of icons.

The wooden NIKOLSKAYA CHURCH near the cathedral is the wooden St Nicholas Church dating from 1766 and brought here in 1960 from near Vladimir.


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Suzdal Churches and Monasteries

There are still over 40 churches as in medieval times nearly every street had small church.

THE RESURRECTION CHURCH next to the winter church of the Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, is in the market place and in 2007 was being restored. The inside is covered with the remains of murals and contains some beautiful old icons.

ST LAZARUS with its highly decorative white yellow and red belfry is a characteristic landmark of Suzdal. Next to it is the small winter church of ST ANTIPUS.

The ASSUMPTION CHURCH on the way to the Kremlin is painted deep red with white corners and white frames round the door and windows. It is built in what is described as ‘Moscow Style’ with an octagon tower on a square base. Inside the walls are covered with modern murals and a beautiful painted dome. There is a modern iconostasis.

Opposite the Euthymius Monastery is the CHURCH OF ST SMOLENSK VIRGIN is next to the winter church of St Simeon, with its belfry.

THE MONASTERY OF THE DEPOSITION OF THE ROBE (Rizopolozhensky monastery) is Suzdal’s oldest Monastery although most of the buildings are C16-19th. It is surrounded by white painted wall. The yellow and white Euprhrosyne Belfry dates from 1812 and is a major landmark which can be seen all over Suzdal.

Entry is through double arched Holy Gates topped with red and white spires with a tiny onion dome. During Communist times, the monastery was used as a power station but the area is being restored and there is a hotel in the grounds.

ST ALEXANDER NEVSKY CONVENT is in a quiet backwater of Suzdal over looking the river. It was founded in 1240 by Alexander Nevsky for noble women whose menfolk had been killed by nomadic raiders. It was closed in 1764 and little remains of the original buildings except the Church of the Ascension, built and funded by the mother of Peter the Great. This is now a research and education centre for restoration techniques.

There are good views across river to Pokrov or the CONVENT OF THE INTERCESSION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD. This was founded in 1345 although most of the buildings date from the 1500s. Over the years it had housed a large number of noblewomen who had either not produced heirs, outlived their usefulness, blotted their copy books. They lived in great comfort in their own individual wooden houses and spent their time doing exquisite embroidery and needlework.
During Communist times, it was used as a children’s home. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became a working nunnery again. A lot of the nuns came from Ukraine to escape poverty there.

It is entered through the holy gates in the wall which had a small Church of the Annunciation above them.

At the centre is the magnificent early C16th cathedral with its tall belfry.

Next to it is the smaller Refectory Church of the Conception of SS Joachim and Anne. This was the winter church which was heated during the colder months and also had facilities for feeding congregations.

The small wooden huts around the walls were built in the 1980s when the convent was a tourist hotel. They are now nuns cells.

The Administrative buildings were the administrative centre of the convent. They now house contain a small museum about the Convent’s History which included exhibitions 19th & 20thC embroidery and a recreated nun’s cell.



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Suzdal Churches and Monasteries continued....

is a fortified monastery founded in the mid C14th by Euthimius of Suzdal to protect the northern approaches of Suzdal. It dominates the landscape above the river. None of the earlier wooden structures have survived and the massive stone wall with towers, dates from C17thC. It is still a working monastery and also houses several museums.

It is a huge site with grass trees and vegetable gardens..

Entry is through a massive square tower in the walls.

Just beyond this is the Gate Church of the Annunciation. The central arch was used by carriages, with pedestrian arches on either side.

To the left are the herb gardens and the Holy Well.

Ahead is the impressive C16th Cathedral of the Transfiguration of our Saviour with a large golden dome surrounded by smaller green domes. The detached belfry is to the side of it. This is a massive structure housing the bells as well as the Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist. On the other side is the Assumption Refectory Church.

The walls of the Cathedral are covered by late C17th frescoes. It is an overwhelming impression of colour with scenes from New Testament and of saints.

The Monk’s Dormitory is a solid grey painted building.

The Archimandrite building was used by the abbot and would have contained the monastery and state
offices. There is a wooden balcony giving access to first floor rooms reached by an external wooden staircase.

These now house a fascinating museum of Icons, decorative embroidered palls and carved wooden doorways.

At the far end of the site is the Church of St Nicholas with The Infirmary chambers next to it. These house the MUSEUM OF THE GOLDEN TREASURY featuring Russian decorative art from the C13th-C20th. We were whipped through here as part of our guided tour of Suzdal and didn’t have time to enjoy the craftsmanship or take photographs.

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Suzdal Museum of Wooden Architecture and Everyday Life of Peasants

THE MUSEUM OF WOODEN ARCHITECTURE is situated on the site of the old St Demetrius Monastery just over the Kamenka river from the Kremlin it contains a range of wooden buildings from the Suzdal area. These include wooden churches, houses, mills and barns from the surrounding area which have been reassembled here to give a feeling of what life was like a hundred years ago.

There are two beautiful wooden churches. These have a small porch with benches for people to rest before the service. Beyond is the refectory as many country dwellers had to travel long distances to church. The church is very plain with plank walls and a simple wood iconostasis with painted icons. Above is an ornate belfry with onion domes covered with wooden tiles which have weathered to a pale silver colour.

There is also an example of a small wayside chapel used by travellers. The inside is very simple with icons on the walls but no iconostasis.

There are different styles of wooden houses from round the region. The wealth of the owners is reflected in the amount and detail of carvings on the roof and around windows.

Entry is through a side gate which gives access to a covered yard used for storage.

The ground floor is divided by a large central stove into living area and kitchen. The stove provided heat as well as being used for cooking and drying corn and vegetables. heating, cooking, The old and sick used to sleep above the stove, reached by steps.

Next to it is the kitchen where kitchen utensils were stored and food prepared.

The living area contains beds with a sleeping platform across part of the room.

In a corner of the room is the Red or Beautiful Corner (the colour red is considered to bring good luck) where religious and precious things are displayed.

The larger houses have an upper floor which was used for storage and would contain the beautifully carved ‘Hope Chests’ used by girls for storing their dowry.

Many of the larger houses would have had a loom on the lower floor. As well as weaving fabrics, floor coverings could also be made.

The houses are surrounded by small plots of land where fruit and vegetables could be grown. The very primitive toilet facilities are in a small shed in a corner and are still used by visitors today.

Some houses had their own well but others used a communal treadmill worked by a donkey which supplied water for the village.

There are examples a windmill, drying and storage barns.



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We did a day trip to Vladimir from Suzdal.

The area has been settled since 500BC. The present city was founded by Prince Vladimir of Kiev on the bank of the Klyazma river at the end of the C10thC to protect the eastern lands. Andrei Bogolyubsky built his new capital at Bogolyubovo, a few miles from Vladimir after he stormed Kiev. He was succeeded by his brother, Vsevolod III (the Big Nest), who constructed the Kremlin with the Cathedral of St. Demetrius and the Assumption cathedral.

Repeated Mongol invasions in the C13th left the area vulnerable and the seat of power was transferred to Moscow and Vladimir became a political backwater. It became the the centre of administration for the area in the C18th and many of the churches and stone buildings date from this time. Now it is an important industrial town.

Vladimir was originally ringed by earth ramparts topped with wooden walls but these were removed in the C18th. The only surviving remains are by the GOLDEN GATES, which now stand isolated in the middle of a busy road. These were built of stone in 1164 to protect the city and are the only one of the original five outer gates to survive. Traffic would have passed through the central arch which had heavy gates covered in gilded copper. Above the gates is the Church of the Deposition of the Robe of the Holy Virgin, reached by steps inside south wall of tower. This now houses a military museum.

THE ASSUMPTION CATHEDRAL (Dormition or Uspensky Cathedral) is a splendid building on top of a hill overlooking the Klyazma river. This was built in the C12th and with its golden domes, was the tallest building in Russia and the most important church until the C14th. The Moscow Princes were crowned here and many buried here. Inside there are C12th murals and a massive iconostasis.

THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF ST DEMETRIUS was built about the same time as part of the Prince’s palace complex by Vsevolod the Big Nest in honour birth son Dmitri. It is much smaller square building with a single dome. The outside walls are covered with carvings of animals, birds, plants, fantastic beasts, saints and horsemen.

The inside is very plain although traces of C12th frescoes survive.

THE TRINITY CHURCH in front of the Golden Gate is unusual as it is built from local red brick. It was one of the last churches to be built at the start of the c20th and just before the Revolution. It now houses the Museum of Crystal, Lacquer Miniatures and Embroidery. We think this may have been our shopping trip of the holiday as it had a large shop attached to it.


Bogolyubovo is a small village about ten miles east of Vladimir on the banks of the River Nerl.

The settlement was founded by Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky in 1158. According to a legend, the prince spent the night on this spot and had a vision of Our Lady who ordered him to build a monastery here. Within a few years he had built a fortified residence here as well as the Church of the Intersession on the Nerl.

Prince Andrei was murdered here and his palace became a convent, with the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Mary at the centre. The complex partially collapsed in 1722 and was rebuilt. Part of north walls survived along with the old passageway connecting it to Staircase Tower. These remains were preserved, as this was the spot where Andrei Bogolyubsky was murdered. It still contains the remains of frescoes.

The splendid CATHEDRAL OF THE BOGOLYUBOVO ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD with its blue painted domes and massive belfry was built in 1866.

The CHURCH OF THE INTERCESSION OF THE NERL is built on the floodplain at the confluence of the Nerl and Klyazma rivers in 1156. It is reached by a thirty minute walk across the water meadows. In spring the rivers flood and the church is surrounded by a lake of water. It is a small square building with a single black onion dome. The walls slope inwards slightly to increase the impression of height.



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Kostroma and St Ipaty Monastery

We visited Kostroma on our way from Suzdal to Yarislavl.

Kostroma was once the third largest town in Russia and the power base of the Romanov family. Between the C16th to C18th it was an important cultural and commercial centre at the centre of a major road network. Its wealth came from textile and metalworking industries, tanning, blacksmithing, silversmithing, textile arts, and brick making.

A major fire destroyed much of the medieval centre in 1773 and it was rebuilt in the Russian classical style with many large and stylish buildings. Streets radiate out from a central square with the TRADING ARCHES. This was the major market centre for the area. Each arcade was used for trading different kind of goods; flowers, milk, vegetables, tobacco, sweets, fish, bread and 'kvas'(russian brewed sweet drink). The ground floor was the shop and trading area. Above was used for storage.

The fire station is a splendid yellow and white building on the square with a tall tower.

At the beginning of the 20thC Kostroma was stripped of its status as a provincial centre and many of the churches and cathedrals were destroyed. From the 1920s, it developed as an industrial centre and a heating and power plant were built, along with a metalwork factory and a textile trade school.

The main reason to visit Kostroma is for ST IPATY MONASTERY (Ipatyevsky Monastery) which was founded in 1330 and guarded the western approach to Kostroma. Seen from across the river it is surrounded by white walls with pointed roofs above the gateway and corner turrets. The inside is dominated by the Trinity Cathedral with its golden domes.

Entry is through the massive main gate built for Catherine the Great.

Inside is Trinity Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Chambers of the Romanovs immediately recognisable by its brightly painted walls. This is where a delegation of citizens came in 1613 to insist that the young Mikhail Romanov accept the Russian throne. All successive Tsars visited and stayed here. The chambers now contain an exhibition about the Romanov family.

A range of low buildings contained the refectory (white) and the candle works (red) established here in Soviet times. In a corner there is access to the walls and the wall walk.

The TRINITY CATHEDRAL is a massive square building with a big belfry in the centre of the monastery. It has decorative carved walls and golden domes. The building dates from the 1650s and replaced an earlier building which was destroyed when gunpowder stored in its basement exploded.

Entry is up steps to an massive porch. The original Golden Gates are now in the museum and have been replaced replaced by heavy wood doors with a painted archway.

There is smaller Golden Gate in the north gallery which survived the blast.

There is a gallery running round the outside of the church. All the walls are covered with frescoes dating from 1685. The predominant colours are blues, reds and yellows. They include this lovely fresco of the Last Judgement.

The inside of the church is even more magnificent with frescoes. The inside of the dome has a fresco of God the Father holding the Christ Child.

The massive and elaborately carved iconostasis is stunning with gilt and red woodwork surrounding the icons.

The ARCHBISHOP’S PALACE is an impressive white building.

It has a small museum displaying treasures given to the monastery. These include crosses chalices and icons, including some beautiful embroidered icons.

The original Golden Gates from the old Trinity Cathedral are here.

There were pictures of the Romanov’s and a short video presentation about them.


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Kostroma - the Museum of Wooden Architecture

There is a very good FOLK MUSEUM OF WOODEN ARCHITECTURE near to St Ipaty Monastery, set in the countryside among trees. All the buildings come from the area around Kostroma and there are houses from different classes of society from a prosperous family to a poor peasant.

The prosperous house came from a family who acquired their wealth through trade in fishing, hunting and woodcutting. In effect it is two houses, as one half was used in the summer; the other in the winter. There are decorative carvings around the windows and on the eaves. There are lions carved round the gable window designed to frighten forest animals away.

Even the stable door and back entry to the house was carved. This was obviously a family who wanted to impress visitors with their wealth.

Inside is beautifully finished with carving and painted screens.

The inside walls are boarded over for insulation as well as looks. White scarves with red embroidery are hung round the Red corner and paintings to bring good fortune to the house.

The house of a middle class peasant has less carving.

There is a large barn in the yard where the sleds and carriage were kept as well as stores.

Inside was less lavishly furnished and floor boards are of a poorer quality and the log walls are not boarded.

The house of the poor peasant is simply made and much smaller.

There are few belongings or furniture. The kitchen doubles up as living area and also contains the loom.

There are beds above the stove and a small cupboard which was used to keep sickly calves warm.

The far end of the house has no heating and is used in the summer months for living and for general storage during the winter.

There are several small barns scattered round the site and a small well.

Both the two small wooden churches were closed when we visited.



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We spent one night in Yaroslavl in the Yubileynaya Hotel, in the centre of the town. This is a large, comfortable but boring modern tourist hotel. Rooms were huge with a small sitting area. Breakfast was a self service buffet with a mixture of Russian and European food with long communal tables a bit like a canteen.

Yaroslavl is the oldest city on the Volga at its junction with the Kotorosl. The number under the bear is the age of the town and is changed every year. This picture was taken in 2007.

Yaroslavl was founded in the C11th and became the second richest and powerful city in Russia, after Moscow because of its transport links along the river. It was the port for Moscow before the river canal was opened in 1937.

In the C16th and C17th, it became an important manufacturing centre for linen, leather processing, ceramics, salt production and blacksmith's trades Many of its churches were built then, endowed by wealthy business men.

The EPIPHANY CHURCH is unusual as it is built from red bricks with bands of richly decorated blue/green glazed tiles. This style became very successful and was copied by later churches.

The CHURCH OF THE SAVIOUR-IN-THE-TOWN was built using funds from local ship owners. It is a typical square white building with decorative green domes and an attached open belfry.


The railway arrived in the C19th. It became one of the major centres of varnish and paints and was the site of the first Russian oil refinery. Industry is still important and it is the leading supplier of diesel engines for heavyweight lorries and tractors, fuel equipment, automobile, agricultural and aircraft tyres, high-quality oil products, varnish and-paint, asbestos, synthetic rubber and latex products, cable materials, electric engines, road-construction equipment, aviation instruments, tyre-building and woodworking machines, fishing trawlers, rescue tugs and high-speed launches....

Now Yaroslavl is a thriving town with many shops serving the local area.

It has many large and splendid buildings along wide tree lined streets.

There is a marked difference in style between Imperial buildings and the later Communist ones.

In one of the many small parks around the town is the Monument to the Battle and Labour Exploits of the People of Yaroslavl during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, with two uniformed soldiers standing on guard. USSR suffered huge losses during the Second World War. Of the 20+ million people (about 13% of its population) who were killed, over half were civilians.

Tourists come to visit the Kremlin, Church of Elijah the Prophet and possibly also the Yaroslavl Art Museum
in the former Governor’s residence which contains the most amazing collection of icons showing their development from the 13th to 18thC.

Museum of Icons

This contains the most amazing collection of icons showing their development from the C13th to C18th.
Two of the earliest icons on show are the C13th Christ Pantocrator and the C13th Our Lady Hodegetria.

C16th icons Icons include the Annunciation, the Holy Trinity attended by Abraham and Sarah and one of St Varlaam Khootinsky surrounded by scenes from his life.

Later icons often have borders with images from the life of the saint. Good examples are the C17th Our Lady Tolga, St Sergius, St Nicholas and and Our Lady of Kazan.

I’m not a great one for paintings, but was blown away by the beauty of the icons on display.


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Yaroslavl Kremlin

The KREMLIN dates from the C16th and was one of Russia’s richest and best fortified monasteries. It is still surrounded by its white wall with two of the original six towers surviving.

Entry is through the Holy Gate topped by a belfry tower.

Part of the Tsar’s treasure was kept here, protected by a garrison. About 150 monks lived in the Kremlin and their quarters can be seen along a wall.

This now houses the Museum Old Russia with items from the Kremlin Treasury. This was full of the most amazing display of icons, embroidery, church silver, weapons, armour and books. There were even captions in English. Unfortunately photographs were not allowed.

In front of the Monk’s Cell Block are small beehives. Traditionally bees were kept in small houses like this to keep the bees happy and similar houses like this can still be seen in gardens in the countryside. Our guide explained these were not really for bees, but more for the tourist benefit. They are certainly well photographed.

The CATHEDRAL OF THE TRANSFIGURATION in the centre of the monastery is the oldest building in Yaroslavl, built 1505–16 and has retained its old style helmet domes covered in gold. Next to it is the yellow painted Church of the Yaroslavl Miracle Workers with a single green dome.

There are frescos around the main entrance through the west doorway and the inside walls and ceiling are covered with frescoes painted between 1563-4. These have faded to muted shades of blues, reds and golds.

The Church of Elijah the Prophet, Yaroslavl

The CHURCH OF ELIJAH THE PROPHET is also on the tick list for Yaroslavl. It was built mid C17th by a wealthy family of fur traders to replace their earlier wooden church that had burnt down. It is the usual square box with green tiled roofs and green onion domes and large decorative open belfry.

The church is remarkable for its frescoes which were painted between 1680-1 and are considered to be amongst the very best in Russia. They have never been covered by later work and are unusual in that as well as their religious content they also contain scenes of every day life in Russia.

Like the Trinity cathedral in Kostroma, there is a gallery running round the outside of the church. This has a band of decorative aqua, blue, yellow and white tiles around the base of the walls with frescoes above. Massive round topped doorways with highly carved pillars lead into the church.

Inside the church, the immediate impression is of colour. The C18th iconostasis is massive towering up to the ceiling.

Every available space is covered with frescoes. These are unusual as they include scenes of rural life as well as religious images. Round the base of the walls is a decorative frieze with a swirling pattern of red flowers on a mustard coloured background. In places marks of corrosion can be seen where the iron pins fastening the frescoes to the walls have begun to corrode. Left unattended, the fresco will begin to flake off.

The CHAPEL OF THE INTERCESSION is the small winter church attached to the south side of the main building. It was heated by a large stove in a corner.

The frescoes in here were damaged by fluctuations in temperature and were repainted in the C19th. The colours are a lot brighter but the pictures are not of the same quality.

The iconostasis also dates from the C19th although the icons it holds are C17th.



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Rostov Veliky

Rostov Veliky on the shores of Lake Nero, is one of Russia's oldest towns and was the centre of enormous religious and political power in the C13th. It was one of the most important religious centres in Russia until the C18th, when the power base moved to Vladimir.

Since then it has been by passed by history and is now a sleepy backwater well off the usual tourist itinerary. I found a description that it was the ‘prettiest of the Golden Ring Towns after Suzdal’. I’m not sure that I would agree with that description but we enjoyed our stay here.

We arranged to spend two nights here and were booked into the Pleshanova House, a small, pleasant guest house about fifteen minutes walk from the Kremlin.

We enjoyed Rostov Veliky as it gave us chance to see a typical small Russian Town which didn’t have a lot going for it. The town itself is a bit scruffy and has definitely seen better days and a lot of the buildings are looking very sad.

The Trading Arches are still the main shopping centre.

Many churches were closed in Soviet times. Some were destroyed or put to other use. Many of these are gently mouldering away although some are being restored and reopening as churches.

The CHURCH OF OUR SAVIOUR IN THE MARKET PLACE was built in 1690 and is now in very poor condition.

I had read in one of the guide books about the CHURCH OF ST ISADORE THE BLESSED tucked away in the north east corner of the ramparts surrounding the town, which was described as ‘very pretty’. This is actually the original ASCENSION CATHEDRAL, Rostov's oldest church. It is built on the site of the burial of St Isadore. The church was built in 1566 on the orders of Ivan the Terrible. He is said to have executed the architect because it was bigger than his own cathedral. In 1770 a side chapel dedicated to St Isidore and a belfry were added. The Chapel to St Isadore was later demolished and all that is left are the foundations next to the Ascension Church.

In 2007, the church was being restored, although the outside still looked unloved with the remains of frescoes. Scarves tied to the door handle were a sure sign the church was open.

I put on a headscarf and we went in. Inside was an old Babushka who was delighted to see us. We don’t think she got many visitors and we made her day. She chattered away to us in Russian and we kept saying “we don’t understand, we are English” in our best Russian. We ascertained her name was Maria and told her we were Michael and Eleanor. There were delighted smiles at this.

With much pointing to the camera we gathered photography was allowed if a contribution was made to the church. Maria was so obviously proud of her church and expected him to take pictures.

As in all churches, the walls were covered with frescoes, many in poor condition.

There was a stone iconostasis separating the main part of the church from the altar and Holy area behind.

We suddenly realised that Maria was heading through the side door of the iconostasis and beckoning us to follow her. There was a shrine in the side aisle and she lit a candle beside it. She then indicated to Michael that he could go into the main altar area behind the iconostasis. I was allowed to look but not enter. She indicated that Michael could take pictures and expected him to.

Michael said afterwards he felt really quite emotional about this. It was something so unexpected and very special. From very inauspicious beginnings this really did rank as one of the highlights of the trip especially as it was so unexpected and unplanned.

ST JACOB’S MONASTERY OF OUR SAVIOUR is on the banks of Lake Nero on the outskirts of Rostov Veliki.

The monastery was founded in the C14th and is surrounded by white walls. It is still a working monastery and monks can be seen round the grounds.

The Church of St Anna was the first stone church to be built in the C17th and is a typical Russian church with four blue domes with golden stars and a central golden dome. A side chapel dedicated to St Joseph with a central green dome was added in the C18th.

St Demetrius Cathedral is late C18th and is unusual as it has a classical facade along with the green dome.



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The Kremlin, Rostov Veliky

The kremlin is built on the site of earlier fortifications. The majority of the buildings are C17th. Its main function was the residence of Metropolitan and it was not meant to be a defensive structure. It is surrounded by earthwork ramparts and a high wall with eleven towers.

There is a wall walk which gives access to the churches above the gateways.

The largest building is the Metropolitan’s Palace. This is surrounded by domestic buildings and reception rooms. One of these contains a small shop and cafe.

There are pleasant grounds inside the walls with grass, trees and a small lake which was originally the pit used to cast the bells.

THE METROPOLITAN’S PALACE is a large, splendid building with an impressive set of steps up to the entrance. The White Chamber (the Metropolitan’s dining room) is now a museum which contains pictures and examples of enamel work. Unfortunately photographs are not allowed. The Red Chambers were built for the visit of the Tsar and were used to house important guests. They are now a hostel.

THE CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF HODEGETRIA is the most modern of the Kremlin buildings and a very different style to the rest with its decorative walls painted in shades of grey, yellow, orange and brown to represent cubes. This was a heated winter church.

There are churches built over the gateways into the Kremlin.

The CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE DIVINE is entered off the gallery.

It has a stone iconostasis. The Holy Doors were open giving views into the altar area.

Many of the frescoes are in poor condition. The iron pins holding them to the walls have corroded and pieces of fresco are beginning to flake off.

The CHURCH OF THE RESURRECTION is built over the Holy gates separating the Metropolitan’s Palace and the Assumption Cathedral. It has a gallery around the church.

This has a splendid fresco of the Last Judgement.

Inside the church, there is a stone iconostasis, supported on pillars. The frescoes have never been over painted.

The two dark circles are holes in the wall to improve the acoustics in the church.

THE CATHEDRAL OF THE ASSUMPTION (Dormition or Uspensky sobor) is in a separate courtyard next to the Kremlin and reached through a gateway with the Church of the Resurrection above. This is the typical square box with five black onion domes. There is a large separate open belfry next to it. Unfortunately it was shut when we visited.



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Sergiev Posad - Trinity St Sergius Monastery

We visited Sergeiv Posad on the way back to Moscow from Rostov Veliky. It was established in 1337 by Sergius who was Russia’s most venerated spiritual leader, and now its Patron Saint. The TRINITY-ST SERGIUS MONASTERY was founded in the C14th and the massive stone walls with twelve defensive towers were added in the C16th. As well as having a military function, it was also an important seat of learning. Beautiful illustrated manuscripts were produced here as well as the wonderful frescoes in the Trinity Cathedral. There was a theological college. It grew rich on the gifts from the Tsar, nobles and wealthy merchants looking to buy Divine influence. The monastery and theological college were closed by the Bolsheviks but was reopened as a working monastery and museum after the Second World War.

It is one of the most important working monasteries in Russia and very firmly on the tourist ‘must-see’ list getting thousands of visitors every day.

It occupies a large site and is surrounded by massive white walls with towers. The DUCK TOWER projects beyond the walls giving fire cover along their length. Its name comes from the tiny duck at the top. Apparently this was used for archery practice although there is also a story at Peter the Great used to shoot ducks on the white pond from here.

The WATER TOWER is named after the pond behind it where the monastery garden was located.

The golden and blue domes of the churches peep above the walls.

Gateways lead into the monastery.

Inside the RED GATE are frescoes depicting the life of St Sergius. After his parent’s death, Sergius and his elder brother founded a Hermitage in thick forrest and built a small church. This soon became the centre of a small community of believers, eventually developed into a Monastery. The image shows Sergius sharing his food with a bear.

Inside the grounds are laid out with grass and trees.

THE TRINITY CATHEDRAL was built in the early C15th over the grave of St Sergius, replacing an earlier wooden church. This is still a place of pilgrimage with long queues waiting to visit the dull silver sarcophagus in the south east corner which was donated by Ivan the Terrible.

Next to it is the smaller CHAPEL OF ST NIKON which was added a few years later and was built over the tomb of Sergius’s successor. This is an aqua painted building with a painting above the decorative windows but no domes.

The vestry of the Trinity Cathedral now contains the Treasury which is visited by timed ticket. This is one of the best collections of religious art from the C14 to C17th and includes many gifts to the monastery.

In the centre of the site is the CATHEDRAL OF THE ASSUMPTION built between 1559 and 1585. with money from Ivan the Terrible in a fit of remorse for killing his son. This originally had old style domes which were replaced by onion domes. The central dome is covered with gold. The other four are bright blue with gold stars. Many of the Tsars were baptised here. Outside the west door is the grave of Boris Godunov, his wife, son and daughter. He was the only Tsar not to be buried in either Moscow or St Petersburg.

The inside is covered with frescoes and there is a splendid golden iconostasis. There are gold framed icons and gold chandeliers.

In front of the south door is the very ornate pink and white CHAPEL OVER THE WELL which appeared when the cathedral porch was being repaired in 1644. Pilgrims still queue up to fill bottles with Holy Water. Next to it is the CANOPY OVER THE CROSS which was built in the late C19th over a fountain fed by the spring.

Next to it stands the massive five tier BELFRY dating from the mid to late C18th This was built of brick and then covered with plaster, which is painted white and aqua. It contains 42 bells and is one of the tallest belfries in Russia.

The aqua METROPLITAN’S CHAMBERS were built in the late C18th for the Patriarch and are still used when the Patriarch visits today.

Also in the grounds is the TSAR’S PALACE, a late C17th building with green and yellow painted walls and elaborately carved windows with a frieze of shells above.

There are other smaller churches inside the monastery. The CHURCH OF THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT UPON THE APOSTLES is late C15th and is a small white square building with blue domes with gold stripes and stars. Above the central dome is a small belfry. This was used as a watch tower when the monastery was attacked by the Poles in the early C17th.

THE CHAPEL OF OUR LADY OF SMOLENSK is a small round chapel with blue walls with white columns, which was built in the mid C18th to hold the C15th icon of Our Lady of Smolensk which was found to perform miraculous cures. Unfortunately the iconostasis containing the icon was destroyed by the Communists in the 1920s. This has been replaced by an iconostasis from a Moscow church which is a similar date and style to the original. The tall white tower to the left is the Carpenter Tower on the Monastery wall.

The tiny ST MICA’S CHURCH was built in the mid C18th in front of the Refectory building. This is built over the grave of St Mica, a follower of St Sergius. Every night they prayed together to the Virgin Mary. One night she appeared in a vision along with St Peter and St John and promised to protect the monastery.

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Sergiev Posad - Trinity St Sergius Monastery continued

Possibly the highlight of the Monastery is the REFECTORY WITH THE CHURCH OF ST SERGIUS. By the late C17th the old Refectory was too small for the number of monks and a new Refectory was built attached to a new church. Built in the Moscow Baroque style it was completed in 1692. The church was dedicated to St Sergius on the tercentenary of his death. It is an immense structure, 300’ long, and was the largest hall in Russia. It was used by the senior clergy and nobility

The Church of St Sergius is at one end and is a small square building with a golden dome. Steps lead up to the double wooden doors with paintings above. There is a promenade along the front of the Refectory. The walls of the Church and Refectory are painted in a pattern of blue, aqua, red and yellow chequers. There are round columns decorated with paintings of vines with grapes on the walls separating the window bays.

The splendid doorway with its highly coloured pillars is a taster for the glories of the Refectory.

This is a massive space with an arched roof. There are Baroque painted ceiling and walls, golden chandeliers and decorative tiled floor.

At the far end is an open work gold screen with gold doors leading into the Church. On either side are icons set in gilded panels. Money was no object and the place glows.

The church is the winter church for the Assumption Cathedral and morning services are held during the winter. The inside of the Church is covered with frescoes and there is a beautiful golden iconostasis with golden Holy Doors.



100+ Posts
All I can say is .... Wow
Thank you for sharing this journey with us. As a photographer myself, I can really appreciate all these stunning images. You must, or should be, mightily proud. This is a different league of photography that us happy snappers can only aspire to.


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