Carusel Tours
5 April 2020

The Golden Ring of Russia

Suzdal Panoramic View Autumn
Photo by Dmitry Zhukov

When we choose the destination for our next trip, we first think of large cities. Therefore, in Russia the most visited cities are Moscow and St. Petersburg. But if we want to learn more about the country's traditions and the national character, we need to see its authentic ancient towns. Russia is much more than its main cities and in places far from their noisy and hectic life, in the slow daily routine of old towns the roots of our culture and soul are getting rediscovered.

In this post, we will share with you a wonderful route that runs through the medieval Russian cities, the so-called Golden Ring of Russia. We hope that it will help you learn a little more about our history. Hopefully, after you read it you decide to venture on this impressive journey in reality and immerse yourself in the country's cultural heritage.

From my own experience, I can say that this trip is a type of pilgrimage to the origins and most Russians travel through this route at least once in their lives.
What is the Golden Ring of Russia?

The Golden Ring is the name of a touristic route that begins and ends in Moscow and consists of medieval towns conveniently located close to each other. The route was created by the Soviet journalist Yuri Bychkov who frequently travelled for work in his car to the historic cities located to the northeast of Moscow, in the region between Volga and Kliazma rivers. It was him who called our attention to the ancient architecture of these cities and their tourism potential.

The classic Golden Ring route originally started from Moscow and included eight ancient cities: Vladimir, Suzdal, Ivanovo, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Rostov Veliky, Pereslavl-Zalesky and Sergiyev Posad. But lately it has been supplemented by other impressive historical towns, such as Plyos, Uglich, Myshkin, Murom and Aleksandrov.

All the cities of the route were founded in the strategic positions along ancient waterways. Almost each of them at some point had been the main city of some medieval Russian principality (in the late medieval times Russia was divided into many independent principalities). Thanks to their political importance and exceptional growth back then, now they have many exceptional architectural monuments that date back to the period between 11th and 17th centuries. Today these cities impress us with the diversity of the cathedrals and churches with their onion-like domes, modest white walls of the unapproachable convents and the beautiful nature. They are true open-air museums, that keep memories of the most important events in the Russian history. Most of the monuments of the Golden Ring are declared the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Sergiyev Posad
Sergiyev Posad

Once you leave Moscow, probably the first city on the route will be Sergiyev Posad, which is only 70 km from Moscow. It is the home to the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius, the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. The monastery, also known as the Lavra, is the residence of the Russian Patriarch and the main educational centre of the Orthodox Church, which is why it is often called the Russian Vatican.

The Laura was established in the 1340-s by Sergius of Radonezh, the saint revered by both Orthodox and Catholic churches. The Lavra includes more than fifty buildings created by the artisans from Moscow, Pskov and Yaroslavl. It is a good example of the typical Orthodox monastery with military features.

On the Lavra's territory Tsar Boris Godunov and his family, and Andrei Rublev are buried. Andrei Rublev is the most famous Russian artist from the medieval times, he was the monk in this monastery and he painted here many of his icons. In addition to that, Sergiyev Posad is home to the first Matryoshka, the multi colored Russian doll (if you want to paint your own Matryoshka during your stay in Russia, see our activities here).
Andrei Rublev was canonized in 1988. There is Andrei Rublev Museum in Moscow, located in the Andronikov Monastery, where his works are exhibited.
In 1966 Andrei Tarkovsky, the most famous Russian film director, made a film Andrei Rublev based on his life that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It was later considered one of the best films of all times. The film was shot in Suzdal - the next city on our route.
Vladimir panoramic view
Cities of White Monuments

Vladimir and Suzdal, located close to each other, are the next cities on our route. They are famous for ancient "white monuments" - with this name UNESCO identifies eight medieval monuments from the 12th-13th centuries, made of limestone.
The Cathedral of St. Demetrius in Vladimir Golden Gate Vladimir
Vladimir

Among these magnificent monuments, one can't miss seeing two masterpieces, located in and around Vladimir. We are talking about the Cathedral of St. Demetrius, the Assumption Cathedral and the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin on the Nerl River. They are among a few 12th century's buildings that survived the Mongol conquest. These are the true pearls of the Russian architecture that stand out for the exceptional form and decoration of their facades. The Church of the Virgin on the Nerl River is located on an artificial hill and it looks like a white candle or a bride from a distance. To enjoy this breathtaking view you will need to walk through a field for about 20 minutes, slowly approaching this romantic church, or you can take a short ride in the horse carriage. The Cathedral of St. Demetrius was built during the reign of Grand Prince Vsevolod the Great Nest in honour of St. Demetrius of Thessalonica.
The Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin on the Nerl River
When visiting Russian Orthodox churches, women should cover their heads with a scarf. It is better to have it with you, but in any case, there are scarves and skirts for visitors available at the entrance to each monastery, cathedral or church.
Initially, the Cathedral of St. Demetrius was surrounded by the galleries with towers and connected to the Prince's Palace, that were mistakenly demolished during the 19th century restoration works, as they were considered to be more modern structures than the rest of the building.

The cathedral is decorated with white stone carvings and almost 600 reliefs representing saints, royals and mythical animals; among them you can find the figure of its founder - Prince Vsevolod III. Inside the cathedral there are some fragments of the 12th century frescoes, the most prominent being the fragments of the Last Judgment.

Vladimir has other ancient Russian monuments, such as the Golden Gates and the Cathedral of the Assumption, I hope that you will visit them too!
Suzdal Panoramic View Suzdal ancient church
Suzdal

Suzdal is now a small provincial town. It has only 10,000 inhabitants, but such a wealth of the monuments from the 12th-15th centuries that it has become a mecca for the lovers of medieval Russian architecture. It has 33 churches, 5 monasteries and 14 bell towers, some are on the UNESCO heritage list. It is an ideal place for a relaxing weekend in the country side. I recommend you to spend a few days here and make the most of its special charm (and the proximity to Moscow and Vladimir).
They say that Suzdal obtained its world fame after the visit of the French billionaire Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who is attributed with the words "I am a rich man, but if they could give me Suzdal for a couple of years, I would multiply my fortune", which perfectly sums up the tourism potential of the city.
Suzdal was first mentioned in the chronicles for the year 1024 as Suzhdal. At the beginning of the 12th century, under the reign of Yuri Dolgorukiy, the founder of Moscow, it became the centre of the Rostov-Suzdal Principality.

Here you have to visit its medieval Kremlin that dates back to the 10th century, white as the old Russian fortresses, and the Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius (14th century). In the latter, located on the banks of the Kamenka River, you will travel back in history. Here is the burial place of Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, the hero of the Russian uprising against the Polish rule in 1612. Its six-meter-high walls guard the ancient churches, cathedrals and they even housed a prison that operated from the 18th century up until the end of the World War II. It was a prison for religious and political dissidents.
Among the prisoners here was Friedrich Paulus, the field marshal of the Sixth Army of Nazi Germany, head of the invading forces that attempted to take Stalingrad in the greatest battle in history. After losing the fight, he was sent here to serve the penalty reserved for the defeated.
Another place that is worth a visit in Suzdal is the Intercession Convent of the 16th century, the place of exile of many Russian tsarinas, among them were the spouses of Ivan III, Basil III and even Peter the Great.
Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life in Suzdal Wooden Russian church in Suzdal
In addition to all the architectural wonders, Suzdal allows us to enjoy a country life in the picturesque nature. You can experience it when visiting the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life where old beautiful wooden churches, houses of peasant families, mills and wells are kept. Originally, most of them are not from Suzdal, they were brought there from different parts of the country. In this open-air museum you can participate in various fun activities, such as the creation of straw dolls and archery.

Speaking of peasant life, we recommend you to enjoy there the typical Russian dishes and try the famous Medovukha of Suzdal - an ancient honey drink that reminds sweet beer.

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl was founded in 1010 and between the 12th and 15th centuries it was the capital of one of the most powerful Russian principalities that competed with Moscow and Veliky Novgorod.

It is now the largest city on the route with 600,000 inhabitants and its centre included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The city is located at the confluence of the Volga river with its tributary Kótorosl, and, in addition to the fabulous monuments, offers picturesque vistas from its embankments. Like all old Russian cities, Yaroslavl has its own Kremlin with the best panoramic views of the city centre from its clock tower.
Yaroslavl panoramic view Yaroslavl panoramic view
The legend says that Yaroslav the Wise, the great prince of Kiev, founded the city of Yaroslavl after a fight to the death with a bear, that took place in these lands. Bear was considered a sacred animal by the local tribes populating this area. To celebrate his victory, Yaroslav the Wise decided to create there this city. In 2009 during the Millennium Celebrations of Yaroslavl, the monument to the bear was inaugurated near the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour.
Throughout its history, Yaroslavl had been a city of wealthy merchants who tried to outdo each other on architectural whims. In the 16th-17th centuries Yaroslavl had commercial relations with the Middle East and European countries. The Englishmen opened a shipyard there, they were followed by the Dutch, German, French and Spanish merchants.

Numerous churches of the city are very richly and brightly decorated with stone carvings, beautiful domes, old frescoes and painted ceramics (also known as the enamelled faience of Yaroslavl). In that sense they are far from being as ascetic and modest as ancient Russian churches in Vladimir and Suzdal. The churches in Yaroslavl are first of all the churches of rich merchants, they are commemorating their wealth and reflect their tastes. You can feel that Yaroslavl's architecture influenced much the Moscow's asymmetric multi-coloured style. We recommend you to visit the Churches of St. Nicholas, Prophet Elijah and John the Baptist in Yaroslavl to get the better idea of what we are talking about.

Prophet Elijah Church in Yaroslavl 17th century tiles in the church of Yaroslavl
Yaroslavl's economic prosperity led to a boom in construction. Since 1620, some 40 stone churches were built in the city, most of them surpassed those of Moscow and influenced the architectural tastes in the Russian capital. In 1658, a fire swept through Yaroslavl and 29 churches were destroyed, but they were soon rebuilt. Today the city centre is architecturally homogeneous, as almost all of its buildings date to the period between 1660 and 1690.
Rostov Veliky Panoramic View
Uglich and Rostov Veliky

Yaroslavl is surrounded with many historical towns, but above all Uglich and Rostov Veliky (literally Rostov the Great) stand out, and we recommend visiting them. These are the UNESCO World Heritage sites that have admirable architectural ensembles.

In Uglich Dmitry, the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, died in dubious circumstances. With his death, the rule of the first Russian royal dynasty of Ruriks ended and the period known as the Time of Troubles began. It was over when the throne was passed to the Romanov family. On the spot where the body of the boy was discovered, the Church of Saint Demetrius on Blood was later built, and it became a place for pilgrimage.
Rostov Veliky Panoramic View from Lake Nero in winter
Rostov the Great, one of the oldest cities in Russia, was founded on the shores of the legendary Lake Nero in 862 AD. It is now a village and in the earlier Middle Ages it was an important Viking trade settlement along the Volga River trade route. In the 10th century it became the capital of the most prominent principality of Russia.

Rostov has always been the ecclesiastic centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the 14th century, the bishops of Rostov became archbishops and in the 16th century they received the status of metropolitans. The city's white Kremlin with its eleven towers is the only one that was not built as a defensive structure, but as the residence of the Orthodox Bishops, if you visit it, you will learn more about the Russian Church and its history.
Resurrection Church in Kostroma. Photo by S. Prokudin-Gorsky, 1911
Resurrection Church in Kostroma, original photo of 1911 by S. Prokudin-Gorsky

Kostroma

Another genuine treasure of the Golden Ring, a bit further away from Moscow, but no less interesting for the visit is Kostroma. There on the bank of the Kostroma River, one of the tributaries of Volga, lies Ipatiev Monastery. From this monastery Mikhail Romanov left for Moscow in 1613 to assume the Russian throne, ending a period of the state instability and founding the royal dynasty that reigned until 1917. Prince Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov lived in the Ipatiev Monastery for 16 years, it was his family's property at that time. From here the boyars of the Principality of Moscow called Mikhail to come to the capital and assume the throne, as it was decided on the Zemski Sobor, the Russian feudal parliament. The house in Yekaterinburg, where the family of Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar of the Romanov dynasty, spent his last days, also bore the name of Ipatiev.
Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma. Photo by Prokudin-Gorsky, 1911
You are not mistaken - the colour photos of Kostroma that you see here were actually taken by the pioneer of the colour photography Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky in 1911! In his photos we see Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, but it seems that they have been taken recently. The works of this genius were forgotten soon after the revolution and they were rediscovered only in the end of the past century thanks to the negatives that were bought by the U.S. Library of Congress from the heirs of the photographer who at that time lived in France. Read our post about Prokudin-Gorsky to find out more about him!
Among other historical places in Kostroma, the 17th century shopping arcades stand out, that have been preserved in their original state. Kostroma was one of the main centres of Russian merchants and it still preserves that atmosphere that you can feel in its gastronomic traditions, tea ceremonies and, above all, in the picturesque old wooden and stone houses, abundantly decorated with floral designs, ornamental windows and other typical attributes of the Russian merchant style. Kostroma has so much charisma that many visitors return here again and again to enjoy its beauty, laid back lifestyle and the delicious local food!
Pikeperch with fish eggs in Kostroma
Kostroma is considered to be the homeland of Snegurochka, the Russian Snow Maiden and the granddaughter of Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus.
We haven't mentioned all the cities of the Russian Golden Ring here, but we are going to introduce you other legendary Russian towns in the future. Feel free to write us about the cities that you want to know more about!

And we would love to help you plan the trip around the Golden Ring of Russia.

This might be anything from a 3-day journey to one week with the most complete immersion in the Russian history, nature and traditions. Our proposed 7-day route is Moscow - Sergiyev Posad - Rostov the Great - Uglich- Yaroslavl - Kostroma - Plyos - Suzdal - Vladimir - Moscow.



Please fill out the form below if you are interested and we will draw the most suitable route for you!

Text by Karina Matveeva
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