The Golden Ring is a group of eight Russian towns with a huge number of unique historical and architectural monuments, with whole complexes of preserved buildings, monasteries and neighborhoods, folk art centers and museums with extensive exhibitions, together giving an excellent idea of how people lived in Russia over the last millennium and earlier.
Traditionally, the Golden Ring includes Sergiyev Posad, Pereslavl-Zalessky, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Vladimir and Suzdal. In addition, the Golden Ring also includes a number of other settlements in the Moscow, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kostroma and Yaroslavl regions: Aleksandrov, Bogolyubovo, Gorokhovets, Gus-Khrustalny, Kalyazin, Kideksha, Murom, Palekh, Ples, Rybinsk, Tutayev, Uglich, Yuriev-Polsky and Shuya. All of them played an important role in Russian history, and have preserved their beautiful architecture and rich cultural heritage.
A trip round the Golden Ring is the very best way to get to know Russia and see authentic features of the legendary Russian heartland.
The picturesque surroundings absolutely lend themselves to fascinating walks. Here you can combine hiking with biking and horseriding on a simple route. The rivers and lakes have good fishing opportunities. In the vast forests and meadows there are good opportunities for hunting.
The term "Golden Ring" appeared recently. In 1967, journalist, writer and activist for the conservation of cultural heritage Yury Bychkov drove his car round the eight ancient cities to the north-east of Moscow that were most interesting from the point of view of history and architecture, and returned to the capital. He prepared a series of essays for one of the Soviet newspapers. These essays were published under the headline "The Golden Ring of Russia." The essays resonated in the public and cultural sphere, and the Culture Ministry decided to put on bus trips round the route. Soviet citizens and foreign tourists were offered seven days to see the sights of Moscow, and to spend the following week in eight cities of the Golden Ring, a day for each. The name stuck so well, and the trip was so interesting and successful that few people now remember the story of its birth: It seems that this is how this unique tour into Russia's past has always been known.
Going round the Golden Ring by car will of course give the greatest degree of freedom, by letting you stay where it seems interesting and see exactly what you want. Many Muscovites choose separate Golden Ring cities for weekend outings. This type of trip is probably the most popular and accessible. A couple of days is perfectly realistic to take your time and see all the major sights of Sergiyev Posad and Pereslavl-Zalessky, Vladimir and Suzdal, or Yaroslavl and Kostroma.
The only difficulty is in choosing where to go. All these cities can reasonably lay claim to the title of the pearl of the Golden Ring. Tourism infrastructure is being actively developed everywhere; there are good hotels and numerous travel agencies offering not just travel on comfortable buses, but also detailed tours and excursions to visit ancient Russian villages nearby, where the old way of life and farming has been preserved. On these ecological tours you can stay in a wooden hut that has been standing for over 100 years, go with a yoke to the well for water, drink tea from a real coal-fired samovar, go fishing or take part in the haymaking. For many people this is the best way to escape the hectic pace of Moscow life, set aside your problems and have a good rest.
It is particularly interesting on folk and religious holidays. You could participate in the festivities and eat pancakes at the pagan carnival Maslenitsa, which celebrates the end of winter and the start of spring in the last week before Lent. You could dance in a traditional round and drink beer brewed especially for Aug. 2, Ilya's day — the traditional Eastern Slav holiday in honor of the prophet Elijah, who is especially revered in the region. At the winter solstice you can go from house to house with the mummers, carol singing, giving gifts or scaring passers-by, while Yuletide (the 12 days of Christmas) is the time to tell fortunes and sing songs.
Comfortable and convenient fast trains run to most cities in the Golden Ring, and in the warm season you can get to Rybinsk, Yaroslavl and Kostroma by boat. A sail along the scenic shores of the Moscow and Volga rivers is in itself a fascinating journey.
The history of the city began in 1337 with Russia's largest monastery, founded by St. Sergius of Radonezh. The city's Trinity-Sergius Lavra is a UNESCO world heritage site. Gradually, peasants began to settle near the monastery, which is how the following villages and settlements began to emerge: Ikonnaya, Povarskaya, Telezhnaya and Konyushennaya, which glorified the city as a center of crafts. The local craft to gain the most popularity was wooden toys, and the town became known as the "capital of fun." Buying a toy at the monastery walls is a pious act. After all, St. Sergius of Radonezh himself cut toys from wood to amuse children. Ivan the Terrible was baptised at the monastery, and during his reign the monastery was turned into one of the most powerful fortresses on the outskirts of Moscow. It remained a royal fortress under Peter I: During the Strelets rebellion in Moscow in 1689, Tsar Peter the Great took refuge within its walls. Sergiyev Posad is called the pearl of the Golden Ring, since it has so many historical monuments and treasures. The most ancient churches in Sergiev Posad are the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and the Church of the martyr Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, located on the southeast side of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra.
Pereslavl-Zalessky museum reserve
4 Muzeiny Pereulok, Pereslavl-Zalessky, Yaroslavl region†
10.00-18.00 Tues. to Sun.
The Little Boat of Peter I museum estate
Veskovo village, Pereslavsky district, Yaroslavl region
10.00-18.00 Tues. to Sun.
This city of churches and monasteries, founded in 1152 by Prince Yury Dolgoruky, played an important role in Russian history. It was the birthplace of the famous commander Grand Duke Alexander Nevsky, whose statue stands on the city's Red Square. The town's Nikitsky monastery became a powerful fortress in the 16th century. On Lake Pleshcheyevo, Peter I began construction of "amusing" ships, which became the progenitors of the great Russian Navy. The first of these, a craft called Fortune, is on display in the country's oldest provincial museum "The Little Boat of Peter I," which has been in existence since 1803.
First mentioned in the "Primary Chronicle," (literally "The Tale of Bygone Years," the only written testimony of the earliest history of the East Slavic peoples) in 862, Rostov is one of Russia's oldest cities. In the 10th to 12th centuries it was the capital of the Rostov principality, and the Rostov diocese held the leading position among the Christian dioceses. The architectural ensemble of the Rostov Kremlin from the 17th century has kept alive the spirit of an ancient Russian town more than anywhere else. In the early 1970s scenes from the film "Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession" were filmed there. Also interesting are the architectural ensembles of the Yakovlev and Avraamiev monasteries, and the five-domed Assumption Cathedral, built on Cathedral Square in 1512. The picturesque surroundings absolutely lend themselves to fascinating walks.
An ancient legend says that construction began on the city's fortress on the site where Yaroslav the Wise slew a bear. The fortress quickly became a vibrant city on the crossroads of trade routes, and later became the capital of the principality of Yaroslavl. Fate has ordained that we can not judge its original beauty, since during the Mongol invasion Yaroslavl was burned to the ground. In the 15th century, the city recovered from the ruinous war and became part of the Moscow principality, rebuilt in stone. Of particular interest are the Church of the Epiphany, Church of St. Nicholas the Wet, five well-preserved monasteries and the oldest theater in Russia, built in 1750 and named after Fyodor Volkov. The historic center of Yaroslavl is a UNESCO world heritage site. Yaroslavl celebrated its 1,000-year anniversary in 2010.
In 1152, Yury Dolgoruky founded a fortress on the left bank of the Volga to defend Russia from the east. Despite 10 centuries of Christianity, the town was given a name in honor of the Slavic deities. Tourists are particularly attracted to the Ipatiev monastery, where Mikhail, the first of the Romanov dynasty, was called from to reign. Kostroma also has a statue of the peasant Ivan Susanin, who lured the Polish invaders into the woods, and thereby saved Mikhail and the crown from the Time of Troubles. The town has 535 monuments of architecture and history. Some of the most interesting are the Monastery of the Epiphany (16th to 19th centuries), and churches from the 17th century. Not far from Kostroma is a unique moose farm, where you can observe these magnificent animals up close and try moose milk. The rivers and lakes have good fishing opportunities.
Before the days of the Russian Empire, the town of Ivanovo, which grew up in 1561 on the site of an ancient village, was known as a center of the textile industry, and the local products could compete well with those from Europe. The historic center of Ivanovo has preserved merchant houses from the 19th and 20th centuries as well as several factory buildings. One of the symbols of Ivanovo is the Shchudrovskaya Palatka, an official hut built in the 17th century. The complex of the Vvedensky convent from the beginning of the 20th century is also very interesting, and there are great examples of constructivism from the 1930s: the "boat house" and "horseshoe house." The picturesque surroundings absolutely lend themselves to fascinating walks.
Of the 6,000 inhabitants of this town, more than 500 are hereditary painters. The village of Palekh has been famous since the 16th century as a center of Russian icon painting and applied arts — traditions that are alive and well today. Icons were not only used to decorate temples and houses: People carried tiny images of the saints with them. You can see the best works of the old masters in Holy Cross Church, which was built, painted and richly decorated in the center of Palekh in 1762-74, as well as in the Palekh Art Museum. A wooden house from the 19th century with well-preserved surroundings houses a museum of the famous Russian artist Pavel Korin.
Murom history and art museum
4 Ulitsa Pervomaiskaya, Murom, Vladimir region†
10.00-17.00 Tues. to Sun.
Holy Trinity Convent
3/A Ploshchad Krestyanina, Murom, Vladimir region
This ancient Russian city on the Oka River is known to all Russians as the birthplace of the epic warrior Ilya Muromets. The Primary Chronicle mentions Murom as a trade and craft center in 862. In the 10th and 11th centuries it became the largest city in northeastern Rus. When the khan of Kazan tried to lay siege to Murom in 1537, the townspeople put up strong resistance. After the capture of Kazan, the Annunciation Cathedral was erected here in memory of the glorious victory. This and some other historical monuments — Kozmodemiansk Church, the Monastery of the Savior, Savior Transfiguration Cathedral, Holy Trinity Monastery and the Church of the Resurrection — have unfortunately not reached us in their original form, but the beauty of their ancient architecture still has the power to affect us.
Prince Vladimir Monomakh built a strong fortress on the steep banks of the River Klyazma in 1108 and named it after himself. His successor Yury Dolgoruky ordered a new princely court to be erected, with a church in the name of its patron saint Georgy (1157). Vladimir's churches are just as beautiful and significant as Moscow's, if not more so. Many monuments are UNESCO world heritage sites. It is interesting to walk around Cathedral Square with its Dmitriyevsky and Assumption Cathedrals, see the Golden Gates, the Nativity Monastery and neighborhoods with wooden houses. Vladimir is also widely known for its souvenirs made from bark, and jewelry made from stones, enamel and crystal.
Vladimir and Suzdal museum reserve
22 Ulitsa Kremlyovskaya, Suzdal, Vladimir region
Grounds of Pokrovsky Convent, Suzdal, Vladimir region
According to one theory held by scholars, the name Suzhdal — apparently pronounced with the “zh” rather than “z” in ancient times — comes from the Old Slavic verb “zizhdu,” meaning “I build.” The relatively small area of two kilometers by four kilometers contains more than 300 monuments of architecture and history, not only of Russian but of global significance. The history of Suzdal started with the first fortifications and city council on the spot where the Suzdal Kremlin now stands. Suzdal was first mentioned in chronicles in 1024. In the 11th century it was a large city in the northeast of the powerful Kievan Rus, which soon became the capital of the Rostov-Suzdal principality, a major trade and craft center. The monuments that exist today and attract multitudes of tourists all appeared in the 16th to 17th centuries. Suzdal’s most beautiful and ancient church is the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin (1222-25), while its white-stone monuments are UNESCO world heritage sites. You can stay in a hotel in the grounds of Pokrovsky Convent in 18th century log huts. The city has an icon painting workshop, a shop of souvenirs made of birch bark, clay and ceramic ornaments, and a manufacturer of the ancient fermented drink medovukha.