WHAT IS IT: The so called "Golden Ring of Russia" is a symbolical ring connecting historical towns and cities to the North-West of Moscow? They represent 1,000 years of rich Russian history written in stone and wood, from a 850-year old church in Rostov to a 19th-century log house in the Suzdal's open air museum. Each of the "golden" towns once played an important role in the history of Russia and was connected in one way or another with famous historical figures such as Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and many others. If you would like to see true, patriarchal Russia, to experience the grandeur of nature and the magnificence of ancient towns then a Golden Ring tour is well worth taking. It is one of the most popular routes among Russian and foreign lovers of Old Russian history and architecture.
WHAT TO SEE: The cities and towns of the Golden Ring are listed here in alphabetical order:
Aleksandrov (founded in 1530, population 68,000) - The town is situated 100 km from Moscow on the crossway of ancient roads from the largest historic centers of Russia - Vladimir and Suzdal, Rostov and Yaroslavl, Sergiev Posad and Pereyaslavl-Zalessky. In 1564- 1581 the town was the residence of Ivan the Terrible. In Aleksandrov the tsar proclaimed the establishment of his select, terror-inspiring corps, the Oprichniki and signed the harsh conditions of the truce with Poland and Sweden after losing the long war with Livonia. From Aleksandrov Ivan the Terrible led his army of Oprichniki to strike at the big trade centers of Novgorod, Pskov, Klin and Tver. Here the cruel tsar killed his son in a rage and soon after that left Aleksandrov forever coming back to Moscow. The very first in Russia publishing house was established in Aleksandrov in 1576.
Bogolubovo (founded in 990, population 4,000) - a tiny quiet town near the city of Vladimir. The town was named after the Russian prince Andrey Bogolubsky (God-loving) who built the first fortified settlement here in 1165. It was a strategically important point overlooking the Kliazma River. Tourists can see remains of the Andery Bogolubsky's residence including some residential chambers of the 12th century and the beautiful Church of the Intercession of the Virgin on the Nerl (1165) which is considered to be one of the finest specimens of old Russian architecture.
Gorohovets (founded in 1239, population 30,000) - The town was founded under Vladimir prince Andrey Bogolubsky. The town is picturesquely settled on the high bank of the Klyazma River. Played role as a fortified forepost until 1600-s. Reached its developmental pick in the 17-th century as a local centre for blacksmithing, textile-making and making of leather and also as an agricultural trade centre for grains and flax.
Gus-Khrustalny (founded in 1756, population 80,000) - Over 200 years ago a merchant built here the first workshop of glass casting. Today the town is one of the district centers of Vladimir region, well-known in Russia and abroad as the national center of glassmaking. The name Gus-Krustalny can be literally translated as Chrystalline Goose. The old part of the town is a workmen's settlement of 1900-s. with its own Church of St. Joachim of 1816.
Kholuy (founded 1650, population 1,000) - The village of Kholui did not begin producing lacquered miniatures until the 1930s, and though iconography had been an important trade in the region in previous centuries, Kholui was never bound to any particular artistic tradition. Rather, Kholui miniatures share some traits with both Palekh and Mstera art, yet maintain a distinctive lyrical quality of their own. As in Palekh and Mstera, Kholui artists use egg tempera paints. Kholui paintings tend to be brighter than Mstera's, though like Mstera, the pigments used are opaque and the background is usually fully painted. Sometimes, as with Palekh miniatures, Kholui miniatures will include some fine gold and/or silver ornamentation within the painting, and Kholui artists can create fantastic border ornaments on par with those of Palekh. Since 1960-s products of Kholuy's 200 artists have been widely represented and promoted internationally.
Kostroma (founded in 1213, population 300,000) - In the past Kostroma was known as "the flax capital of the north"; it supplied Europe with the world's finest sail-cloth. The city has been also called as the "cradle of the Romanov dynasty". Mikhail Romanov, the first of the Romanov dynasty, left the Ipatievsky Monastery for Moscow in 1613 to become tsar of Russia. During the Polish intervention in the turbulent years of the early seventeenth century Kostroma was a significant stronghold for the resistance movement. The city is spreaded on the left bank of the Volga river. Nowadays Kostroma is an important industrial center (textile, metal works), a capital city of the Kostroma province.
Mstera (founded in 1628, population 6,000) - the town takes its name from the little Msterka River, which flows through it merging with the Kliyazma. It is in Vladimir Region, but not far from the border with Ivanovo Region, south of Palekh and Kholui, in breathtakingly beautiful countryside - the one that forms the backdrop to its paintings. Mstera was a respected center of icon production until the trade was banned after the Revolution of 1917. Since then its artists has been creating world-famous masterpieces in the form of lacquered miniatures. In keeping with the traditions of iconography, egg tempera paints are still used. The landscape is of central importance to the painting with people and objects integrated to the setting. Mstera paintings are frequently larger than those from the other schools but some fine miniatures are also produced and because of their rarity are highly prized. Typical themes include exquisite floral designs with lacy gold ornamentation, the traditional fairy tales, traditional activities and events such as a winter festival, and sometimes portraiture.
Murom (founded 862, population 145,000) - one of the oldest Russian cites stretched along the left bank of the Oka river. The town's name originates from "muroma", one of the Finno-Ugric tribes lived here 15 centuries ago. Every Russian knows the name Ilya Muromets. He was a mythical epic hero defending people of Russia and later became a synonym of superior physical and spiritual power and integrity, dedicated to the protection of the Homeland. There is a monument to Ilya Muromets built on a river bank of the Oka river in Murom. The town survived three Mongol invasions. In the 17th century Murom became an important centre of various crafts - building, painting, sawing. There are three working monasteries in Murom.
Palekh (founded 1600, population 6,000) - the village is situated about 400km (250 miles) from Moscow in the Ivanovo region. In the 15th century it was one of the first centers of icon drawing trade. After the 1917 communist coup, when the icon business went down, Palekh masters tried to decorate wooden toys, dishes, porcelain and glass. But the most interesting way turned out to be painting black-lacquered boxes made of papier-mache. These days the name of Palekh is nearly synonymous with the art of Russian lacquer. Palekh artists are generally regarded as the most highly trained of the Russian miniature painters. Famous for highly detailed miniatures with elaborate ornamentation, the village of Palekh has a long artistic tradition. Like their icon painting forebears, today's Palekh artists use egg tempera paints and paint in the Byzantine style. Favored themes are the Russian fairy tales, the famous Russian troika (three horse sleigh), and scenes of life in the countryside. The art of Palekh miniatures expresses the true national character. Many examples of Palekh art have received recognition at international exhibitions and have become world-known.
Pereslavl-Zalesskiy (founded in 1152, population 45,000) - one of the oldest Russian towns, the birthplace of the famous Russian prince Alexander Nevsky, who defeated an army of German knights in 1242. Zalessky means "behind the woods". That is where, behind the dense forests, ancient Slavic tribes retreated seeking refuge from hostile nomads coming from the South-East. The town is situated on the shores of the huge Pleshcheyevo lake. The town is also connected with the name of the famed Russian tsar-reformer Peter the Great who in 1680-s practiced his skills in ship-building making over 100 boats and sail vessels, who entertained himself with first Russian navy exercises on the Pleshcheyevo lake.
Ples (founded in 1410, population 4,000) - this quet little historical town is located on the bank of the mighty and beautiful Volga river. During the reign of Ivan the Terrible Ples was one of the largest river firsh suppliers to the kings' court. In the 18-19th centuries the town became known as a popular resort and was often called "Russian Switzerland" for the beauty of its scenery. Numerous Russian artists including the famous master of landscapes Levitan used to come here to work.
Rostov Veliky (Rostov the Great, founded in 862, population 40,000) - another pearl of ancient Russian culture. In old Russia only two towns were called veliky (great). One was Novgorod, the famous trade centre of the Russia's north, the other Rostov. The Principality of Rostov-Suzdal-Vladimir was one of the strongest political divisions of Kievan Rus. It controlled all the major rivers in northeast Rus including the Moskva, Oka, Kliazma, and Volga. In the 12th century Rostov grew to equal Kiev and Novgorod in size and importance. It was made the seat of an Orthodox Metropolitan (Head of Russian Church) in 1587, and served as an important commercial center in the 16-19th centuries, one of the wealthiest in the country, so it could afford to hire the very best builders, decorators and stone-cutters. Modern Rostov is a sleepy old town with some magnificent buildings next to the shallow Nero lake.