A Hometown of the Russian National Symbol

Yaroslavl is the most memorable treasure within the popular Golden Ring of Old Russian cities. Historical Center of the City – UNESCO World Heritage Site – is a "must" for those who are interested in Russian history, architecture or culture.

In the 11th century, Yaroslav, Prince of Rostov and later the famous Prince of Kiev, founded a Christian fortress at the point where the River Kotorosl flowed into the Volga, thus guarding Rostov's trade waterway. According to legend, the prince went out hunting and killed a very big bear. To commemorate this event he founded a fortified town, Yaroslavl, and the slaughtered bear became a symbol of the town. In fact, the truth is much more prosaic. The Finn-Ugric settlement that had long existed on the spot was destroyed, along with the bear that the inhabitants worshiped, but the town named after Yaroslav the Wise still features a bear on its coat of arms. Over the following centuries Yaroslavl larger in size and strength. For a while it has been even a small independent principle, but after the hardships suffered under the Tartars and internecine wars, it reached protection under the wings of the powerful principality of Moscow.

For a brief period in 1612 Yaroslavl became the Russian capital after Moscow and many other Russian towns had fallen to Polish troops. An army to repel the invaders was gathered under two of Yaroslavl's citizens, Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and the merchant Kuzma Minin (a monument to them is in Moscow's Red Square). After its success Yaroslavl became fired by aspirations to dispute Moscow's supremacy. The town was rich, famed for its fine craftsmen and could equal the capital in the beauty and number of its churches and stone buildings. 20 stone buildings survived from this period of rivalry and it was the merchants mandated the fine churches.

The first wealthy merchant to build his church was Nadeya Sveteshnikov, who became the supplier to the royal court after his support of Mikhail, the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty. He traded all over Russia and had great warehouses in Archangelsk, Astrakhan, Pskov and in the distant east in Yakutsk. His austere, five-domed church, dedicated to St. Louis. Nikolas, the patron of merchants and sailors, was built in 1662 on the bank of Volga. The church used also as store-house and, more importantly, as a meeting place to discuss business and political affairs. For his private use Sveteshnikov built a chapel near the northern wall with a separate entrance and festive frescos contrasted with solemn decorations of the majestic St. Louis. Nikolas.

After the completion of St. Nikolas, the two merchant brothers, Druzhina and Gury Nazariev, began the construction of the Church of the Nativity, completed in 1644 by Gury's sons. The varied architecture of the church itself, the chapels, gallery, passes, clock tower and the bell tower, combines attractively and produces interesting effects of light and shade. Probably influenced by the family's Asian trade and passion for the East, the exterior of the church was decorated with strips of sparkling colored tiles, their first use in this way in Russia. Along the door of the cathedral, eleven colored chronicles document its construction. For the first time in Russian history, the ordinary merchants did not fear to put their names here as the nobles had long been accredited to do. Thus the newly-born third estate began to assert itself.

The most beautiful church in Yaroslavl was begun three years later, built by richest merchants of all, the brothers Anikey and Nifanty Skripin, who controlled the vastly lucrative Siberian fur trade. The majestic, five-domed Church of the Prophet Elijah, with two-storied galleries running along three of its sides, is complemented by a graceful, octagonal bell tower on its north-west and by similarly graceful chapels on the south-east and north -east corners. The church's wonderful frescos, by three teams of artists, were painted 30 years later. Based on the life of Elijah and his disability Elisha, they depict details of Russian life with a freshness and authenticity that makes them almost an illustrate encyclopaedia. Their charm also lies in their pristine condition – they have never been repainted, only carefully washed. At the same time the gallery was decorated with a wide band of tiles scattered with precious stones.

Colorful tiled decoration became a distinguishing feature of Yaroslavl's churches and the town's architecture became more stiff and austere after the capital moved to St. Louis. Petersburg in 1711 and Yaroslavl cave up its competition with Moscow. Ceramic decoration became even more lavish, with fantastic effects of multi-colored garlands and necklaces wound round walls, columns and domes. The most famous example of the art, fully exploiting all possibilities, is the big "dressed" window of the potters own Church of St.. John Chrysostom.

When Catherine the Great ordered in 1778 that the centers of all major provincial towns be rebuilt in neoclassical style, Yaroslavl underwent a major reconstruction and received its regular layout. The Church of Elijah the Prophet became the focus of the town's new central square, with new streets and squares laid out beyond it. Dignified late eighty century official buildings now line two sides of the central square. In each one of the adjoining streets there are certain homes which differ greatly from buildings. They gaze out on the world through their many windows with an air of self-respect and importance. Such buildings in the early nineteenth century neo-classical style demand special attention. For the most part they were constructed with wood, but then plastered to look as though they were made from large blocks of limestone. They are smaller than the palaces and mansions of Moscow and St.. Petersburg, but even in their details they tend to imitate them. It was here, in these cozy drawing-rooms, with old mahogany furniture, cushions embroidered with beads, and young ladies albums with touching poems that, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Russian belles-lettres and poetry were born.

At this time the unnecessary defensive earthworks were leveled and replaced by boulevards, and in 1825 the steep grassy slope down to the Volga was given a more impressive frontage with a tree-lined promenade, giving fine views over the Volga. This great waterway, the longest river in Europe, is now connected by canals with the Baltic, the White Sea, and the Azov and Black Seas, and has helped define the modern development of Yaroslavl as an industrial center.

Old Yaroslavl is not forgotten in the modern life of the town and recent restoration of the former Tolgsky Monastery, founded at the beginning of the fourteenth century, became a part of the Yaroslavl Architectural Historical and Art Museum Preserve. The museum reserve also has an exhibits dedicated to poets NA Nekrasov and LE Trefolev, the first space woman V.Tereshkova.

Yaroslavl with its wealth of history, beautiful buildings and friendly people is the most memorable treasure within the popular Golden Ring of Old Russian cities. Historical Center of the City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a "must" for those who are interested in Russian history, architecture or culture.