Celebrate a thousand years of history in the largest city on the ‘golden ring’.
Start and end: Bogoyavlenskaya Ploschad, Yaroslavl Distance: 4km
One thousand years ago, at the place where two rivers meet, Prince Yaroslav the Wise killed a local sacred bear with his battleaxe and founded the town of Yaroslavl. Enlarged by 17th century merchants and 20th century industry, it became the biggest city in Russia’s “golden ring” of ancient and beautiful towns. This month, Yaroslavl held huge anniversary celebrations to mark its birth in 1010, restoring old streets and buildings and opening new ones. You could walk round this simple circuit of the UNESCO-listed old town centre in less than an hour, but, if you visit even half of the museums and churches mentioned, it will take a full day.
The journey from Moscow’s Yaroslavsky Vokzal to Yaroslavl, on the spacious, comfortable express train, takes four hours and costs around 600 roubles each way. The train leaves Moscow at 8.20am, arriving in time for lunch. The number six trolleybus goes from directly outside the main station to the Transfiguration Monastery.
A bronze statue of Yaroslav the Wise (1) stands in Bogoyavlenskaya Ploschad. There are a bewildering variety of exhibitions on offer inside the fortified walls of the Transfiguration Monastery, the city’s chief museum-reserve. Besides gold-backed icons and colourful ceramic tiles, visitors can see a live bear called Masha in a cage, or a room full of chain mail and stone images, representing a 12th century epic poem. The treasury is crammed with gold and silver, gems, pearls, satin and enamel.
A new museum of town history and archeology is being added for the millennium. The early 16th century Transfiguration cathedral (2), Yaroslavl’s oldest surviving church, is freshly white and gold, a great contrast with the faded crimsons and mellow ochres of the frescoes inside. Best of all, for 100 roubles, you can climb the towering belfry and enjoy the view across the city and its two rivers.
Exit through the back gate of the monastery. Moscow’s Mayor Luzhkov was responsible for the pointed chapel on the grass outside. You might recognize this and the statue of Yaroslav from the 1000 rouble note. Beyond it is the town beach (3), which you can walk around for views of the Kotorosl River. Alternatively, turn left along the monastery walls past the orange-brick church of the Archangel Michael, two more green and white churches and a stadium. From the rotunda on the high embankment, there are views right over the ‘Strelka’ (4). This peninsular at the confluence of the Kotorosl and Volga rivers has turned into a ‘Thousand Year Anniversary Park’, complete with various appropriate monuments and bear-shaped flowerbeds. On the cliffs above, legendary site of the city’s founding, Yaroslavl’s newest cathedral, the Assumption (5), reconstructs a previous church in supersized splendour.
Turning left along the bank of the vast Volga River, you pass the whitewashed, 17th century metropolitan’s palace, housing a collection of icons. Churches, mansions and towers spread out along the embankment. At number 17, the Historical Museum (6) is opening a new exhibition, reviewing a thousand years of history through materials from the national archives. Immediately after the museum, detour left to visit St Elijah’s church (7) with its beautiful frescoes. Back on the embankment, the main branch of the Art Museum, in the Governor’s palace, celebrates Yarolsavl’s “golden age” with yet more icons, as well as a sculpture garden and more recent Russian paintings.
The next lane on the left leads to the church of St Nicholas. With its rich, blue frescoes and gilded iconostasis, this was the first stone church built by the wealthy merchants who funded the city’s 17th century heyday. Nearby, opposite the riverside rotunda, John Mostoslavsky’s private museum “Music and Time” (8) adds an unusual charm to this row of galleries and churches. His extensive collection of antiques includes hundreds of old clocks, gramophones, music boxes, flat irons and more than a thousand bells. The atmospheric clock room, full of ticking and chiming, is an appropriate image for Yaroslavl’s variegated past.
Just beyond the River Station (9) on the right you can catch a boat to the Tolga convent. The ‘Vanilla Sky’ Restaurant, right next to the River Station at 2 Volzhskaya Naberezhnaya (4852/333776) is a good choice for refreshments if you want to push the boat out a bit (pardon the pun). Main dishes like fried pikeperch with wild mushrooms cost around 400 roubles. By Moscow standards, it’s quite reasonable, but if you need something cheap and filling, the cozy Tai Tai café, just across the embankment does a three-course-plus-tea business lunch for 100 roubles.
Turn left along the avenue, leading away from the water, passing a statue of local poet, Nikolai Nekrasov. The ornate blue and white mansion on the left was the home of Count Musin-Pushkin, who discovered the 12th century manuscript of ‘The Song of Igor’s Campaign’ in the monastery library. Go on along the next leafy promenade, slightly left at the crossing, Yaroslavl’s Red Square. The modernist construction in glass, wood and stone is a new entertainment centre with cafes and bowling.
The bright yellow building at the far end of the avenue is the Volkov Theatre (10). It opens its new season this month with Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”. The actor, Fyodor Volkov, founded Russia’s first public theatre in Yaroslavl in 1750. There is a statue of the actor in the park to the right of the theatre. The quickest way back to where you started is to walk straight down Pervomaiskaya Ulitsa, but you may prefer to detour left among the markets and mansions. Alternatively, if you have had enough, trolleybus number 1 runs right up Ulitsa Svobodi to the main station. Don’t forget to look left out of the window, as the train crosses the river, to catch a glimpse of the John the Baptist church, which appears on the back of the thousand rouble note.
Landmark of the Week – Yaroslavl’s new Assumption Cathedral (5) The gold-domed cathedral, which opened this month, was originally built in the mid 17th century and demolished by the Soviets in the 1930s. The new version is 12 metres taller than the original.
Accomodation Yaroslavl is too far for a day trip from Moscow. The 4-star, modern Ring Premier Hotel is between the main station and the town centre. Standard rooms cost around 4000 roubles per night. http://ringhotel.ru/en/