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.
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. The very first in Russia publishing house was established in Aleksandrov in 1576. One of the leading textile manufacturing centres in Russia in the 19th century.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. The town survived three Mongol invasions. In the 17th century Murom became an important centre of various crafts – building, painting, sawing.
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. These days the name of Palekh is nearly synonymous with the art of Russian lacquer.
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.
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. In the 12th century Rostov grew to equal Kiev and Novgorod in size and importance. Modern Rostov is a sleepy old town with some magnificent buildings next to the shallow Nero lake.
Sergiev Posad (founded in 1345, population 115,000) – the spiritual center of Russia, residence of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, where the remains of the first national saint, Sergei Radonezh, rests. In the heart of Sergiev Posad is a well-preserved splendid architectural ensemble of over 50 historical buildings, as well as magnificent art collections including old Russian painting and the treasures in the vaults of the former Trinity Monastery.
Suzdal (founded in 1024, population 12,000) – this little quiet town is a real gem, one of the most beautiful in the Golden Ring collection of citeis and towns. In the 11th century Suzdal became the very first forepost of Christianity in the North-Eastern Russia and significantly affected the religious life in Russia until the end of 19 century. Here you can find over 100 church and secular buildings dating from the mid-12th to the mid-19th century crowded into a area of 9 square km.
Uglich (founded in 937, population 38,000) – the town was built on a major trade route. In its history Uglich has survived destruction by the Mongols and lived through the devastation of fires and plagues. Uglich is famous for Russia’s darkest secret – the death of young Prince Dimitri, son of Ivan the Terrible who is often called Tsarevich (a heir to the throne) Dmitry. The center of the town also is a historical and architectural landmark. The streets are wide, with various churches standing side by side along the road.
Vladimir (founded in 1108, population 400,000) – one of the oldest Russian cities, was founded by the Russian Prince Vladimir Monomakh on the banks of the Kliazma river. The city really blossomed in the 12th century during the reign of Prince Andrey Bogolubsky, who strengthened its defences, welcomed architects, icon-painters, jewellers from other countries, built new palaces and churches so magnificent that travelers compaired them with the ones in the “mother of all Russian cities”- Kiev. Until the middle of 14th century the city had been an administrative, cultural and religious center for North-Eastern Russia.
Yaroslavl (founded in 1010, population 600,000 ) – as the legend goes it was founded by the famous Russian prince Yaroslav the Wise as a fortified settlement on the Volga river. After a huge fire of 1658 that turned most of the city into ruins, Jaroslavl was rebuilt in stone and reached the peak of its architectural development with palaces and churches richly decorated with beautiful frescoes and ornaments thus earning the title “Florence of Russia”. Today it is a quiet metropolitan city, one of Russia’s largest regional centres, a capital of the Jaroslav province and one of the most beautiful cities of old Russia.
Yuriev-Polsky (founded in 1152, population 20,000) – was founded by the Prince Yury Dolgoruky (who also founded Moscow in 1147) and named after himself. The second word “Polsky” means “among the fields” as it is situated in the heart of fertile and flat Suzdal land. These beautiful landscapes inspired the great painters and writers such as Repin, Tyutchev, Odoevsky, Soloukhin. Local textile centre since the 18th century.
HOW TO GET THERE: By plane to Moscow. From Moscow you can travel the cities and towns of the Golden Ring either by a tour bus or by a river cruise ship. The last option limits the number of towns that you can visit as they have to be situated close to the Volga river. We recommend you to take a bus tour for 3 to 10 days depending on your stamina and level of interest in Russian history. A typical 3-4-day tour from Moscow covers up to 7 cities and towns of the Golden Ring. You travel during the day time in a comfortable bus with a well-trained English-speaking guide and spend nights at hotels with Western-class service (usually- 3 star). The Golden Ring tour can be perfectly combined with 2-3 day program in Moscow. Almost every major travel agency in Moscow sells Golden Ring tours and it is much cheaper to buy them on the spot in Russia then to purchase a tour included into a vacation package from Europe or overseas. Communication is not a problem, these days all personnel in respectable agencies in Russia speak English.
WHEN TO GO: The best season to travel to Russia is summer, from June to August, the warmest time of the year there. Rains are usual during summers, do not forget to pack your umbrella. Weather can be unpredictably cold, even in the European part of Russia, so take some warm clothing. You can check next week weather forecast for Moscow here.
TRAVEL TIPS: A passport and a Russian visa are required to travel in or transit through Russia. To learn more about how to obtain Russian visa please visit Russian Embassy website. Without a visa, travelers cannot register at hotels and may be required to leave the country immediately via the route by which they entered, at the cost of the traveler. Russian customs officers strictly follow document regulations so travelers are advised to have all papers in order. It is also recommended that additional copies of passport and visa be kept in a safe place in case of loss or theft. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash/dollar payment for health services at Western rates so supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage is very useful. Travelers should be certain that all immunizations are up-to-date, especially for diphtheria and typhoid. Quality of tap water varies from city to city but normally is quite poor. Only boiled or bottled water should be drunk throughout Russia. Crime against foreigners in Russia continues to be a problem, especially in major cities. Pick pocketing, assaults, and robberies occur. Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around night clubs or bars, or on their way home. Robberies may occur in taxis shared with strangers. Be aware that public washrooms are difficult to find, and usually you have to pay there. To use a public phone you will need a token or local card. International calls can not be made from street phones. Your mobile phone will work in Moscow and Saint Petersburg but seldom in regional cities. Taxi fee must be discussed with a driver before a journey.
In the major cities you can rent a car if you do not mind fairly rugged road conditions, a few hassles finding petrol, getting lost now and then and paying high rent price. Public transport in Russia is quite good, cheap and easy to use though sometimes overcrowded. Restaurants seldom have a menu in English. Tipping is expected but not mandatory. Signs in English are common on the streets of Moscow and other big cities. In large cities it is not hard to find a passerby who can answer your questions in Engish. Electricity throughout Russia is 220 volt/50 hz. The plug is the two-pin thin European standard.