Suzdal (Су́здаль)Region: Vladimir Oblast
Suzdal is a popular tourist destination on the Golden Ring. It is a small town, covering only 9. 5 square kilometres. Suzdal densely populated with ancient religious and civilian buildings. Some of them date back as far as the beginning of the 12th century. A Kremlin, six monasteries, thirty churches, and about 200 houses of 17th and 18th centuries in a state of fair preservation evoke spirit of the Middle Ages. The Kremlin of Suzdal and the Monastery of our Saviour and St. Euthimius are UNESCO heritage sites.
Time is slowing its pace here. The River Kamenka, quiet and sleepy, flows through the town with a steady grace. Vivid landscape brings back the legends of the old times. The Suzdal scenery is beloved by Russian film-makers and often used as a backdrop for historical films.
A short history of Suzdal
People have being living in the Suzdal area since ancient times. By the first century BC archaeological evidence shows that they had already adopted agriculture here. Later craftsmen and merchants joined local peasants. Articles from European and Asian countries found by the historians suggest that commerce was flourishing.
Suzdal was first mentioned in Russian chronicles in 1024. The peasants’ had rioted against Christianisation and feudalism. Most of the population of the time was pagan. Christianity was forced upon them by the aristocracy. Publicly worshipped pagan idols were demolished and replaced by new orthodox churches.
The golden age of Suzdal was at the beginning of 12th century. It was during the governing of Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy. In 1125 he had declared independence from Kiev and founded his own princedom with Suzdal as the capital. It is believed that he was subsidising migration from Kiev and the town was growing very fast. At that time Suzdal had a population equivalent to London or Paris. However, the good days had not been lasing long. In 1157 his son Andrey Bogolubskiy moved the capital to Vladimir.
In 1238 the life and well-being of Suzdal’s population changed. Tatar-Mongol hoards had invaded Suzdal on their way to Vladimir. They burned and robed the town. The Tatar and related attacks continued until the end of the 13th century.
From the 14th to the 17th century Suzdal was one of the eight eparchy centres of Russia (an eparchy is a division of the orthodox church). They built new churches and monasteries with the donations of princes and boyars. The wealth of the clergy was also growing by the ownership of land and peasants. It was impossible to use the River Kamenka without permission or payment.
During the next two centuries polish invaders, Crimean Tatars, a fire, and a plague were merciless in raiding the town. Suzdal continued to be a religious centre, although there was a movement to Vladimir. The development of Suzdal came to a standstill as a new major trade route had bypassed the town.
In late 1920s Bolsheviks brought their anti-religion campaign to Suzdal. They demolished or converted many churches for military and civilian use. Many icons were destroyed, burned or used as flooring. Some of the town residents are known to have taken part in the looting and destruction of scared items. However, the aims of the Bolsheviks did not include the complete devastation of ancient cultural material. A regional museum was set up in Vladimir, and some religious objects and related property was collected, stored and researched by the state authorities. Archaeological excavations were only interrupted by the Second World War.
Places to visit in Suzdal
The Kremlin (Кремль)Kremlevskaya Street, 20
The Kremlin was the first fortress in Suzdal. Prince Vladimir Monomah founded Suzdal in the first part of 10th century. A 1400 metre wall surrounds the fortress. The Kremlin is still rising above the town centre. On the Kremlin grounds are The Cathedral of Nativity, a belfry, the beautiful wooden church of St. Nicholas and household buildings. There are several exhibitions in the Kremlin that are worth visiting:
The Nativity Cathedral is known for its freshly restored frescos and rich internal decorations. Its main treasure is the golden gates of the 18th century. The gates were manufactured with use of an ancient technique of fiery gilding over copper. It is the very same technology used by the Byzantines and Egyptians.
The Cross Chamber is unique because of its special architecture. The 300 square metre hall has not one pillar. The Cross chamber served as an official reception room.
The Old Russian Painting exhibition will be interesting to those who like icons. Examining them in detail is possible, which is difficult to do in an acting church. The icons displayed are from the 14th to 17th centuries.
The true lover of history will certainly have a look at the historical exhibition. The exhibits include tools, arms, and cloths. They are mostly items from local archaeological excavations.
Those who enjoy church art are advised to visit the room dedicated to the Canopy of Jordan. It is the only Canopy of the type that remains in Russia. The Canopy was assembled every year and used by a priest during the water blessing ceremony. Made of wood it is dates from the 17th century.
Monastery of our Saviour and St. Euthimius (Спасо-Ефимиев монастырь)Lenina Street, close to house 148
The Monastery of our Saviour and St. Euthimius was founded in 1352. Monk Euthimius led it for fifty-two years. There is a legend that he made a grave for himself when the monastery was just in the building stage and vowed never to leave the monastery. His relics were found in 1507 during construction works in church.
At its peak at the end of 17th century the monastery was one of the richest in Russia. A cathedral, three churches, a belfry, a jail, a chapel, and numerous household buildings are surrounded by a 1160 metre brick wall with twelve towers.
By the order of Empress Catherine the Great the monastery had started serving as a jail for apostates. Within the period from 1766 to 1902 about 400 prisoners of faith were kept in the monastery of our Saviour and St. Euthimius. Drunkards and insane were also the regular guests of a neglected, nasty jail building.
One well-known inmate of the monastery was Fedor Kovalev. They imprisoned him without trial for the murder of twenty-five people, including members of his own family. The deaths came about because an influential schismatic nun foresaw the end of the world approaching because of the 1896 census. She taught that dying was better than undertake the census. Under the influence of her teaching the local residents decided to accept martyrdom. Fedor Kovalev, a bricklayer, was chosen to seal the mass graves and the people were buried alive. Due to opposition to the census they consulted Tsar Nicholas II about the matter and they jailed Fedor Kovalev without trial in order to avoid exposure of the event.
During the Soviet period the monastery was also used as a prison and juvenile colony until the 1967, then by a special government decree the restoration works begun. They turned the monastery into a museum complex with several exhibitions.
The Golden Treasury is the most visited by tourists. Its collection includes stone and ivory carving; gold and silver casting, jewellery, embroidery, church utensils, icons, and icon settings made from precious metals and decorated by precious and semi-precious stones. The items date from 11th century to present days.
The exhibition of Russian Icons displays samples of paintings from the 12th century until now. It also represents Mstera School of painting which will be very interesting for specialists. It is the same place that is well known for miniature painting.
The beautiful frescoes of 17th century by Guri Nikitin in The Transfiguration Cathedral are a must for everyone. The Cathedral restoration had taken thirty years. It is now fully restored and looks stunning.
Book-hunters will enjoy the ‘Book Treasures of Six Centuries’ exhibition. A collection of vividly decorated, rare, ancient and hand written books. Original and first copies of works by avid Russian scientists, poets and historians are found here. The earliest book in the collection dates from the 16th century. A manuscript page dates from the 12th century.
The Convicts of the Monastery Prison is a small display of the prison realities: a cell interior, chains, keys, guns, and documents.
Visitors who want to grasp the historical role of the monasteries in Russia will be interested in ‘The History of Suzdal Monasteries’ exhibition. It also shows the rules of monastic community, some rituals and practises, and icon painting tools and techniques.
The restoration workshop ‘Gaining a Victory Over Time’ gives a chance for a curious visitor to have a look at a genuine restoration process through the glass windows.
Museum of wooden architecture and peasants' life (Музей деревянного зодчества и крестьянского быта)Pushkarskaya Street, close to house 45
This open air museum is a great family amusement. Wooden houses, churches, and mills were moved from the Vladimir region and filled with the genuine articles from peasant culture. Craftsmen show their skills in pottery, basketry, curving, etc. Various folk events and celebrations take place at the museum.
Convent of the Intercession of the Mother of God (Покровский женский монастырь)Pokrovskaya Street, 76.
The monastery was founded in 1364. It is famous by being an exile destination for high-born women. All of the tsar families are represented here: Romanovy, Shuyskie, Godunovy, Rurikovichi. They buried more than twenty women on the Cathedral’s territory.
The monastery architecture is conventional for the region. It keeps the present look from the 16th century. The main building of the monastery is the Intercession Cathedral. It is dated early 15th century. A tiny Annunciation Church crowns the arches of the gate tower and repeats the features of the Cathedral.
Kremlin rampart (Крепостной вал Кремля)Kremlevskaya Street
The Kremlin wall has been converted into a walking path. It gives a pleasant angle to observe the Kremlin and nearby area. The wall is a highly recommended place for memorable photos.
St. Alexander Convent (Александровский монастырь)Gasteva Street, close to house 45.
This monastery was founded in 1240. However, its original buildings were lost and reconstructed in the late 17th century. It is a typical sample of the local architectural traditions.
Rizopolozhensky Convent (Ризоположенский монастырь)Lenina Street, Kommunalniy gorodok, close to house 9
Rizopolozhensky was founded in 1207. The monastery’s mid 16th century Cathedral is the best preserved of the buildings. There is also a belfry, a house with nuns’ cells, and a striking unique gate overlooking Pohvalynskaya Street. The gate is decorated with carvings and tales and has a double hipped roof.
Square of the shopping arcade (Площадь Торговых Рядов)Khlebnaya square
The arcade was built in the beginning of the 19th century to replace the dissimilar wooden shops of the local merchants. The square ensemble incorporates a very pretty Church of the Resurrection. Today the square is a popular souvenir trading place.
St. Basil monastery (Васильевсктй монастырь)Vasilievskaya Street, close to house 34v
The monastery’s architecture is very simple. The St. Basil Cathedral has no massive golden decorations or carvings attributable to the region. Its straight and pure lines could be considered ascetic, if not the charm of the overall look. The monastery’s belfry is also known for its wonderful view from the top.
Popular Activities in Suzdal
The traditional means of transports, such as sledge, cart, or a coach teamed with horses, are now used for guests’ entertainment. A tour may include visiting the tourist sites on request. The starting point is on Kremlevskaya Street, behind the shopping arcade.
There is a photo studio on Kremlevskaya Street, behind the shopping arcade. Visitors are invited to make a memorable photo in costumes from the early 20th century.
In the icon painting studio at St. Nicolas church, (junction of lebedeva and Varganova Streets, it is possible to order a personalised house-icon). The dean, Andrey Davydov is an internationally recognized painter. He employs only ancient traditional techniques and natural materials. The studio also proposes master classes on fresco painting. Reservations are essential. It takes up to eight hours for the groundwork for your personal fresco. It includes step by step instructions and various difficulty levels.
Take a walk along the Suzdal ancient streets and observe the 18th century wooden architecture and countless lime stone and brick churches. Antique shops, souvenir shops, and cafes are scattered all over the town for the convenience of a visitor. Local people are very friendly and will be happy to help with the directions.
Ivanovskoe village on the outskirts of Suzdal has a ceramic studio Suzdalskaya Keramika (Solnechnaya Street, 7.) It is possible to have a look at the production process, or to test your personal talent in the craft. Master classes on pottery and ceramic painting available.
It is highly recommended to visit Suzdal in the second weekend of July. From Friday to Sunday there are “Cucumber Day” celebrations in Suzdal. Witness and participate in some colourful folk performances, a cucumber eating contest, and a musical concert with local celebrities in the Museum of wooden architecture and peasants' life (???), Pushkarskaya Street, close to house 45
A famous tourist destination, Suzdal has about fifty cafes and restaurants. It is quit s substantial number for such a small town. The most recommended is Trapeznaya restaurant in the Suzdal Kremlin; it offers 300 year old recipes of Russian cuisine. Traktir Uley, Lenina, 43, is build by the rules of a traditional wooden izba (village house) and attracts visitors with a traditional meals and folk performances. It is possible to order Medovuha, a national alcohol drink made of honey, with your meal in any town restaurant or café.
Getting to and from Suzdal
Unfortunately, Suzdal has no railway in the nearby vicinity. There are three ways to get to Suzdal.
Train to Vladimir:
It is possible to travel by train to Vladimir and then take a local bus or taxi to Suzdal. In fact this will be a great way to visit Vladimir, another popular destination on the Golden Ring.
First: It takes 3+ hours suburban trains to get to Vladimir. They depart Moscow in the evening and return in the morning and more suitable for Vladimir residents, then for tourists. Trains left from Kusrskiy train station, Kurskaya metro station, only twice a day. There is no necessity to buy tickets ahead, though, allow at least 30 minutes time for queuing.
Long-distance trains are more convenient for tourists. They leave and return in various hours from Kurskiy train station. Buying tickets beforehand is better as the number and class of seats are limited.
Second leg: Take a bus or taxi from Vladimir bus station. It situated near the train station on Vokzalnaya Street, 1. The trip will take about an hour. Take into account that bus station in Suzdal is located about 2 kilometres from the town centre. You should change busses here or take a taxi.
Direct busses do not run from Suzdal from Moscow. However, taking a transit bus to Ivanovo is possible. It leaves from Schelkovskiy bus station, Uralskaya Street, 2. Let the driver know ahead that you need to get out on Suzdal bus station. Otherwise, he will not stop. The trip will take about 3+ hours.
If you travel by car, take Entusiastov highway to get out of Moscow and then highway M7 towards Nizhniy Novgorod.
Significant people of Suzdal
Dmitriy Ivanovich Vinogradov (1720-1758) a native of Suzdal. He was sent to study abroad along with Mikhail Lomonosov (the founder of Moscow State University). After 8 years he returned to Russia and reinvented a porcelain pottery technology which is used to this day. His fate is an acknowledgement of a Russian proverb: no man is a prophet in his own country. Distrusted by authorities, Dmitriy Ivanovich was kept under continuous surveillance, unjustly punished, and finally, chained to a kiln. He died suddenly at the age of 38 years old.
Business and Industry in Suzdal
There are no industrial enterprises in Suzdal. Most businesses relate to the tourism, agriculture, wood and food sectors. Residents and visitors enjoy fresh air all year round.
Accommodation in Suzdal
Suzdal has considerable accommodation choice. The town has about 30 small and mid-size hotels, guest houses, and tourist complexes with traditional interiors.
Hotel Stromynka, (Stromynka Street, 2), is non-smoking and friendly. It has a beach nearby, and bicycle rental services.
Guest house (Petrov Dom, Engelsa lane, 18), brings a true Dacha (summer house) spirit. Fruit garden, pond, and barbeque facilities are available to guests.
Pushkarskaya sloboda complex, (Lenina Street, 45), has all the modern facilities to spoil any visitor: SPA, solarium, billiard, banya (sauna), animation, horse riding and snowmobile renting services.
The Final Word...
Suzdal is a town of an exquisite beauty. It has so many sites and activities to offer that it would be a shame not to visit. The town is a historical icon located in a beautiful environment. Its crooked streets have avoided modernisation and the haste of contemporary lifestyles. They have an atmosphere that encourages contemplation.
Unfortunately most tourists do not get enough time in Suzdal. For a detailed view of Suzdal you really need at least four to five days. The town’s man-made structures and the nearby nature are worth seeing. However, if time is not on your side, Suzdal should still be one of your destinations, even if just for an overnight stay./p>