The next step in our small Russian tour, after a couple day detour in Kazan (practically the midpoint of Yekaterinburg and Moscow) during which we went to a show of purportedly the world’s only cat trainer, which ended up leaning more on borrowed slapstick than cat feats but was still a good enough time, was the old Imperial city of Vladimir and nearby Suzdal.
Vladimir is the old capital of the Rus, essentially where Russia began. Today only three predominant attractions from those times remain, but all are Wold Heritage sites. Our first step was The Golden Gate, all that remains of Vladimir’s old city wall from the 1100s, now with a small museum of military history with interesting dioramas, propaganda posters and even a 1970s spacesuit with an American mission cooperation patch.
The other two are both churches. St. Demetrius is the smaller one, now unsanctified, but covered in carvings dating back to 1194 which depict scenes from King David’s life and local myths. The Cathedral of the Assumption, on the other hand, consists of a large Moscow Kremlin- inspiring main church from the 1100s with an attached Bell Tower from 1810. Inside are frescoes and paintings from a range of time periods, including 600 year old ceilings by the master Andrei Rublev, but differs from other Russian Orthodox Cathedrals we’ve seen by featuring a large Baroque centerpiece like you’d see in Bavaria.
The next morning we took the bus about 45 minutes to Suzdal, the jewel of the Golden Ring of old imperial cities around Moscow. This is one of the premiere tourist attractions within Russia, although it’s not nearly as well known outside of the country. We stepped off the bus to be greeted by a biting -29 degree cold, but thankfully this small town packed with churches, convents, and monasteries was easily walkable.
Our first stop was the city’s Kremlin- another structure from the 1200s which consists of the small but beautiful Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral and a detached Bell Tower and hall which houses a few small museums with dioramas and church artifacts. The highlight, though, has to be the iconic blue onion domes of the church, featured on many a postcard and even a few films.
Across the now frozen solid river from the Kremlin is the Museum of Wooden Architecture, housing several different types of traditional wooden architecture, most impressively a pair of wooden churches in the same incredibly distinct Russian style that almost convinced me to take a much farther trip to see up north.
While there we grabbed a hot cup of the local honey beer medovnik, which we’d tried before at Sviyavsk, and listened to some incredibly tough traditional singers fill the frozen air with propulsive, exotic music. After that we took our last long walk to the St. Euthymius Monastery, pausing on a nearby bluff for a beautiful view of the snowbound Pokrovsky Convent, where royalty sent their unwanted or insane wives and daughters for generations.
St. Euthymius also hosts a small cathedral, its onion domes an even more alluring shade of green and gold, but the highlight is the unique rectangular bell tower, which looks almost Roman with its arches and columns, and from which we saw a man play out a tune entirely by hand-pulling a complicated series of ropes.
Also inside the grounds are several small museums, where we saw letters written by gulag prisoners (for a time this was a prominent Soviet prison waystation on the way to Siberia) and the workshops where historical artifacts and paintings are restored. After that, the day was drawing to a close, so we got one more view of the white-walled Kremlin backlit by the setting sun and headed for the bus station.