A series of cities dot the landscape in a rough circle, about two days horse ride, around Moscow. These cities are referred to as the Golden Ring as they are all ancient cities. Today we visited Suzdal, a city that is actually older than Moscow, founded in the 10th century.
Suzdal is about a four hour car ride from Moscow and seems fairly remote, although it is only about a half an hour from the larger industrial town of Vladimir. Suzdal has 33 churches and five monasteries/convents, with a total population of around 12,000. Pretty amazing. The biggest monastery is actually not a monastery any longer, but a museum. It’s a beautiful facility and is being restored having been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site about 17 years ago.
During the Soviet period, the monastery was turned into a prison. During World War II, it was a camp for prisoners of war and then became a prison for political prisoners/insane asylum. I’m guessing in the Soviet mind, those two things were one in the same.
Our tour guide was actually a friend of Vadim’s who isn’t a tour guide at all, but a police officer. He is just interested in history and has taken the exams to be regarded as a guide for the city. He was in his police uniform and it was amusing to see the deference he received as we walked around. While the monastery isn’t functional, the main church is actually used for special church holidays. I’m guessing here, but its probably one of the biggest in the city. Most of the icons have been removed from the church to another museum, but that actually made it easier to see the frescoes on the walls. All the more amazing when you understand that those frescoes were painted more than 400 years ago.
Our guide took us to an active church that still had the full iconostasis still in place called the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin. It was being restored and I was surprised but they let me photograph inside the church. No one said anything, but I shot without flash, just using the available light. The light in a place like that can be amazing. And considering that every inch of the church is decorated in same way or another, you spend a lot of time looking up.
We actually did tour a smaller active convent after that. Vadim is a very religious man and he took the opportunity to say a prayer and light prayer candles while we were there. This chapel is also from the 15th century. Whether you are orthodox or not, religious or not, it is impossible to miss the reverence in the air in a church like that. Without even thinking about it, your own voice drops to a whisper.
While it’s difficult to get to, or at least inconvenient, if you ever visit Russia, definitely plan to make Suzdal a stop on your tour. It is well worth the time.
If you want to see more pictures, I have posted some to Facebook. If you’re not already a friend there, follow this link: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=206377&id=839029017&l=c13976ec47. And while you’re there, send me a friend request..