A short distance from Russia’s capital Moscow lies a collection of ancient towns collectively known as The Golden Ring. Here is a low-down of the traditionally rich, nature-abundant, and time-honoured hidden treasure. By Bayar Jain
When you have a country as large as Russia, you can safely assume many hidden gems lie dotted around its vast geographies. One such beauty is the oft-forgotten Golden Ring, a collective of small historical towns located north-east of the capital city Moscow. Think ancient domed churches, dreamy gingerbread cottages, and vast expanses of picturesque countryside blanketed with colourful flowers. Contrasting the otherwise chaotic rush of Moscow, and the bustling energy of Saint Petersburg, this string of medieval towns is ideal for tourists looking for a land untouched by the harshness of time.
Embraced by the soothing waters of the Volga and Kotorosl Rivers, the UNESCO-listed historic city of Yaroslavl dates to 1010. During its formation, the town was developed not only as a commercial and crafts centre but also as one of immense culture; glimpses of which continue to permeate throughout the town. When here, make it a point to visit one of the many – arguably the most per square meter in Russia – onion-domed churches here. It is also home to John the Baptist Church at Tolchkovo, a red-brick structure epitomised in the 1000-ruble currency note. This 16th-century space boasts of 15-green coloured cupolas and some of the most extensive series of frescoes in the Orthodox world. For lovers of museums, Yaroslavl even has The Governor’s house museum, which houses the Yaroslavl school of icon painting; and the Music and Time Museum, which doubles up as a space for the country’s largest collection of antique record players, vinyl records and clocks.
When Russia was making its mark in global politics, Vladimir served as the seat of power. During this Golden Age, beautifully craved white-stone buildings juxtapose the sprawling greens of the city. Today, there are more than 200 preserved buildings from the 17th and 19th centuries. However, churches of the pre-Mongolian era also attract tourists, such as the Assumption Cathedral, Cathedral of Saint Demetrius, and The Golden Gates Cathedral Museum. Additionally, the fact that the city is a major industrial centre of Central Russia means that it even has many other ruins and monuments to explore as well. Water Tower, Vladimir-Suzdal Museum-Reserve, Dom-Muzey Pryanika (also known as the Gingerbread Museum), Vladimir Art Gallery, Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street, and Lunacharsky Drama Theater are just some of the many spots to visit here.
3. Sergiyev Posad
Known as the heart of Russian Orthodoxy, Sergiyev Posad is famous for The Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, the spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church. Founded in the 14th century, this church is a unique combination of a fortress and a monastery. While here, you could choose to spend all day walking around the space and soaking in its grandeur, and beauty. Along the way, make pit stops to buy delicious honey cakes, or even feed Lavra’s pigeons when entering the monastery. To make the most of your time here, visit The Sergiev Posad State History and Art Museum-Preserve. Here, you can marvel at their collection of icons, items of gold and silver, ornamental and icon-embroideries, or even see displays of contemporary fine art.
Suzdal could easily be mistaken for a space stuck in time, owing to its gentle rivers meandering through the rolling green fields carpeted with dandelions. As you marvel at the golden-domed churches here, chances are the sounds of horses galloping along the streets paired with the ringing of church bells echoing in the air will keep you transfixed. To further reassert the feeling of time travelling to the past, head to open-air Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life where you’ll get a sneak-peek into the traditional lives of rural folk in this area. Alternatively, if you’re tired of taking the historical and religious road, then Suzdal’s Torgovaya ploshchad offers apt respite. While here, shop for berries, honey and mushrooms, or even souvenirs to take home for your loved ones.
Plyos might be one of the smallest towns included in the Golden Ring, but it compensates for its size with its abundant tranquillity. The town’s historicity stems from an artists’ retreat from the late 19th Century, the most prominent of which is visible in works of artist Isaak Levitan who often included scenes of the city’s picturesque embankment along the Volga. There are plenty of attractions and architectural monuments in Plyos city preserved even today. Among them are Savior on the Spilled Blood, Wooden Resurrection Church, Holy Trinity Church, Vvedenskaya Church, and more.