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One thousand years ago, at a place where two rivers meet, Prince Yaroslav the Wise killed a sacred bear with his battleaxe and founded the town of Yaroslavl. Enlarged by 17th century merchants and 20th century industry, it became the biggest city in Russia’s Golden Ring – a ring of ancient and beautiful towns northeast of Moscow.
This month, Yaroslavl held huge anniversary celebrations to mark its birth in 1010, restoring old streets and buildings and unveiling new ones. You could walk round this simple circuit of the UNESCO-listed town centre in less than an hour, but even if you visit half of the museums and churches there, it will take a full day.
The journey from Moscow’s Yaroslavsky railway station to Yaroslavl on the spacious, comfortable express train, takes four hours and costs about 600 roubles each way. The train leaves Moscow at 8.20am, arriving in time for lunch. The number six trolleybus goes from the main station to the Transfiguration Monastery.
A bronze statue of Yaroslav the Wise (1) stands in Bogoyavlenskaya Ploshchad. There is a bewildering variety of exhibitions on offer inside the fortified walls of the Transfiguration Monastery. Besides gold-backed icons and colourful ceramic tiles, visitors can meet a live bear named Masha, or see a room full of chain mail and stone images representing a 12th century epic poem.
A new museum of Yaroslavl’s history and archeology is being added for the millennium. The early 16th century Transfiguration Cathedral (2), Yaroslavl’s oldest surviving church, is freshly painted white and gold – a great contrast with the crimsons and ochres of the frescoes inside. Best of all, for 100 roubles you can climb the towering belfry and enjoy the view of the city and its two rivers.
Exit through the back gate of the monastery. Moscow’s Mayor Luzhkov is responsible for the pointed chapel on the grass outside. You might recognize it and the statue of Yaroslav from the 1000 rouble note. Beyond it is the town beach (3), which you can walk around for views of the Kotorosl River. Alternatively, turn left along the monastery walls past the orange-brick Church of the Archangel Michael, two more green and white churches and a stadium.
From the rotunda on the high embankment, there are views right over the Strelka (4). This peninsula at the confluence of the Kotorosl and Volga rivers has turned into the Thousand Year Anniversary Park, complete with monuments and bear-shaped flowerbeds.
Above, on the cliffs which are the legendary site of the city’s founding, Yaroslavl’s newest cathedral, the Assumption (5), reconstructs a previous church in supersized splendour.
Turning left along the bank of the vast Volga River, you pass the whitewashed 17th century metropolitan’s palace, which houses a collection of icons. Churches, mansions and towers spread out along the embankment.
At number 17, the Historical Museum (6) is opening an exhibition that reviews a thousand years of history through materials from the national archives. Detour left to visit St. Elijah’s Church (7) and its beautiful frescoes. Back on the embankment, the main branch of the Art Museum, housed in the governor’s palace, celebrates Yarolsavl’s golden age with yet more icons, a sculpture garden and more recent Russian paintings.
The next lane on the left leads to the church of St. Nicholas. With rich blue frescoes and gilded iconostasis, this was the first stone church built by the wealthy merchants who funded the city’s 17th century heyday. Nearby, opposite the riverside rotunda, John Mostoslavsky’s private museum, Music and Time (8), adds unusual charm to this row of galleries and churches. Its atmospheric clock room, full of ticking and chiming, is an appropriate image for Yaroslavl’s variegated past.
Just beyond the River Station (9) on the right you can catch a boat to the Tolga convent. The Vanilla Sky Restaurant, right next to the River Station at 2 Volzhskaya Naberezhnaya is a good choice for refreshments. Main dishes like fried pike perch with wild mushrooms cost around 400 roubles – quite reasonable by Moscow standards. If you need something cheap and filling, the cozy Tai Tai café just across the embankment does a three-course-plus-tea business lunch for 100 roubles.
Turn left along the avenue, leading away from the water and passing a statue of local poet Nikolai Nekrasov. The ornate blue and white mansion on the left was the home of Count Musin-Pushkin, who discovered the 12th century manuscript of The Song of Igor’s Campaign in the monastery library. Go on along the next leafy promenade, taking a slight left at
the crossing to reach Yaroslavl’s Red Square. The modernist construction in glass, wood and stone is a new entertainment centre with cafes and bowling.
The bright yellow building at the far end of the avenue is the Volkov Theatre (10). It opens its new season this month with Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”. Actor Fyodor Volkov founded Russia’s first public theatre in Yaroslavl in 1750. There is a statue of him in the park to the right of the theatre. The quickest way back to where you started is to walk straight down Pervomaiskaya Ulitsa. If you’re tired, trolleybus number one runs right up Ulitsa Svobody to the main station. Don’t forget to look left out of the window as the train crosses the river to catch a glimpse of the John the Baptist Church, which appears on the back of the thousand rouble note.
Because Yaroslavl is too far for a day trip from Moscow, check out the 4-star modern Ring Premier Hotel.
It’s located between the main station and the town centre, and standard rooms cost around 4000 roubles per night: http://ringhotel.ru/en/
Landmark of the week
The new Assumption Cathedral (5)
The gold-domed cathedral, which opened this month, was originally built in the mid-17th century and demolished by the Soviets in the 1930s. The new version is 12 metres taller than the original.
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