Pretty much every Russian (or visitors to Russia for that matter) are familiar with a lone character illustrating the green, widely-circulated 1,000 ruble bill.
The man depicted in the image is non other than prince Yaroslav the Wise, and its statue is one of the landmarks of the city he gave its name to.
A city of about half a million some 250km North of Moscow, today Yaroslavl is a relatively prosperous mid-sized Russian city, but once upon a time it was the second largest Russian city.
And even before than it was the capital of an independent principality that traces its roots back to Viking settlers in the middle-ages. Most of the city was razed by a fire in 1658, yet some of its architectural and artistic treasures were somehow miraculously preserved.
As one of Russia’s oldest and most important historical cities, Yaroslavl has some interesting heritage sites. In fact, its historical center has World Heritage Site status by UNESCO.
Yaroslavl is one of the eight cities of Russia’s “Golden Ring” (check also our chronicle from the lovely little city of Suzdal!) and an interesting weekend destination from Moscow.
Getting to Yaroslavl
Although Yaroslavl airport is rather small and with only a handful of connections (and no scheduled international flights at the time of writing this), the city is connected to Moscow by train and a good quality highway, which is the option we took.
Traveling to Yaroslavl by car has the advantage that the visit can be combined with the visit of other sights along the way (more on this in future posts!).
Things to do in Yarolslavl
The old town is on a roughly triangular plot of land at the confluence of the Kotorosl and Volga rivers. Here is where most of the main sights in the city are. There is enough to keep you going the whole day.
The main things to see in Yaroslavl:
Church of Ilya the Prophet (Церковь Ильи Пророка)
Cathedral of the Dormition
Spasso-Preobrazhenskiy Monastery (Спасо-Преображенский монастырь)
River bank promenade
Volkov theatre and boulevards
Church of the Prophet Elijah (Церковь Ильи Пророка)
Built in the mid-17th Century, this church is one of the many that were financed by the city’s rich merchant community, this church in particular was paid for by a rich family of called the Skripins, that traded in precious stones and gems.
but one that stands out because its richly ornated interior, covered in colourful frescoes has been very well preserved, and they even survived a large fire that devastated the city in 1658 and in the 1930s it was turned into a museum, but reverted to its condition of church in 1989.
But better that you check by yourselves what is inside…
The church of the Prophet Elijah, was left at the center of a late 18th Century urban transformation plan that saw the opening of several avenues and squares on the edge of the old town. These later became the administrative center of the city and, as a result, the ancient aspect of the church, with its green-tiled domes, contrasts starkly with the dull, grey, Soviet-style architecture the dominates some of the adjacent streets.
Cathedral of the Dormition
From the church of Prophet Elijah, a broad tree-lined avenue leads to the Cathedral of the Dormition (Успенский собор) that is located at the vertex of the old town, overlooking the point where the two rivers meet.
The original cathedral was built on this spot in the 13th Century, yet, it has been destroyed and rebuilt three times, in the 16th C, then in the 17th C. and the latest time, in 1937. The current building was completed as recently as 2010 and it is slightly larger than the previous one.
Before getting there, though, one comes across the city’s impressive WW2 memorial.
Spasso-Preobrazhenskiy Monastery (of the Transfiguration of the Saviour)
This place played a rather important role in Russian history, since it is here where, in the 17th Century, Minin and Pozharsky assembled their military expedition to liberate Moscow, that had fallen to a Polish army.
The monastery is located on the elevated bank of the river Kotorosl and it perimeter is enclosed by a solid stone wall, painted wait and with the ramparts covered by a green tiled roof, that gives him the appearance of a fortress (which actually was, at the time).
It was founded in the 13th Century and it has within its grounds its very own cathedral, the Spassky Cathedral (of the Saviour)
Among the several buildings in the monastery’s territory, perhaps one of the most interesting for the visitor is the stand-alone bell tower.
It is possible to get to the top of it, from where it is possible to enjoy some great views of the city and its surroundings.
Walking through Yaroslavl
There is a promenade that follows the course of the river, with a narrow peninsula protruding from the point where the Kotorosl joins the mighty Volga. This park area along the river banks has been carefully gardened and makes for a nice stroll next to the old town.
Yaroslavl is home to what is, allegedly, the oldest theatre in Russia (established 1750) in continuous existence, the Volkov Theatre (although the current building, that acts as a nexus between the old and modern towns, is from 1911).
The old town is also encircled by a ring of boulevards, forming a semi-circle around it, making it, thus, quite a pedestrian friendly city for Russian standards. On the outer part of this ring is the modern part of the city, that is rather unremarkable.