Yaroslavl has a very storied history, beginning with an apocryphal founding. It's said that local inhabitants set loose a bear to chase away Prince Yaroslav the Wise (978–1054). Yaroslav wrestled and killed the bear and founded the town on the spot. It's historical fact that Yaroslav decreed the town's founding as a fortress on the Volga in 1010. About 600 years later, in 1612, during the Time of Troubles, the town was the center of national resistance against the invading Poles, under the leadership of Kuzma Minin and Dmitri Pozharsky.
The town rests at the confluence of the Volga and Kotorosl rivers, which made it a major commercial center from the 13th century until 1937, when the Moscow–Volga canal was completed, allowing river traffic to proceed directly to the capital. This commercial heritage bequeathed the city a rich legacy that offers a glimpse of some of the finest church architecture in Russia. The center of Yaroslavl, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, has 21st-century additions including a 3-meter tall metal statue of a bear on the banks of the Kotorosl River and a statue of Yarslovai, staring off in the direction of Moscow, on ulitsa Nakhimsona.
In the town center, proceed northwest along ulitsa Pervomaiskaya, a favorite pedestrian route that follows the semicircular path of the town's former earthen ramparts. Peruse the impressive, colonnaded trade rows and walk on to the Znamenskaya watchtower, which in the middle of the 17th century marked the western edge of the town. Another watchtower stands on the Volga embankment. The yellow building directly across the square is the Volkov Theater. The theater and square are named for Fyodor Volkov, who founded Russia's first professional drama theater here in 1750—the theater was the first to stage Hamlet in Russia. Continue along Pervomaiskaya and it'll take you to the banks of the Volga, which is 1 km (half a mile) wide at this point. Look for the monument to the great Russian poet Nikolai Nekrasov, who came from nearby Karabikha.