At the center of Rostov is the incomparable Rostov kremlin, a fortress with 6-foot-thick white-stone walls and 11 circular towers topped with wood-shingle cupolas. The kremlin dates from 1631, but it was built to its current glory between 1670 and 1690 by Rostov Metropolitan Jonah. Its main purpose was to serve as court and residence for the metropolitan, though Jonah saw himself as creating an ideal type of self-enclosed city focused on spiritual matters. As such, it was Russia's first planned city.
The huge, blue-dome Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky Sobor) stands just outside the walls of the kremlin. Inside are frescoes dating to 1675. But the truly memorable site is the adjacent four-tower belfry. The famous 13 bells of Rostov chime on the half hour and full hour and can play four tunes. It's said that the largest of the bells, which weighs 32 tons and is named Sysoi, for Jonah's father, can be heard from 19 km (12 miles) away.
You enter the kremlin
through the richly decorated northern entrance, past the Gate Church of the Resurrection (Nadvratnaya Voskresenskaya Tserkov). Well-groomed pathways and a pleasant, tree-lined pond lend themselves to a contemplative walk. Just to the right of the entrance into the kremlin is the Church of the Mother of God Hodegetria (Tserkov Bogomateri Odigitrii), whose faceted baroque exterior rises to a single onion dome.
The Church of John the Theologian (Tserkov Ioanna Bogoslova), another gate church, is on the west side of the kremlin. Adjacent to this church is the two-story Red Palace (Krasnaya Palata), once known as the Chamber for Great Sovereigns. Built first for Ivan the Terrible for his visits to the town, it was later used by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.
The tall Church of Grigory the Theologian (Tserkov Grigoria Bogoslova) dominates the southern portion of the kremlin.
White Palace. The metropolitan's residence, adjacent to the kremlin, is most notable for its large hall (3,000 square feet) supported by a single column. Connected to the residence is the private church of the metropolitan, the Church of the Savior on the Stores, which was built over a food-storage shelter. This church has the most beautiful wall paintings in the entire complex, as well as gilded columns and handsome brass doors. The metropolitan's residence now houses a museum of icons and Rostov enamel (finift), a craft the town is famous for throughout Russia. 152151. 485/366-1717 Tourism department of the museum. www.rostmuseum.ru. 50R. May–Oct., daily 10–5.