Rostov, also known as Rostov-Veliky ("the Great") so as not to confuse it with Rostov-on-the-Don, is one of the oldest towns in Russia. Founded even before Riurik, a semi-legendary Viking prince, came to rule Russia in the 9th century, Rostov is first mentioned in historical chronicles in 862. It became an independent principality at the beginning of the 13th century and soon became one of the most prosperous and influential political centers of ancient Russia. However, the city was destroyed when the Mongols invaded in 1238. In the 15th century Rostov ultimately lost its political independence but retained its influence as a major religious center. It became the seat of the metropolitan, the leader of the Orthodox Church, in the late 16th century.
The town, with a population of 36,000, is on the edge of Lake Nero, with earthen ramparts and radial streets.