Side Trips from Moscow

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  • 1. Abramtsevo Estate

    Historic Home

    Until 1870 Abramtsevo belonged to Sergei Aksakov, a Slavophile who advocated the exportation of Orthodox Christianity to the West. A very religious man, Aksakov chose Abramtsevo as his residence because it was close to the Troitse-Sergieva Lavra. He opened his home to sympathetic writers and intellectuals of the 1840s.After Aksakov's death, railway tycoon Savva Mamontov purchased the estate in 1870 and turned it into an artists' colony. Here Mamontov and a community of resident artists tried to revive traditional Russian arts, crafts, and architecture to stimulate interest in Russian culture and make arts more accessible to the people.In the 1880s half a dozen resident artists participated in the construction of the prettiest structure on Abramtsevo's grounds, the diminutive Tserkov Ikony Spasa Nerukotvornovo (Church of the Icon of the Savior Not Made by Hands). The idea to build a church was born when a flood prevented the local community from attending the festive Easter church service. The artist Polenov chose a 12th-century church outside Novgorod as a model. He and fellow artists Repin and Nesterov painted the gilt iconostasis; Vasnetsov laid the mosaic floor he'd designed in the shape of a giant blooming flower. Some of the resident artists created their finest works in Abramtsevo. Serov painted his Girl with Peaches, an 1870 portrait of Mamontov's daughter, Vera, which now decorates Mamontov's dining room. Vasnetsov worked on his 1898 Bogatyri (Russian epic heroes) in Abramtsevo as well. Other structures on Abramtsevo's grounds include the wooden Izbushka Na Kuryikh Nozhkakh (House on Chicken Legs), a rendering of the residence of the witch Baba-Yaga from Russian fairy tales; Polenov's dacha; and an artists' workshop. In 1889 the troubled artist Mikhail Vrubel joined the Abramtsevo colony to participate in the ceramics workshop, where his provocative grotesque designs are still evident in the tile stoves, ceramic inlay, and furniture. The estate has been a museum since 1918, when it was nationalized.

    Sergiev-Posad district, Abramtsevo station, 1 ul. Muzeunaya, Abramtsevo, Moscow, 141352, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 525R, Wed.–Sun. 10–6; closed last Thurs. of month
  • 2. Leo Tolstoy's Museum in Yasnaya Polyana

    You'll begin your tour of the great writer's estate in the upstairs dining room, where you're greeted by numerous portraits of the Tolstoy aristocratic dynasty. Under their eyes, Tolstoy held significant social discussions with his family and his many visitors. Next door is the study where Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina and War and Peace at his father's Persian desk. Tolstoy seemed to prefer moving around his house to work on different books, however: another room downstairs was also used as a study. This is usually the last room on a visit to the main house. In November 1910, the writer's body lay here in state as some 5,000 mourners passed to pay their last respects. The far wing of the building houses a literary museum dedicated to Tolstoy's writing career. Drawings and prints produced by Tolstoy's contemporaries, derived from the plots and characters of his novels, as well as Tolstoy's original manuscripts are displayed in the six halls. A path from the main house into the forest leads to Tolstoy's simple, unadorned grave. On the edge of a ravine in the Stary Zakaz forest, the site was a favorite place of Tolstoy's and is now a popular pilgrimage destination for wedding parties. The walk to the grave takes about 20 minutes. The estate-turned-museum is run by Tolstoy's great-great-grandson Vladimir Tolstoy, who is striving to turn it into a major cultural center. A restaurant, Noble's Estate, serves Russian food cooked using recipes from Tolstoy's wife Sophia that include sour cabbage soup and cow tongue with horseradish. There's also a hotel on the grounds.

    Yasnaya Polyana, Tula, 301214, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 20R, foreign-language guided tours 2,400R (3,600R at weekends) for a group of up to 8 people. Lower prices apply for bigger groups. Tours run throughout the day, until 3:30 pm, Tues.–Sun. 10–4; closed last Wed. of month
  • 3. Monastery of St. Yefim

    The tall brick walls and 12 towers of this monastery, completed in 1350, have often been the cinematic stand-in for the Moscow Kremlin. The main church, the 16th-century Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior, is distinctive for its extremely pointed onion domes and its New Testament frescoes by Gury Nikitin and Sila Slavin, 17th-century painters from the city of Kostroma. A museum in the monastery is devoted to their lives and work. The church also houses the tomb containing the remains of Dmitri Pozharsky, one of the resistance leaders against the Polish invaders in the Time of Troubles. Adjoining the church is a single-dome nave church, which is actually the original Church of the Transfiguration; it was built in 1509, constructed over the grave of St. Yefim, the monastery's founder; its bells chime melodically every hour on the hour. The adjacent 16th-century Church of the Assumption (Uspenskaya Tserkov) is one of the earliest examples of tent-roof architecture in Russia. In the middle of the 18th century, part of the monastery became a place for "deranged criminals," many of whom were actually political prisoners. The prison and hospital are along the north wall and closed to visitors.

    Suzdal, Vladimir, 601293, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Monastery grounds 70R, with museums 350R, Tues.–Sun. 10–6; closed last Thurs. of month
  • 4. New Jerusalem Monastery

    Nikon (1605–81), patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, founded this monastery in 1652. It lies on roughly the same longitude as Jerusalem, and its main cathedral, Voskresensky Sobor (Resurrection Cathedral), is modeled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Nikon's objective in re-creating the original Jerusalem in Russia was to glorify the power of the Russian Orthodox Church and at the same time elevate his own position as its head. Nikon initiated the great church reforms in the 17th century that eventually led to the raskol (schism) that launched the Old Believer sects of the Russian Orthodox faith. As a reformer he was progressive and enlightened, but his lust for power was his undoing. In 1658, before the monastery was even finished, the patriarch quarreled with Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, claiming that the Church was ultimately superior to the State. Nikon was ultimately defrocked and banished to faraway Ferapontov Monastery, in the Vologda region, some 400 km (246 miles) north of Moscow. He died in virtual exile in 1681, and was buried in the monastery that was supposed to have glorified his power. You can find his crypt in the Church of St. John the Baptist, which is actually inside the Resurrection Cathedral. Ironically, the same church commission that defrocked Patriarch Nikon later voted to institute his reforms. Far from the crowds, the captivating Russian countryside surrounding the monastery is a marvelous setting for walks and excursions.

    2 ul. Sovetskaya, Istra, Moscow, 143500, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Monastery grounds free; small fees for exhibits, Tues.–Sun. 10–5; closed last Fri. of month
  • 5. Rostov kremlin

    Military Sight

    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. 50R. May–Oct., daily 10–5.

    Reutov, Moscow, 152151, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 450R for all churches and palaces inside the kremlin, Daily 10–6; churches: May–Oct., daily 10–5
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  • 6. Suzdal kremlin

    The dominant monument in the kremlin, which may have first been built in the 10th century and sits on an earthen rampart with the Kamenka River flowing around all but the east side, is the mid-13th-century Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin (Sobor Rozhdestva Bogorodnitsy), topped by deep-blue cupolas festooned with golden stars. Original limestone carvings can still be found on its corners and on its facade, and tts exquisite bronze entry doors are the oldest such doors in Russia, from the 13th century. Inside, the brilliant and colorful frescoes dating from the 1230s and 1630s are without compare. The long, white, L-shaped three-story building that the cathedral towers over is the Archbishop's Chambers. Behind its broad windows you'll find the superb "cross chamber" (named for its shape), which is a large hall without any supporting pillars—the first hall of its type in all Russia. The kremlin also holds museums of antique books and art.

    Suzdal, Vladimir, 601260, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 250R, Wed.–Sun. 10–6; closed last Fri. of month
  • 7. Troitse-Sergieva Lavra

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Sergius of Radonezh (1314–92), who would later become Russia's patron saint, founded this famous monastery in 1340. The site rapidly became the nucleus of a small medieval settlement, and in 1550 the imposing white walls were built to enclose the complex of buildings, whose towers and gilded domes make it a smaller, but still spectacular, version of Moscow's Kremlin. The monastery was a Russian stronghold during the Time of Troubles (the Polish assault on Moscow in the early 17th century), and, less than a century later, Peter the Great (1672–1725) took refuge here during a bloody revolt of the streltsy (Russian militia), which took the lives of some of his closest relatives and advisers. It remained the heart of Holy Russia until 1920, when the Bolsheviks closed down most monasteries and shipped many monks to Siberia. Today the churches are again open for worship, and there's a flourishing theological college here.You enter the monastery through the archway of the Gate Church of St. John the Baptist, which was erected in the late 17th century and is decorated with frescoes telling the life story of St. Sergius. One of the most important historic events in his life occurred prior to 1380, when the decisive Russian victory in the Battle of Kulikovo led to the end of Mongol rule in Russia. Before leading his troops off to battle, Prince Dmitri Donskoy sought the blessing of the peace-loving monk Sergius, a move that's generally thought to have greatly aided the Russian victory.Although all of the monastery's cathedrals vie for your attention, the dominating structure is the massive, blue-domed, and gold-starred Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky Sobor) in the center. Built between 1554 and 1585 with money donated by Tsar Ivan the Terrible (1530–84)—purportedly in an attempt to atone for killing his own son in a fit of rage—it was modeled after the Kremlin's Uspensky Sobor. Its interior contains frescoes and an 18th-century iconostasis. Among the artists to work on it was Simon Ushakov, a well-known icon painter from Moscow. The cathedral is open for morning services.The small building just outside the Cathedral of the Assumption (near the northwest corner) is the tomb of Boris Godunov and his family. Boris Godunov, who ruled as regent after Ivan the Terrible's death, died suddenly in 1605 of natural causes. This was during the Polish attack on Moscow led by the False Dmitri, the first of many impostors to claim he was the son of Ivan. The death of Godunov facilitated the invaders' victory, after which his family was promptly murdered. This explains why Godunov wasn't bestowed the honor of burial in the Kremlin, as normally granted to tsars.Opposite Boris Godunov's tomb is a tiny and colorful chapel, the Chapel-at-the-Well, built in 1644 above a fountain that's said to work miracles. According to legend, the spring here appeared during the Polish Siege (1608–10), when the monastery bravely held out for 16 months against the foreign invaders (this time led by the second False Dmitri). You can make a wish by washing your face and hands in its charmed waters. Towering 86 meters (285 feet) next to the chapel is the five-tier baroque belfry. It was built in the 18th century to a design by the master of St. Petersburg baroque, Bartolomeo Rastrelli.Along the southern wall of the monastery, to your far left as you enter, is the 17th-century Refectory and Church of St. Sergius. The church is at the eastern end, topped by a single gilt dome. The long building of the refectory, whose colorful facade adds to the vivid richness of the monastery's architecture, is where, in times past, pilgrims from near and far gathered to eat on feast days. The pink building just beyond the refectory is the metropolitan's residence.Across the path from the residence is the white-stone Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Troitsky Sobor), built in the 15th century over the tomb of St. Sergius. Over the centuries it's received many precious gifts from the powerful and wealthy rulers who've made the pilgrimage to the church of Russia's patron saint. The icons inside were created by famous master Andrei Rublyov and one of his disciples, Danil Chorny. Rublyov's celebrated Holy Trinity, now on display at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, originally hung here; the church's version is a copy. The interior's beauty is mainly due to its 17th-century gilded iconostasis (which separates the sanctuary from the altar and body of the church). The upper tier of the church was once used by monks as a manuscript library. A continual service in memoriam to St. Sergius is held all day, every day.The vestry, the building behind the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, houses the monastery's Museum of Ancient Russian Art. It's often closed for no apparent reason or open only to groups, which is yet another reason to visit Sergiev-Posad on a guided tour. The museum contains a spectacular collection of gifts presented to the monastery over the centuries. On display are precious jewels, jewel-encrusted embroideries, chalices, and censers. Next door to the vestry are two more museums, which are open to individual tourists. The first museum contains icons and icon covers, portrait art, and furniture. The other museum (on the second floor) is devoted to Russian folk art, with wooden items, toys, porcelain, and jewelry. There's also a gift shop here.

    Sergiyev Posad, Moscow, 141300, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Lavra free for Russians, 280R for foreign tourists; museum 150R, Lavra daily 5 am–9 pm; museum daily 10–5, 280R
  • 8. Avraamiyev (Abraham) Monastery

    Founded at the end of the 11th century on the site of a former pagan temple to Veles, god of cattle, this monastery claims to be the oldest in Russia. The five-dome Epiphany Cathedral in the monastery complex dates from 1553 and is the oldest standing building in Rostov. The nuns' cloister, which is still working, is on the lakefront, northeast of the kremlin.

    32 ul. Zhelyabinskaya, Reutov, Moscow, 152151, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Daily 9–5
  • 9. Bogolyubovo

    Most of Andrei Bogolyubsky's construction projects were in Bogolyubovo, 10 km (6 miles) east of Vladimir. Near the convergence of the Nerl and Klyazma rivers, he built an impressive fort and living compound. The dominant building in the compound today is the richly decorated Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky Sobor), rebuilt in the 19th century. Remnants of his quarters—a tower and an archway—still stand. It was on the stairs of this tower that Andrei, despised by many for his authoritarian rule, was stabbed to death by several members of his inner circle. In the 13th century, Bogolyubovo became a convent, which it remains today. In 1702 Andrei was canonized.

    Vladimir, Vladimir, 601270, Russia
    4922-3242–63-tour reservations

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Daily 10–5
  • 10. Botik museum


    Pereslavl-Zalessky was the birthplace of the Russian navy. The Botik museum, 3 km (2 miles) outside of town, houses the only remaining boat of the more than 100 Peter the Great built for the fleet he sailed on Lake Pleshcheyevo. The botik, a small sailboat, usually single-mast, is often called the grandfather of the Russian fleet. The museum also displays several naval guns, a triumphal arch, and a monument to Peter the Great. To get to the museum, take a taxi or a bus from the bus station.

    Near Veslevo village, Pereslavl'-Zalesskiy, Jaroslavl, 152020, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 150R, Tues.–Sun. 10–5; closed last Thurs. of month
  • 11. Candle of Yaroslavl

    The 100-foot-tall "candle" is actually a belfry for two churches, Ioann Zlatoust (St. John Chrysostom, 1649) and the miniature Tserkov Vladimirskoi Bogomateri (Church of the Vladimir Virgin, 1678). The former is a larger summer church, ornately decorated with colorful tiles; the latter is the more modest and easy-to-heat winter church. From the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior, it's a 1-km (½-mile) walk (or two stops on bus 4) across the bridge and along the mouth of the Kotorosl to the churches and belfry.

    Yaroslavl, Jaroslavl, 150000, Russia
  • 12. Cathedral of St. Dmitri

    Andrei Bogolyubsky was succeeded by Vsevolod III, also known as "the Great Nest" because of the great number of his progeny. Although he focused much of his energy in the neighboring regions of Ryazan and Murom, he was instrumental in rebuilding Vladimir's town center in 1185 after a fire caused much damage. He also built the remarkable Cathedral of St. Dmitri (completed in 1197). The cathedral stands adjacent to Vladimir's much larger Cathedral of the Assumption, where Andrei is buried, and is covered in ornate carvings with both secular and religious images. The lower images are quite precise and detailed; the upper ones have fewer details but deeper grooves for better visibility.

    Vladimir, Vladimir, 600000, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 50R, Mon. and Wed.–Sun. 11–5; closed last Wed. of month
  • 13. Cathedral of the Assumption

    The huge, boxy outline and golden domes rise high above the Klyazma River. After a fire in 1185, the cathedral was rebuilt, only to burn down again in 1237 when the Mongols attacked the city. The town's residents took refuge in the church, hoping for mercy. Instead, the invaders burned them alive. The cathedral was again restored, and in 1408 the famous medieval painter Andrei Rublyov repainted the frescoes of the Last Judgment, which in themselves make this impressive monument worth a visit. Ivan the Great (1440–1505) had his architects use this cathedral as a model to build the Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. The cathedral also houses a replica of Russia's most revered icon, the Virgin of Vladimir; the original was moved from here to Moscow in 1390. Andrei Bogolyubsky is entombed here.

    Vladimir, Vladimir, 600000, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 150R, Tues.–Sun. 1–4:45
  • 14. Cathedral of the Transfiguration

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Construction began on this 12th-century limestone cathedral in the center of town the same year as workers started constructing the Church of Saints Boris and Gleb in Kideksha, near Suzdal, making it one of the oldest stone buildings standing in Russia.

    pl. Krasnaya, Pereslavl'-Zalesskiy, Jaroslavl, 152024, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 40R, May–Oct., Wed.–Mon. 10–6
  • 15. Church of Elijah the Prophet

    The mid-17th-century Church of Elijah the Prophet (Tserkov Ilyi Proroka) stands at the center of town on ploschad Sovetskaya (Soviet Square), some say on the site of Yaroslav's alleged wrestling match with the bear. Tall, octagonal belfry and faceted green onion domes make the church the focal point of the town. Inside the ornamental church are some of the best-preserved frescoes (1680) by Gury Nikitin and Sila Savin, whose works also adorn Moscow Kremlin cathedrals, as well as churches throughout the region. The frescoes depict scenes from the Gospels and the life of Elijah and his disciple Elisha.

    7 pl. Sovetskaya, Yaroslavl, Jaroslavl, 150000, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 100R, Daily 08:30 - 19:30
  • 16. Church of St. John the Baptist

    Although it looks as though it's made from wood, the 17th-century five-dome Church of St. John the Baptist (Tserkov Ioanna Predtechi) is actually fashioned from carved red brick. The church is on the same side of the Kotorosl River as the Candle of Yaroslavl, but it's west of the bridge by about 1 km (½ miles). The church is the biggest in Yaroslavl and is depicted on the 1,000 ruble note.

    69 nab. Kotoroslnaya, Yaroslavl, Jaroslavl, 150000, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 60R, Wed.–Sun. 10–5, Closed Mon. and Tues.
  • 17. Church of the Epiphany

    The large, redbrick, blue-cupola Church of the Epiphany (Tserkov Bogoyavleniya) is renowned for its fine proportions, enhanced by splendid decorative ceramic tiles and unusually tall windows. Inside are eight levels of wall paintings in the realistic style that began to hold sway in the late 1600s. The church is directly west of the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior.

    12 pl. Bogoyavlenskaya, Yaroslavl, Jaroslavl, 150000, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 80R, Wed. - Sun: 9:00 - 16:00, Closed Mon. and Tues.
  • 18. Church of the Intercession on the Nerl

    Andrei's greatest creation and arguably the most perfect medieval Russian church ever built is less than 2 km (1 miles) from Bogolyubovo. On a massive limestone foundation covered with earth, the church sits near the confluence of the Nerl and Klyazma rivers and appears to be rising out of the water that surrounds it. Andrei built the church, completed in 1165, in memory of his son Izyslav, who was killed in a victorious battle with the Bulgars. Look for the unique carvings of King David on the exterior, the earliest such iconographic carvings in this region. Inside, the high, narrow arches give an impressive feeling of space and light. To get to the church from Bogolyubovo, walk a few hundred yards west of the monastery, down ulitsa Frunze and under a railway bridge; then follow the path through a field.

    Vladimir, Vladimir, Russia
  • 19. Churches of St. Lazarus and St. Antipy

    Walking north from the kremlin on ulitsa Lenina, you'll pass several churches on your left and the pillared trading arcades. Just beyond the arcades are the beautiful Churches of St. Lazarus and St. Antipy, their colorful bell tower topping the unique, concave tent-roof design. This ensemble is a good example of Russian church architecture, where a summer church (St. Lazarus, with the shapely onion domes, built in 1667) adjoins a smaller, easier-to-heat, and more modest winter church (St. Antipy, built in 1745).

    Suzdal, Vladimir, 601293, Russia
    No phone

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 20. Convent of the Intercession

    In addition to being a religious institution, this convent was also a place for political incarcerations. Basil III divorced his wife Solomonia in 1525 and banished her here when she failed to produce a male heir. Basil may have chosen this monastery because, in 1514, he had commissioned the splendid octagonal, three-dome cathedral in the complex as supplication for a male heir. Local legend has it that Solomonia subsequently gave birth to a boy and then staged the child's death to hide him from Basil. Basil subsequently married Yelena Glinskaya, who did give him an heir: Ivan IV, who would be known as "the Terrible." Ivan, in turn, banished his wife Anna here. And when Peter the Great, after returning from Europe in 1698, finally decided that he wanted to rid himself of his wife, Yevdokia, he forced her to take the veil and live out the rest of her life in this convent. A fine view of the monastery can be had from across the river, from the sparse remains of the Alexander Nevsky monastery. The convent sits across the Kamenka River from Spaso Yefimsky, in an oxbow bend of the river. To get here, turn east off ulitsa Lenina onto ulitsa Stromynka, and then go north on Pokrovskaya ulitsa.

    76 ul. Pokrovskaya, Suzdal, Vladimir, 601293, Russia

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Daily 7–7

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