Suzdal – A City of Churches

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It took a morning to get from Nizhny Novgorod to Suzdal [Суздаль]. We took an early train to Vladimir, which took just over three hours, and then a local bus from Vladimir to Suzdal. It was a very, very packed little bus and I spent the hour stuck in a rather twisted position.

John had booked a rather fancy apartment suite in a very nice hotel, as our two nights in Suzdal happened to correspond with our first anniversary. Unfortunately the hotel, and the road it was on, were both off the very basic map we had and so we waited until the bus was turning off the main street and into the unknown before hopping off, picking a road and hoping for the best. We got lucky – and fortunately I recognised the hotel when we came upon it as the name was only in Cyrillic.

It was amazing! After two months of mostly dorm beds and very budget accommodation, it was incredible to not only have a room to ourselves but two floors with a bathroom bigger than your average eight-bed dormitory. And, most importantly, it had a bath. John had spent hours online, looking at every hotel in Suzdal, to find one with a bath for me. It was the biggest bath I’ve ever seen and I swear it took almost an hour to fill. It was worth waiting for. I think I spent a good portion of the afternoon in the bath!

Suzdal, today, is quite a small town and so we’d decided to relax our first afternoon and get out to explore the next day. Dating back to at least the eleventh century Suzdal has a lot of history – like most places, changing hands and chilling out as the capital of numerous principalities. It’s part of the ‘Golden Ring’, a ring of cities northeast of Moscow that tend to be pretty high on the list of many tourists, foreign and domestic, for their historicity as well as their collections of gorgeous kremlins, monasteries, churches and cathedrals. Suzdal and Vladimir, being easily accessible from Moscow, are the most popular today.

Our plan was to walk down to the Kremlin and start there, working our way back through the town. There were so many churches and monasteries we passed along the way [and later visited] that it seemed like there were almost more churches than people!

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The Kremlin, surprisingly, was smaller than some of the monastery complexes around town – I suppose this was because the city’s political significance faded and it became known as an important religious centre. It was the centre of the original medieval city. Still, despite its compact size it was a fascinating visit. Today it’s a museum of the history of Suzdal, which was quite extensive and had plenty of English information. It takes the visitor on an excursion through thousands of years of history of the area, and has a wide array of exhibits.

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The museum also holds a beautiful wooden canopy, called the Jordan Canopy. It’s the only 17th century wooden canopy surviving today, and it was assembled and dismantled annually – raised over an ice-hole on the Kamenka River on Epiphany Day. Unfortunately the English information related mainly to who built it, not the purpose of it. Still, it was impressive.

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The views around the Kremlin were rather nice too.

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Inside the Kremlin walls is Suzdal’s oldest surviving building – the 13th century Cathedral of the Nativity. It’s gone through many changes and restorations in its eight hundred years. And it’s simply gorgeous. Being an Orthodox cathedral, it is of course covered floor to ceiling in frescoes, many of which have been recently restored. The iconostasis is gleaming with gold, and the domed ceilings sit high above. Fortunately, photography [no flash] is allowed inside. I’m not sure why you would want to use flash anyway!

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Given it was our anniversary, some selfies were definitely in order.

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Heading out of the Kremlin, we passed a number of churches in various states of repair on our way north. I don’t know the names of many of them.

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We walked through a monastery complex that was just so pretty. Walled, even the gate leading in was painted colourfully, if fading. Inside, the gardens were maintained and flowering, and the main path led past a church and the ruined walls of other buildings.

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From here, we headed to the Saviour Monastery of St Euthymius – the other ‘main’ sight in town. It’s a very large complex and we bought the all-inclusive ticket, as there are many churches and museums inside. Lots of them. There’s a book museum, a gold museum, a prison museum, a monastic history museum. And more.

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John didn’t fit through many of the doorways, and was very pleased to find that some of the doorways there were too short even for me. I was rather surprised.

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I was also surprised to find a cat guarding one of the museum rooms. Although I’m not sure if it was doing a good job checking tickets – it had fallen asleep at its post. It was nice and warm in there!

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The main church inside is the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. Painted white outside, with deep green domes, the inside frescoes were of paler hue than the much-older Cathedral of the Nativity, making it seem lighter and less heavy than the older church.

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Ivan’s Bell Tower was unfortunately inaccessible and so we moved on to the prison museum – which was what John was most interested in at the monastery.

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The prison museum is based in the prison used when the monastery was active – and where, during the Stalinist period, political prisoners were held before being deported to Siberia. The museum includes objects from the prison spanning a couple hundred years, along with exhibits on the gulags and the fates of political prisoners moved through here.

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In one corner of the monastery complex is a huge garden, with vegetables and herbs along with flowers. It looked lovely with the walls and tower of the monastery behind it.

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It was getting a little late, and so we started heading back to our hotel for dinner. On the way we passed cute little wooden houses – very different to those in Siberia but nice nonetheless. We stopped at a small store on the way to pick up a few bottles of wine.

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In the morning, we packed our bags and walked back to the spot where we’d got off the bus, hoping it would come past again. It did, then went to the main town and returned back past where we’d got on. We’d got on at the right time though – we’d have never fit on it with our backpacks on the return!

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4 responses to “Suzdal – A City of Churches

  1. Sounds like you both celebrated your first anniversary in style ,what a man John finding Catherine a giant bath to laze around and soak in – you know her well !
    Love all the old churches , so much character and charm . Cottage gardens and veggie and herb gardens look so pretty . Can see why this town is so popular with tourists .

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