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Yaroslavl is a thousand-year old center of Russia

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Yaroslavl is a thousand-year old center of Russia


Sergey Vinogradov

Yaroslavl has hosted the13th Assembly of the Russkiy Mir, which was dedicated to commemoration and glory of the Russian world. Yaroslavl has never lacked glory and reasons for commemoration – it is one of the oldest cities in Russia that crossed the millennial threshold; it was the stronghold of mass resistance during the Time of Troubles, as well as the birthplace of Russian theater. And Yaroslavl is the first Russian Christian city on the Volga and the oldest city (of the existing ones) on the main Russian river.

Yaroslavl is not a million city, and it there are no ski resorts or sea beaches. But it still manages to attract tourists year-round. In summer, they go to the capital of the Golden Ring route to see ancient Russia. In autumn, the city speaks different languages thanks to the Fyodor Volkov International Theatrical Festival. And when winter is departing, everyone fly here to celebrate the real Russian Maslenitsa, because the main Russian Razguliay is conducted here.

Yaroslavl aerial view. Photo credit: S. Vasilieva /

It hasn’t been harmed, but enriched

The Yaroslavls origin time has been a subject of debate for many years. An important argument in this case was the name of the city, which has survived through centuries. It means that the city was founded by Yaroslav the Wise, who reigned in the land from 988 to 1010. But it was only in the middle of the 20th century that it became possible to reasonably prove - the city had been founded at the confluence of the Volga and the Kotorosl Rivers to protect Rostov at the beginning of the 11th century.

The rivers played a huge role in the history of Yaroslavl. In the 17th century, when trade between Russia and Europe was actively developing through Arkhangelsk, Yaroslavl did not remain aloof from the process thanks to the Volga shores. The nobility and merchants were attracted into the city, fortunes were made here. Nowadays Yaroslavl is still one of the Russian leaders by the number of old estates in the city and its suburbs. That period is considered to be the golden one in the history of Yaroslavl, when the city grew to the status of the country center next to Moscow.

Monument to Yaroslav the Wise. Photo credit:

The 18th century was no less successful for Yaroslavl. During the reign of Catherine the Great, the city was actively built and took nearly the same form that it still has. Due to such legacy, the historical center of Yaroslavl has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as “an outstanding example of urban development reform by Catherine the Great”. There are about 140 monuments of architecture within the territory protected by UNESCO.

By some mostly unknown miracle (and in some known cases - by vigor of the locals), the historical center of Yaroslavl was not damaged when its significance was fading away, nor in the Soviet era, when Yaroslavl was destined to become a powerful industrial center.

Nowadays tourists still remember Catherine the Great with kind word for that reform. A first-time visitor has a strong feeling that s/he has already been to Yaroslavl and knows everything around. The reason for that is a fan-shaped layout with straight streets that lead either to the historical center (to the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour and the monument to Yaroslav the Wise), or to the embankments of the Volga and the Kotorosl Rivers.

Yaroslavl embankment. Photo credit:

Yaroslavl has transformed to celebrate its 1000th anniversary: for seven years the city used to look like a huge construction site. But in 2010, the year of anniversary, it welcomed guests with a different road infrastructure, restored monuments and streets that got even prettier.

1000-rouble note instead of a map

There is an old saw: I am not a gold coin to be liked by everyone. Yaroslavl is not a gold coin either, but it awakes pleasant sensations. One of the reasons for that is its beauty sights depicted on a 1000-ruble note, which is one of the most popular notes in the Russian payment system. Many tourists take part in search for temples and monuments depicted on it, which has become a kind of folk quest.

And at first the game seems surprisingly simple - here is the monument to Yaroslav the Wise, standing in the very center of the city. There is the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour to the left of it, which houses the central museum of the region - the Yaroslavl Historical, Architectural and Art Museum-Preserve. Unique ancient Russian monuments are exhibited within its walls. And there is the museum dedicated to The Tale of Igor's Campaign. Why is it here? Because the monastery was the very place where the list of the masterpiece of ancient Russian literature was discovered.

Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour. Photo credit:

Having left the museum through the Holy Gates, the one will end up inside another picture from a 1000-ruble note, which depicts an elegant chapel and part of the monastery. However, the temple on the back of the note can be searched for hours. Confusion is caused by confidence that it should be somewhere nearby, as well as by a large number of churches and temples, located in the city, especially since some of them look very much alike. Nevertheless, the Church of St. John the Baptist depicted on the note is located over the Kotorosl River and cannot be seen from the center.

Church of St. John the Baptist in Tolchkovo. Photo credit:

Wandering around the center with a note instead of a map, you will surely see the Fyodor Volkov Theater, which is considered to be the first Russian professional theater. It was established in 1750 by Fyodor Volkov, a merchants son. It originated from an amateur troupe showing comedies in a tannery barn. Two years after its opening, the Volkov Theater with all the actors was invited to St. Petersburg to be introduced to Elizabeth of Russia.

Achievements of Fyodor Volkov and his troupe, which comprised of inhabitants of trading quarters and clerks, were not about the fact that they were able to make ordinary people and noble gentlemen laugh till they cried. They made Russian plays and stories about Russian history the foundation of their repertoire, predetermining development of an original Russian theater.

The Volkov Theatre (Russian State Academic Drama Theatre Named After Fyodor Volkov). Photo credit:

Nowadays the VolkovTtheater honors traditions - the works of Ostrovsky, Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy are staged there. And it is the place where the Volkov International Festival is held annually. In September 2019 the 20th festival was attended by theaters from Nice, Tallinn, Yakutia, Altai and other regions and countries.

The bears land

It is believed that Yaroslavl was established on the site of the pagan settlement of Bear Corner. A unique embankment was built for the 1000th anniversary of the Yaroslavl at the confluence of the Volga and the Kotorosl Rivers, where, according to legend, the city had been founded. Every year a huge image of a bear is made of flowers here.

Yaroslavl has a real cult of bears, there are just as many of them as lions in St. Petersburg. Monuments to bears stand on city streets (one of them growls every hour, frightening those uninformed); preserved bears are placed in institutions; bear symbols are seen at all city banners and stucco moldings.

The Strelka Park in Yaroslavl. The heraldic bear. Photo credit:

There are also a lot of live bears in Yaroslavl. Masha the bear, one of the symbols of the museum and the city, has been living in the museum-reserve for more than 20 years. When she was a bear cub, her mother was killed by poachers, and Masha's brothers and sisters did not survive to see the foresters who handed her over to the museum. Bears live in the Yaroslavl zoo (the first landscape type zoo in Russia and the CIS) and participate in performances at the local circus.

Guest wont be allowed to stay hungry in the bear city. Yaroslavl has preserved traditions of true Russian hospitality. The city holds one of leading positions in Russia by the number of restaurants serving Russian cuisine. Menu with dishes known from books and films about ancient Russia, traditional entourage, outfit of waiters are all arranged to make guests feel like they are welcomed to a fabulous feast.

Some catering establishments are dedicated to the era of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future, a legendary comedy, was shot in Rostov the Great, not far from Yaroslavl. So local restaurants consider it to be a matter of honor to have hare kidneys roasted on a skewer and pike heads with garlic and other dishes from the royal feast in their menu. Afonya, another movie, was also shot in Yaroslavl, and a monument to characters of Leonid Kuravlyov and Yevgeny Leonov, as well as a cafe with the entourage of the Soviet beer house, serve as a reminder of it.

Afonya Beerhouse in Yaroslavl. Photo credit:

Once the cathedral from 1000-rouble note has been found, Masha has been photographed and a promenade along the famous Yaroslavl embankment has been made, the guests can visit wonderful sights of the local region. While in Rostov the Great, you can admire one of the most beautiful monasteries in Russia and climb the bell tower, captured in the aforementioned comedy by Leonid Gaidai.

While in Uglich, a tourist will be shown a temple built on the site where Tsarevich Dmitry had been killed. A small boat from the Toy Army of Peter the Great can be seen near Pereslavl-Zalessky, which looks just like a set of a historical film. While visiting the Nikolai Nekrasov Museum in Karabikha, tourists will learn where the poets feeling of ethnic belonging came from, and on the way back, they can visit the villages captured in his poem Who Is Happy in Russia?


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