The Golden Ring
Ring is the name given to a loop of towns stretching out for
about 150 miles to the north-east of Moscow. Some are large industrial
centres, some little more than villages, but what they all have
in common is a wealth of monastic, ecclesiastic and other historic
buildings still standing along with magnificent collections of
church and other art.
The name 'Golden
Ring' is generally applied to an increasingly popular tourist
route, but there is no precise definition. About a dozen towns
qualify for inclusion, although most visitors probably go to
less than half of these.
years ago Viking traders established trade links between the
Baltic and Caspian Seas making use of the Volga. This north-south
route was crossed by others between east and west. A number of
city states emerged and in 862 Rurik of Jutland founded Novgorod,
sowing the first seeds of Rus. Later Kiev became dominant and
in 988 Prince Vladimir persuaded the Patriarch of Constantinople
to establish a bishopric there, effectively creating the Russian
as capital of Rus declined, partly due to invasions from the
east in 1093 when the city was sacked but also to the Crusades
which reduced Arab control of the region to the south thus opening
it as a more direct east-west trade route. The centre of influence
moved north to fertile land around Suzdal and in 1169 the capital
moved to the recently founded city of Vladimir.
In 1237 the Mongol-led Golden Horde swept through the area and
Rus began to disintegrate into separate princedoms. Moscow became
independent in 1252 and by 1500 was the effective capital. Meanwhile
the towns of the Golden Ring continued, wars and fires apart,
to thrive on trade and manufacturing, the proceeds of which endowed
dozens of churches and monasteries. Several of the towns retained
their importance as bishoprics and provincial capitals with eighteenth
and nineteenth century developments often creating attractive
town centres centred on the older Kremlins.
The winds of change following the Bolshevik Revolution led to
the closure of most churches with many being put to other uses.
However Lenin believed the cultural heritage of Imperial Russia
should be valued and as a result much of what we see today in
the Golden Ring survived. In fact in 1923 a Commission declared
that "the whole of Suzdal is one great museum", a view
more recently endorsed by UNESCO.
work started in Soviet times appears to be continuing apace,
and later town centres which had fallen into disrepair are beginning
to be renovated.