From the Golden Ring to the Solovetsky Islands: Russia's UNESCO treasures

TASS/Ruslan Shamukov
RBTH takes a look at Russia’s 26 UNESCO heritage sites: this time the journey begins with the white monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal before heading sharply north through Yaroslavl and Vologda to Kizhi pogost and the Solovetsky Islands of the White Sea.

In this series RBTH examines the natural and cultural wonders that make up Russia’s 26 UNESCO heritage sites from east to west. UNESCO is a special agency of the UN that seeks to promote peace and security through international collaboration. Its World Heritage Site program seeks to preserve natural and cultural landmarks that are deemed of global significance. 

White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal (1992)

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media
These neighboring towns were included for their collection of medieval architectural marvels dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. The monuments’ name comes from the material that was used to construct them: White limestone.

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin has stood in Vladimir since 1158, 50 years after the city’s founding by Prince Vladimir Monomach. Built within the walls of the city’s Kremlin, it stands over 32 meters high and is topped by a single dome. Mongols destroyed many of the church’s paintings in 1238, but Russia’s premiere icon painter Andrei Rublev added murals in 1408.

The Collegiate Church of St Demetrios (1194-97) was built for Grand Prince Vsevolod III. Cubic in form and crowned by a helmet dome, it features an enormous collection of exterior paintings depicting King David and 12th century frescoes inside. Also notable here are Vladimir’s Golden Gate (1158-1164), Russia’s last surviving ancient city gate; the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin on the Nerl River; and Suzdal’s Kremlin.

Historical Center of the City of Yaroslavl (2005)

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media
Yaroslavl has been a major trading center since the 11th century. As with many Russian cities originally built out of wood, it burned down repeatedly until Catherine the Great’s city-planning reforms were initiated in 1763. Between 1770 and the 1830s much of the city was rebuilt fusing the architectural styles of the Russian Empire and Europe.

Featuring a neo-classical radial urban plan, many of the sites here revolve around public squares and wide city streets. Numerous 16th and 17th century churches make up the city’s majestic ensemble including the white-stoned Church of Elijah the Prophet, the golden-domed Assumption Cathedral (originally constructed around 1215, although completely rebuilt for the city’s millennial celebrations in 2010) and the Spassky Monastery, once one of Russia’s largest. These and the many other churches in and around the city are renowned for their ornate murals and iconostases. Other sites include the Volkov Drama Theater (Russia’s first), the Demidovsky Pillar and the Volga and Vasily towers, which were previously used to spot enemy invasions. 

Ensemble of the Ferapontov Monastery (2000)

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media
This complex in Vologda Region was selected for being an outstanding example of a monastic center from the 15th to the 17th centuries, considered an important time for the consolidation of the Russian Orthodox Church. Founded in 1398, the best-known and oldest structure is the Cathedral of Nativity of the Virgin (1490). Pillaged by Polish forces during the Time of Troubles in the early 1600s, afterwards many buildings were added beginning with the belfry clocks in 1638, thought to be the oldest such remaining structure in Russia.

Many of the interiors feature the paintings of Dionisius, considered one of the great icon painters of the Moscow school around 1500 A.D. Particularly noteworthy are his icon representing Christ’s Harrowing of Hell and scenes from the life of the Virgin. He worked here with his sons and disciples from 1495-1496.

Kizhi Pogost (1990)

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Legion-Media
Part of Russia’s inaugural group on UNESCO’s list, this site is located on Kizhi Island in Lake Onega in the Republic of Karelia. A “pogost” can mean many things, but in Kizhi’s case it is simply a gated church and cemetery. The island contains two large churches, both original examples of wooden Orthodox architecture. It was included on the list for its beauty as well as longevity: few wooden structures have lasted this long. Every building here was made without using nails.

The Transfiguration Church was built in 1714 as a summer church (no heating) and features 22 domes, with the tallest reaching 37 meters, making it one of the Russian North’s tallest buildings. The 9-domed Church of the Intercession was tinkered with for almost a century before being completed in 1764. Unlike its neighbor, it’s heated and winter services are held here. The tallest dome is 32 meters and the interiors are austere with minimal decorations. A 30-meter tall 19th century wooden bell-tower is another famous landmark.

Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands (1992)

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media
An archipelago comprised of six islands, this area has been inhabited for 2,500 years and a monastic site since the 1400s. Chosen for being an outstanding example of a northern European monastic settlement, it is also noted for its well-preserved stone labyrinths. The terrain is hilly with the highest point reaching 107 meters and the land is covered with spruce and pine forests. Many of the stone structures were built during Ivan the Terrible’s reign and the islands were the site of an eight-year siege after monks expelled Tsarist officials following the 1653 church reforms led to a schism.

The best-known dwelling is the Russian Orthodox Solovetsky Monastery complex, which was first built in the 15th century by two monks from the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. By 1600 this monastery had become one of Russia’s most influential religious centers. These islands became infamous during the Soviet period for being the site of the first GULAG labor camp. Established in 1921, it was closed by the onset of World War II and designated a museum in 1974. 

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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