One of the most popular attractions in Russia is Peterhof, about a 40-minute drive from St Petersburg, often called “Russian Versailles”. Although Versaille inspired Peter the Great to build this extraordinary Palace personally I rate this UNESCO site much higher and not surprisingly it was the favourite residence of Peter I.
Versailles was, however, the inspiration for Peter the Great’s desire to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city and, after an aborted attempt at Strelna. Peterhof that means “Peter’s Court” in German became the site for the Tsar’s Monplaisir Palace, and then of the original Grand Palace. The estate was equally popular with Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and greatly extended the park and the famous system of fountains, including the truly spectacular Grand Cascade.
This grand, breathtaking pastel yellow three storey great palace sits on top of the ridge that separates the upper and lower parks. What is seen now is not what was seen in Peter the Great’s time (I’m now quite the expert on this man, just so you know or care haha). In his time there was only a small royal mansion at the site. Only after his death, over two centuries, was the site expanded, altered, and improved to become what is seen today. And what we do see takes our breath away.
The Great Palace is the main building with a magnificent staircase, ballroom and throne room but there are about 30 other buildings and pavilions with more than 100 sculptures. I spent about 3 hours there and just did the park so if you want to do more you could easily spend the whole day at Peterhof.
It was opened in 1723 and is famous for its technological achievements in that the 144 fountains operate without pumps but rely on the pressure created from elevation differences.
The most famous ensemble of fountains at Peterhof, the Grand Cascade, runs from the northern facade of the Grand Palace to the Marine Canal. It comprises an impressive 64 different fountains, and over 200 bronze statues and other decorations.
The vista of the Grand Cascade with the Grand Palace behind it was one of the first sights to greet visitors who arrived in Peterhof by sea and is truly breathtaking even just standing beneath it from the gardens
In front of the northern facade of the palace is the Lower Park and at its centre is the magnificent symmetrical Grand Cascade has 37 gilded statues, 64 fountains and 142 water jets with an artificial grotto at the centre- a photographer’s paradise! Many important victories in Russia’s history are represented.
On the eastern side of the Grand Cascade is the Chessboard Hill or Dragon Cascade. In front of this are 2 Roman Fountains, resembling the 2 tiered fountains in front of St Peter’s in Rome. By contrast the Pyramid Fountain comprises 7 tiers of foaming jets spring from over 500 concealed apertures. Perhaps the Adam and Eve fountains remind visitors they are close to paradise in these gardens. The variety of forms and different functions played by the numerous fountains make Peterhof an open air museum like no other.
In the western part of the Lower Park is the Marly Palace with its 3 gardens, the Golden Hill Cascade and of course even more fountains.
In front of the south wall of the Great Palace is the Upper Park where the most magnificent of the numerous fountains is Neptune’s. These are just a few of the many delights that will enthrall you. There were lots of excited children too as they tried to dodge the joke fountains, not realising a man was operating them remotely and there was no escape from getting a drenching!
he Sun Fountain in the lower gardens at Peterhof Palace was one of my favourites. It’s called the Sun Fountain because it consists of a central post with a disk at the top with holes around the edge so that when the fountain is turned on, the jets of water spurt out like sun rays, thus the name Sun Fountain. And how beautiful and effective is this design?!
The Catherine Block
The Catherine Block was a truly magnificent setting for court banquets, balls, and receptions. It was built next to Monplaisir, this palace was designed by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli for Empress Elizabeth between 1747 and 1759.
Dining table goals at Catherine’s Block- a small palace at Peterhof, but one that is of great historical importance.
It was from here that in 1762 Catherine the Great rushed to St Petersburg to dethrone her husband, hence the name the ‘Catherine Block’ (the many stories and history about this lady are fascinating!). It was built for the Empress Elizabeth by the architect F.B. Rastrelli (Catherine’s Palace, and basically every building I loved the most in St Petersburg!) in the middle of the 18th century.
The palace, decorated in the baroque and classical style was for all sorts of balls and banquets. So if you like the Classical or the Empire style, you will definitely enjoy the design of this beautiful, exquisite spot
I had such a wonderful day at Peterhof and I will always treasure it. I traveled with Volga Dream through Cox and Kings for my Russian adventures and couldn’t recommend them more for a truly perfect itinerary. We were actually based longer in beautiful St Petersburg for a few days and hence were able to have the joy of experiencing this spot for half a day, which I would recommend to any other budding visitors.
Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamed of visiting The Hermitage, the winter palace of Catherine the Great that consists of five interconnected buildings, the largest of which is the Winter Palace that gloriously picturesque turquoise building.
I featured how special it was to visit The Hermitage Museum in my ’48 Hours to St Petersburg’ post right here but as discussed in that post, I just had so much more I wanted to share, and especially images to share. However now, as I’m writing this, I find it impossible to actually put into words just how magnificent this gallery is and how blessed I feel to have visited. Even if you’re not an art history fan, I challenge anyone not to gasp in awe when you enter the enormous Palace Square and see what is one of the world’s greatest if not the greatest art museum in the world.
Its 3 million exhibits (only a tiny fraction of which are on display at any one time) include treasures from every century in history and every corner of the world. Think of any great artist and you’re sure to find your favourite be it Rembrandt or Picasso. The problem is it would take you years to see it all so you’ll just have to follow my example and head for the highlights. And because it is considered to be one of the greatest collections of art in the world and that I believe is just as impressive to the untrained eye and a dream-come-true for art enthusiasts like myself.
What really makes this place special is the breathtaking splendour of its interior decoration. Every room and staircase is a jewel of architectural delight. But what really makes this museum special is that it is housed in the former Winter Palace of the Russian Tsars so the building alone is steeped in history and stories.
The Winter Palace was the official residence of the Romanov Tsars from 1762 until the revolution in 1917 and it alone contains over 1,000 rooms, 1,900 windows, 1,700 doors and 100 staircases. There’s no way I can possibly begin to explain how beautiful it was inside or how much it meant to explore. I just feel so, so lucky I finally got to experience this museum like I’ve wanted to ever since I was a little girl. In fact looking back on these still brings happy tears to my eyes. In order to do justice to my experience, I’m going to create a seperate post with many more photos and information for those as interested as me in the arts.
When you first enter the enormous Palace Square you feel as if you are stepping onto a film set and yet this is real- it is the very heart and soul of the city.
Driven by a thirst for knowledge and a quest for the throne, it was Catherine The Great (for more about Catherine II you might like this post from my travels of Catherine’s Palace) who propelled herself to the role of Empress of Russia and for thirty-four years, reigned over a golden age of Russian culture, founding what would become the State Hermitage Museum and transforming St. Petersburg into one of Europe’s cultural centres.
Catherine’s main interests were in education and culture. She read widely and corresponded with many of the prominent thinkers of the era, including Voltaire and Diderot. Catherine was a patron of the arts, literature and education and acquired an art collection which now forms the basis of the Hermitage Museum and even known to have tried her hand at composing opera.
Palace Square has played a unique role in Russian history for gatherings both celebratory and confrontational. It was the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1905, it witnessed Lenin’s Bolsheviks seize power in 1917, saw Leningraders celebrate the end of the War and in 1991 thousands rallied to support Boris Yeltsin.Today it is used to celebrate New Year and as a venue for rock concerts. In the centre is the enormous Alexander Column which took 2,400 workmen 2 years to complete and today stands simply by gravity as a celebration to the defeat of Napoleon.
The magnificent curved building of the General Staff Headquarters dominates the square and the 2 wings are connected by a arch crowned by a sculpture of victory and leading to the Nevsky prospekt, the main street in St Petersburg. Once housing the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance today it houses military items and 20th century French art.
Without question the most important building in Palace Square is the Hermitage, one of the largest and finest museums on our planet. Not only are its 3 million items an encyclopedia of world culture, what really makes it so special is that it is housed in one the most breathtakingly beautiful buildings I have ever seen.
The most impressive building is the Winter Palace, the former royal residence of the Tsars. Catherine the Great added the Little and Large Hermitages to house among other things her 2,500 paintings and 10,000 drawings. She then built the Hermitage Theatre to enjoy other artistic pleasures. Nicholas I who was also a keen collector commissioned the New Hermitage and in 1852 opened part of the collection to the public. Today the public can enjoy the 5 -10% of the Hermitage’s treasure that goes on display in its 5 interconnected buildings. The museum has seen massive changes and survived the Revolution, bombing and damage from World War II.
Let’s go inside now but I must warn you it’s not the easiest museum to navigate! You can get a plan from the information desk, get an audio guide or go on a tour as I did. Basically it is organised by country and era. On the first or ground floor you can find works from antiquity including spectacular Roman and Egyptian art. The treasure gallery is divided into 2 sections. One one side of tre entrance are the Siberian Antiquities and the greek and Oriental Gold collection. On the other side you can see The European Gold Collection and see the Kolyvan Vase carved out of jaspar. It is so large at 19 tonnes that the Large Hermitage was built around it. While you admire the exhibits take time to enjoy the fantastic interior; in this part you see the Hall of 20 columns.
We now enter perhaps the most spectacular space in the Winter Palace and climb the Jordan Staircase, a sweeping white marble Baroque masterpiece. It was here that the imperial family watched the Epiphany ceremony of baptism in the River Neva, celebrating Christ’s baptism in the Jordan.
On the second floor are the rooms used by the imperial families including the rooms the last Romanov children lived in, staterooms and ballrooms. The North facade overlooks the Neva. The largest room is found here, the Great or Nicholas Hall used for the first ball of the season when 5,00 guests would gather. This leads to the Malachite Room where over 2 tonnes of ornamental stone were used in its columns and vases, not to mention the gilded doors and ceilings.
In the West wing is the Gothic Library with oak panelling and a Dark Corridor containing French and Flemish tapestries. The Golden Drawing Room is gilded throughout on its walls and ceiling and contains carved gems from Western Europe.
On the South facade, facing Palace Square is the White Hall retaining decorations from the wedding of Alexander II in 1841, French Rooms housing 18th century French art and the Alexander Hall where Gothic vaulting is combined with Neo-Classical stucco bas-reliefs on military themes.
Other rooms on this floor are the Small Throne Room or Peter the Great Hall which houses a silver-gilt English throne and is dedicated to peter I. Many ot the rooms have witnessed key events in the nation’s history including the Field Marshal’s Hall where fire broke out in 1837, the Armorial Hall with its vast gilded columns used as a field hospital in world war I and the Small Dining Room where the Bolsheviks arrested the Provisional Government in 1917.
The majority of the museum’s vast art collection is displayed on the second floor. There is French art of the 15-18th centuries including works by Poussin, Lorrain and Fragonard. The “Apostles of Peter and Paul” is one of the El Greco pieces in the Spanish collection. British art is known for its large collection of portraits. The German, Dutch and Flemish collection is renowned for its quality and quantity and includes vast numbers of works by Rubens such as “Bacchus” and “the Union of Earth and Water”, van Dyck and Rembrandt including his “Abraham’s Sacrifice” and “Return of the Prodigal Son”. Italian works includes Titian’s St Sebastian, Michelangelo, Raphael’s “Holy Family” and “Madonna Conestabile”, Leonardo de Vinci’s “Madonna Benois” and “Little Madonna”, Giorgione’s “Judith” and Caravaggio’s “Young Man with a Lute”.
We now enter the Little Hermitage to see the Pavilion Hall, an enormous gilded room with 30 chandeliers and Roman and Byzantine mosaics on the floor. It houses of the museum’s highlights, the 18th century Peacock Clock. When the clock is wound up bells can be heard, the peacock spreads its feathers and the cockerel crows.
Finally the third floor is where you will find the 19-20th century art including all my favourite artists: Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso as well as 20th century Russian art.
I wandered around in a pure state of enchantment at every single element to this grand, beautiful place full of treasures that are more than the eyes and mind can take in at once. It’s an absolute dream to look back on these memories from my day at The Hermitage in St Petersburg and in my opinion, a must-have thing to do if you’re staying in the city. And if you’re after some extra reading, I highly recommend ‘The Empress of Art: Catherine the Great and the Transformation of Russia’ by Susan Jaques a truly fascinating account of Catherine II and the arts.
I traveled with Volga Dream through Cox and Kings for my Russian adventures and couldn’t recommend them more for a truly perfect itinerary. We were actually based longer in beautiful St Petersburg for a few days and hence were able to have the joy of experiencing this spot for half a day, which I would recommend to any other budding visitors.
The breathtaking Catherine’s Palace is about 16 miles south from St Petersburg and better known in Russian as ‘Tsarskoye Selo’ (now Pushkin) or the ‘Tsar’s Village’. I mentioned this exquisite spot in my ’48 Hours to St Petersburg’ post however because it is well worth a visit for at least half a day, I wanted to create a separate post so you can all admire the beauty with me!
The palace was named and designed for Catherine II, otherwise known as Catherine the Great, by Rastrelli in the Rococo style. Catherine was a German princess who married a Russian prince.
Born in Prussia in 1729 Catherine the Great married into the Russian royal family in 1745. After her husband ascended to the throne as Peter III, Catherine orchestrated a coup to become Empress of Russia in 1762 and one of the most powerful women in the world.
She is remembered for her intelligence, determination and modelled herself on her grandfather-in-law Peter The Great who sought to expand Russian territories and to modernise its culture through progressive views on arts and education (we’ll see more of this in a seperate post on The Hermitage, the world famous art gallery in St Petersburg).
Catherine was also shockingly extravagant, who never wore a dress twice and would order over 1,000 bottles of French champagne (!!!!) for a dinner event! There are truly few women in history more fascinating than Catherine the Great and visiting this palace was awe-inspiring.
Originally it was given to Catherine I, Peter the Great’s wife. It was then her daughter Empress Elizabeth who spent a fortune on it and named it in her honour. It was the favorite residence of the second Catherine (“the Great”) who spent much of her time here and added neoclassical additions to the original Baroque structure.
The exquisite white main staircase leads you to the staterooms, drawing rooms and chapel. Among the magnificent staterooms is the Grand Hall (as seen below) lined with enormous mirrors and windows creating an illusion of space, carved gilded wood and a spectacular painted ceiling.
However the jewel in the palace and the 8th wonder of the world is the Amber Room, which as the name suggests is floor to ceiling decorated in amber. We weren’t allowed to take photos but this website has some right here. This unique interior displays over 6 tonnes of amber boards and panels creating a mavellous vision of what has been called the “sunny stone”. Sadly it was disassembled in just 36 hours by the Germans in World War II and shipped out never to be found again. Having studying old photographs and drawings it was restored in 2003 for the anniversary of St Petersburg and thankfully it’s now been restored to its former glory. By the way, amber jewellery is a good souvenir to take home and comes in all price ranges.
The expansive grounds of the palace (as seen below) include the landscaped gardens commissioned by Catherine the Great so don’t forget to leave some time to stroll through these beautiful gardens. You’ll find pavilions, sculptures and the Great Pond. One of the most beautiful neoclassical buildings in Russia is the Cameron Gallery where Catherine would hold formal dinners.
Thank you so much for all the interest, all the support and all the love I have had for my Russian travels series with Volga Dream and Cox and Kings. For me, visiting Russia was beyond anything I could have imagined. It’s a country I have longed to visit ever since I was a child and I’m just so happy and blessed to have shared that journey with you.
I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed by the beauty of Catherine’s Palace. It’s, without doubt, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to visit.
As mentioned above, Catherine’s Palace is about 16 miles outside of St Petersburg but in my opinion a must-have thing to do if you’re staying in the city. I traveled with Volga Dream through Cox and Kings for my Russian adventures and couldn’t recommend them more for a truly perfect itinerary. We were actually based longer in beautiful St Petersburg for a few days and hence were able to have the joy of experiencing this spot for half a day, which I would recommend to any other budding visitors.
There is no doubt that Moscow is the symbol of Russia and its eclectic mix of buildings represent a political power that goes back 850 years. This is just one way to spend ’48 Hours in Moscow’ the last stop of my simply life-changing travels through Russia with Volga Dream and Cox and Kings from St Petersburg, (you can click here for my ’48 Hours to St Petersburg’ post) through Rural Russia along the Volga River to the cosmopolitan and dazzling Moscow. Today this Russian city mixes ancient monasteries with everything associated with an exciting European capital to preserve its national cultural traditions and yet embrace the changes that are sweeping through Russia.
Where else can you start your visit to Moscow than Red Square? Stepping onto Red Square never ceases to inspire and I’ll never ever forget it. With a large area of cobblestones, that is surrounded by architectural wonders, it’s truly unforgettable.
In old Russian ‘krasny’ was the word for ‘beautiful’, and Red square absolutely lives up to the original meaning of its name. It’s just incredible to stroll across a place where so much of Russian history unfolded. Now it is recognised throughout the world for its mighty military parades however nothing could be further from that austere sight than the lively atmosphere of thousands of tourists all trying to capture the contrasts of the stark mausoleum of Lenin, the irresistible profusion of colours of St Basil’s Cathedral and the grandeur of the department store called GUM.
The unmissable red-brick palace with its silver roof, towering opposite St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, houses the State Historical Museum that is one of the main sightseeing attractions of the Russian capital. Designed by V.Shervud, this Museum was built to commemorate the national history and traces the development of Russia and its people from ancient times to the present day.
GUM (ГУМ) Department Store
State Universal Store or GUM was a general name given to the main department store in cities in the Soviet Union but of course this one is the most famous and a must-see! The largest and most over-the-top shopping destinations in Moscow is 242m that runs right along the east side of Red Square and contains about 200 foreign and Russian shops selling everything from designer label clothes, luxury goods and foods. Our guide told us her story of queuing as a child to buy the simplest utilitarian clothes in Soviet Union times – a far cry to today!
Even if you’re not a shopper, I highly suggest visiting for the stunning hallways and decor alone as there’s just nothing quite like it. And I highly recommend this cafe called Bosco that is fabulous. Green matcha lattes and delicious food!
And before I left my time at GUM I simply couldn’t resist this cutest Russian Doll handbag that was exclusive to Furla in GUM. It’s the perfect reminder from my amazing travels and something I will always treasure.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
Don’t leave Red Square until you have strolled around the spellbinding St. Basil’s Cathedral and admired its domes, cupolas, arches, towers and spires, each with their distinctive colours that looms majestically over Red Square.
Built by Ivan the Terrible (as in the same one mentioned in my Uglich travels) in the 1550s, this intriguing cathedral bordering Red Square consists of nine separate chapels, each capped with its own individually shaped candy striped esque dome. It gets its name from a poor holy man who foretold the Moscow fire in 1547.
Honestly I could not take my eyes of this breathtaking design. And to think this psychedelic wonder was built in the 16th century is even more remarkable.
Situated on a beautiful square, that is fairly near Red Square, is the Bolshoi Theatre. This theatre is the main temple of Russia’s culture being one of the world’s biggest opera and ballet theatres. It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Bolshoi Theatre for Russia.
You can only enjoy its immortal creations and to admire its magnificent building, which is also an outstanding example of Russian architecture. To think of all the stories this place holds is simply overwhelming.
As well as being one of the most efficient and cheapest underground transit systems in the world, the Moscow Metro is also undoubtedly one of the most beautiful that has translated into some truly spectacular, subterranean architectural gems. They were built by Stalin in the 1930s to show the people that communism could achieve the same or better than capitalism.
It’s possible to spend an entire day or more travelling the metro and exploring the vast array of ornate stations; each constructed and decorated in its own unique way and I did my very best to see as many as possible!
But I’ll highlight the incredibly beautiful Komsomolskaya seen above that is one of the most active stations in the Metro. To deal with the volume of daily passengers in transit between the three nearby rail terminals, the station has an upper gallery above the platform!!
Komsomolskaya is also perhaps Moscow’s most lavish station. Entry is into an imposing building fronted by a stand of Corinthian columns. Inside, travellers descend to one of two sub-stations. At the platform level, an enormous hall is topped by a sunny, yellow Baroque ceiling from which hang several grand chandeliers. The platform is lined with 68 marble-faced columns topped with pilasters, and on the ceiling, eight mosaics chronicle the Russian fight for freedom and independence. Komsomolskaya opened in 1952. If you flick through I’ve also added some more stations to show the variety of styles you can see.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Other places to visit are the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, one of the 4 largest in the world. Originally built to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon, Stalin destroyed it in 1931 by turning it into a swimming pool but thankfully it was rebuilt in 1999 to its original size and glory with help from all over the world and is well worth a visit.
Above you can see the breathtaking ceilings and interiors of Christ The Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.
New Maiden Convent and Cemetery
Get back on the metro and get off at the New Maiden Convent and Cemetery for something different. This convent was used to get rid of unwanted royal women such as Peter the Great’s older sister! Next to it is the most famous cemetery in Russia where the most influential Russians are buried such as Yeltsin and Chekhov. Don’t miss the lake nearby said to have inspired “Swan Lake”. And if you’re a football fan look up and you’ll see the enormous Luzhniki Stadium used for the world cup.
I hope you’ve had a good night because I’ve packed 2 huge visits into your second day. It’s worth getting up early to avoid the crowds as the morning tour is to the Kremlin. You may think it’s a building but the Kremlin is a huge complex which means fortress, originally it was a self contained city. It has been part of every part of Russia’s turbulent history from the 11th century to Putin today. You will enter from Red Square via one of the 4 entrances in the distinctive red wall of the fortress, some 2.2 km long with 20 towers. We started at the Armoury which sounds boring but it is a wonderful collection of Russian treasures. It is a treasure house of Russia’s imperial heritage and includes incredibly ornate dresses, jewellery, carriages, crowns and thrones used by the tsars and empresses. From here we saw the imposing yellow and white Grand Kremlin Palace used by the President and therefore rarely opened to the public.
The beautiful exterior of the Grand Palace of the Kremlin that can be seen above is stunning. It took over 12 years to build the Palace, symbolising the greatness of Russian autocracy. It features 9 churches, 700 rooms, the Terem Palace, and the Holy Vestibule.
Once used exclusively as the Moscow residence of the reigning Tsar, it is now considered the residence of the President of the Russian Federation and the location for ceremonial events that include official meetings and conferences with foreign dignitaries, inauguration ceremonies, and presentation ceremonies for state awards.
The palace also has a combination of architectural styles ranging from Byzantine-Russian to Renaissance. My heart skipped a beat at this section alone.
What most tourists head for in the Kremlin is Cathedral Square which is the ceremonial heart of Russia. We started at the grandest and oldest Cathedral of the Dormination which was used for the coronation of the Tsars. Facing this on the other side of the square is the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael. This is where the tsars including Peter the Great and his murdered son Dmitry were buried until 1712 when the capital moved to St Petersburg. The neighbouring golden-domed Annunciation Cathedral was the church of the Tsars. Other things to see are tallest building in the Kremlin which is the bell tower,and the massive Tsar Bell and Cannon.
Nearby, your final stop should be to one of the finest museums in the world especially if you are an art lover like me. The Tretyakov Gallery covers a whole millenium of Russian cultural development. A young Pavel Tretyakov bought his first painting in 1856 and went on the amass a spectacular collection for the next 3 decades. He left his 3,500 paintings to the nation and today there are over 130,000 works of art from the 11th to 20th century. Try and go throughout the gallery in chronological order to enjoy the early outstanding icons through to modern art.
Thank you so much for all the interest, all the support and all the love I have had for my Russian travels series with Volga Dream and Cox and Kings. For me, visiting Russia was beyond anything I could have imagined. It’s a country I have longed to visit ever since I was a child and I’m just so happy and blessed to have shared that journey with you.
I travelled with Volga Dream through Cox and Kings and couldn’t recommend them more for a truly perfect itinerary to experience just one part of this deeply fascinating and enigmatic country.
Finally, if you enjoyed my Russian Travels you can head here for the rest of my travels. Thank you so much for reading once again, and let me know if Moscow is now on your travel bucket list if you haven’t been before!
Our last stop on the Cruise was at the small town of Uglich. It dates back to 937 AD but it’s remembered for one hugely significant event, the murder of Ivan the Terrible’s 8 year old son Dmitry in 1591. This was hugely important as it ended the Rurik Dynasty and led to years of trouble and uncertainty.
The name ‘Uglich’ itself has 3 possible origins: from a ulich tribe, a group of Eastern Slavs, a charcoal name or from geography because angle in Russian is ugal (угол.). It’s also nicknamed the Russian version of Switzerland because it’s famous for cheese, mineral water and watches!
At this point in our journey through rural Russia, we are still located in the Yaroslavl Oblast region, and Uglich is even older than Moscow! I am overwhelmed in the best way with beautiful moments from Uglich so let’s start with the Transfiguration Cathedral.
Just how beautiful is the Transfiguration Cathedral? Built in 1713, in the Russian Naryshkin Baroque style, the Transfiguration Cathedral dominates Uglich. It is best discovered during a concert due to its remarkable acoustics or during the town’s major feast day (of the Transfiguration), on the 19th of August, when the faithful flock here.
Inside, breathtaking frescoes and icons from the Moscow School of the 17th and the 19th century can be seen. One thing about Orthodox churches in Russia is that there is no wall space wasted. Every square inch is covered with frescoes, paintings, icons and other religious art forms and it’s a sight I will never forget.
Here in this photo above is the nave of the Cathedral. The nave is the main chamber of the church where most of the worshippers stand. Orthodox churches have no pews and people attending the service do it standing up. The Nave is separated from the sanctuary by the iconostasis.
The Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood
Not surprisingly the main attraction is the Church of St. Dmitry and one of my favourite churches on my Russia trip. Have you ever seen a church so richly pigmented and decorated?! With its 5 characteristic blue cupola domes (and those magical stars I just adore) its small size makes it impractical as the main church for worship so they built the much larger Transfiguration Cathedral seen earlier for this purpose.
The Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood is part of the Uglich Kremlin. Distinctive for its extraordinarily rich decoration of facades, standing out among other Uglich churches with red walls, snow-white platbands and bright blue domes with little stars. However, despite the facade standing out with all its decorations and elegant look, this is rather inconsistent with the sad event that the Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood 8-year-old in memory of.
On the 15th May 1591, young tsarevich Dmitry, the last heir of Ivan the Terrible died in mysterious circumstances. The chronicles of the ‘Time of Troubles’ is full of gloomy stories about the death of the tsarevich, but the real causes of death of the last Rurik have never been found out. However, the most popular version was a cold-blooded murder, allegedly plotted by Boris Godunov, the pretender to the throne. This version was so well known and argued, that later on, that it provided the basis for the famous historical play “Boris Godunov” by Alexander Pushkin (for more about Alexander Pushkin you can find my St Petersburg travel post right here).
My time in Uglich was one of my favourite days mainly for these awe-inspiring churches I’ll never forget.
And the next post will be my final stop on my magical trip through Russia with Volga Dream. We’re off to Moscow! Meanwhile, for the rest of my travels head right here. Thank you so much for all your support and interest so far on these posts. I hope you loved Uglich as much as me and fall equally in love with Moscow.
Yaroslavl, yet another UNESCO site, was our next stop after exploring Goritsy on my Russian travels. Yaroslavl is called the jewel of the Golden Ring (that’s a group of historic cities northeast of Moscow that have played an important part in Russian history). It is noteworthy for being one of the oldest cities in Russia and the largest we visited on our river cruise with Volga Dream.
Prince Yaroslavl the Wise is said to have killed a bear with his poleaxe and pacified the pagans to establish this town. Because it’s situated at the junction of 2 large rivers (Kotorsol and Volga) it has always been a major centre for trade and it has been one of the largest industrial cities. Despite that, it has managed to retain its beauty with beautiful parks and well deserves its nickname as “Russian Florence”.
So many vibrant layers of history and culture make Yaroslavl a great destination for a time travel through the centuries in Russia. There’s just so much to post about from this UNESCO World Heritage Site and à place that is also the birthplace of the first Russian theatre.
Monastery of the Transfiguration
But first the bell tower of UNESCO site Transfiguration Monastery that provides stunning views across Yaroslavl. It’s worth going up the viewpoint if you have time but unfortunately there was so much to do in this incredible city I didn’t have time!
The Transfiguration Monastery is one of the most ancient structures in the city and was erected in 13th-century. It is notable because it was one of the favourite monasteries of Ivan the Terrible and was turned into a museum 150 years ago. There are six churches open to the public on the territory that has been created to resemble 18th-century regional architecture.
At the side of the Transfiguration Monastery we were privileged to hear Orthodox bell ringing, an art form in Russia. So here I had the privilege of hearing the bell ringer give us a demonstration. In Orthodox bell ringing all the ropes are gathered at one point, where the bell-ringer stands. Some ropes are played by hand and the bigger ropes are played by foot. The major part of the ropes are not actually pulled, but rather pressed to make a clapper strike the side of its bell.
Church of Elijah the Prophet
Next up it was off to the breathtaking Church of St. Ilya the Prophet in Yaroslavl, built in the 17th century. It was built from 1647 to 1650 by the Skripin brothers who were wealthy fur traders. Inside, the frescoes and icons paintings inside honestly left me speechless you can see below.
If the outside wasn’t breathtaking alone, prepare to be transfixed by the beautiful frescoes inside the Church of St. Ilya the Prophet. Just a wonderful, overwhelming amount of frescoes painted continuously on the walls and over the ceiling. Even the window wells have images around them! And for everything else it’s gilded in gold it’s simply magnificent.
Most of the frescoes images tell the life story of Elijah, but interestingly enough, the artist has also inserted scenes of everyday Russian peasant life into some of the frescoes.
For me, this memorable visit was akin to my emotions visiting the interior to the Church on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg that was also so magnificently decorated with frescoes. I just hope some of my photos and videos do it justice! If you want to compare it to Church on the Blood you can see my post all about St Petersburg here.
If you’re getting a bit overwhelmed with churches head to the beautiful Governor’s House, that is also an art museum, where you can enjoy a musical quartet and dancers in 19th century period costume who will invite you to see around the stunning house and dance with them, a reminder perhaps of the part Yaroslavl plays in the novel “War and Peace”.
Housed in the 18th Century Governor’s mansion, Yaroslavl’s art museum also has an extremely impressive collection of 18th to 20th Century Russian paintings that spread out across many palatial style rooms of this beautiful building.
In the main ballroom that is also home to portraits of prominent Russian nobility such as Catherine the Great and the Empress Elizabeth as well as masterpieces by Aivazovsky and Makovsky and stunning period furniture. This was one of the most special moments for me and I still feel like I’ve been transported to a Jane Austen novel! This period is my favourite for fashion I just want to wear all of those prettiest dresses. If you want to see a video from this gorgeous occasion head here to my Instagram.
Church of the Assumption
The centre of the city of Yaroslavl was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 and in the same year began the reconstruction of the beautiful Assumption Cathedral seen here. Originally built in 1215, the cathedral was damaged in the conflicts of 1918 and destroyed by being blown up by the Soviets in 1937. It truly is magnificent isn’t it? Those gorgeous gold domes is out of this world breathtaking.
We ended our day in Yaroslavl at the picturesque Strelka Park that was built as part of Yaroslavl’s 1000 year celebrations in 2010 and is beautifully maintained. And here again was a symbol I noticed throughout my time here: the symbol of a bear who was often wielding an axe in its paws.
The story for this one is that as Prince Yaroslav was sailing down the Volga River he noticed a tribe had settled on a plateau where the Volga met the Kotorsol River. The Prince immediately recognised the trading potential here and set out to take the land from the tribe. The tribe had a bear that they considered sacred and to be their secret defense weapon. They released the ferocious bear on Prince Yaroslavl the second he came ashore.
A battle between man and bear ensued, although the bear fell when the Prince struck it over the head with his axe. With their idol now dead, the tribe didn’t put up further fight for their land and the new Christian city of Yaroslavl was founded. And thus the bear has served as the symbol of the city ever since
My time in Yaroslavl was simply a dream. From the awe-inspiring churches and frescoes to the most special dance performance. I’ll truly never forget my time here.
Next I’m taking you with me to Ughlich with Volga Dream. For the rest of my travels head right here. Thank you so much for all your support and interest so far on these posts. I hope you love the next spot!