Bright and early on the morning after our arrival in Moscow, our jaunty group set off for one of the historic Golden Ring cities, Yaroslavl, located northeast of the capital. The following day, we also visited the smaller historic cities of Rostov and Sergiyev Posad on the way back to Moscow.
(A) Moscow (B) Yaroslavl (C) Rostov (D) Sergiyev Posad
Yaroslavl is best known for its beautiful Russian Orthodox churches, and it was in this city that we had our first chance to admire the gilded icons, bright onion domes, vaulted ceilings, and painted frescos of these buildings, which are invaluable works of art in every right. We were also lucky enough to be in the city on the eve of the Russian Orthodox Christmas. That night, many of the churches and cathedrals in the city held their Christmas Eve service, which a few members of our group attended.
Church in Yaroslavl
Though at night, the city was illuminated with neon signs for bars and restaurants, and Christmas lights twinkled along eclectic rows of newer European and Russian styled rooftops, Yaroslavl still possessed an air of historic, stately magnificence. The city was named after a Russian prince, Yaroslav the Wise, and was the de facto capital of Russia for a time in the 17th century. The city's coat of arms is a bear carrying an axe on its shoulder, and the city itself is located on the convergence of the Volga and Kotorosl rivers.
The next day on our journey back to Moscow, we made our first stop at the town of Rostov, often called Rostov Veliky or Rostov the Great, one of the oldest towns within the Golden Ring. There, we explored the area and buildings located inside the kremlin walls, and learned about the history and production of porcelain enamel, for which the city is known. Works that had started as small quarter-sized religious icons developed into decorative ornaments for bibles, to non-relgious works of art, to jewelry, and then to almost picture-like portraits.
Within the kremlin walls in Rostov
Our last destination before returning to Moscow that day was Sergiyev Posad. This was probably the favorite part of our two-day excursion outside of Moscow. We visited a little shop where we learned about the history, evolution, and different styles of the traditional Russian toy, the nested matryoshka dolls. When the first set of dolls was created, the artist named and painted the outermost doll after a girl named Matryona, and the inner dolls were her younger brothers and sisters. We were then able to paint and take with us our own little matryoshka dolls.
In Sergiyev Posad, we also visited the Trinity Lavra of St. Serguis, the most important monastery in the Russian Orthodox church. That night, the Lavra was open for Russian Orthodox Christmas. Many of us were able to witness the Christmas service being held in the Church of the Holy Spirit, but unfortunately, the star strewn, blue-domed Assumption Cathedral was closed that night.