A unique tour around six Russian World Heritage Sites, not offered by Russian tour operators.
The 71st anniversary of the foundation of UNESCO is a great occasion for a long journey to visit world heritage sites. The tour includes four cities — Moscow, Sergiev Posad, Yaroslavl, St. Petersburg, and the small village of Ferapontovo with the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Cathedral in Ferapontovo Monastery, which has preserved splendid frescoes from the 15th century.
It would be fitting to start the Russian UNESCO sites tour from Kilometer Zero. And in this case, this is not only a fine gesture. The Kilometer Zero sign is located on Red Square. In 1990, the Kremlin architectural ensemble, including the unrivaled Pokrovsky Cathedral (commonly called St. Basil's Cathedral) and Red Square itself were named World Heritage Sites. Red Square is a place where history and culture lovers can spend their whole vacation opening a new chapter of its history every day and observing endless museum exhibitions — this place never fails to amaze with a mixture of epochs, each of which is represented here by some characteristic feature: a special architecture style, the splendor of merchants» rows, or the embalmed revolutionary leader. Or you can simply take a few photos and hurry off to southwestern Moscow to see the next stop on the tour.
The Novodevichi Convent was founded by Vasily III in 1524 on the occasion of his conquest of Smolensk, which had been under the reign of Lithuania for over a century. The convent is still in operation. Its most recognizable structures date to the 17th century in the gingerbread style of the Muscovite baroque. Its bell tower is profusely decorated with white-stone ringlets on the red brick. The grounds include a cemetery with the tombs of notable people of the past: Gogol, Chekhov, and even Khrushchev. There is also a museum with a rich collection of fine stitching work, including gold embroidery. The Novodevichi Convent was named a UNESCO site in 2004.
The Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye village is another site dating back to the Vasily III era. Erected in the early 1530s, it was long the tallest building in Moscow (60 meters). It was the first stone-steepled church in Russia, which gave rise to a whole style of Russian architecture. Today, its white-stone hipped roof delights architects from all over the world. In 1994, the Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye was added to the world heritage list, and in 2000 its was once again consecrated and is now an operating church. The church is a part of the Kolomenskoye museum preserve, whose grounds regularly serve as a venue for concerts, exhibitions, and permanent expositions.
The Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity at Sergiev Posad is a treasury of Russian history of the 15th to 18th centuries. Within its walls, Sergius of Radonezh blessed Dmitry Donskoy before the Battle of Kulikovo, and thereafter all monarchs of the Russian Empire visited this place. The monastery was added to the list of world Heritate Sites in 1993. Today, it is a functioning monastery with strict rules for tourist visits; however, it is attractive not only for pilgrims: each church is the equivalent of a museum, where ecclesiastical academy students lead excursions and tell about the past and present of the monastery. The tomb of Boris Godunov, the legendary icon of The Trinity by Andrey Rublev, masterful ceramic tiles, remarkable fresco paintings, and many gems of Russian culture can be found in the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity at Sergiev Posad.
The historical center of Yaroslavl became a UNESCO site in 2005, and five years later the city celebrated its 1,000th anniversary. Located at the influx of the Kotorosl river into the Volga, Yaroslavl delights its guests from all sides: tourists come here both by water and by land. The historic center, with its ancient churches, merchants» houses and shops, was added to the world heritage list because of its perfect preservation: it is as if the perfidious 20th century passed the city by. It is very rich in museums, ancient churches, galleries, souvenir shops, and cozy restaurants with a view of a typical 19th-century city, where you can taste true Russian ukha (fish soup), shchi (cabbage soup), and original nastoikas (liqueurs).
St. Therapontus Monastery was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 2000. The walls of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary located in the monastery are covered with unique frescoes crafted by Dionysius in the 15th century. The signature pastel shades and deeply moving narrative of Dionysius's fresco paintings provoke bouts of Stendhal syndrome even in experienced art critics. The finest restoration techniques are used to preserve the frescoes in the harsh climate of the Vologda region.
The monastery is 115 km away from the capital of the region, Vologda, and is situated in a quiet place with no long lines of visitors, unlike the neighboring Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery (which attracts many visitors due to its convenient location on the bank of Lake Siverskoye, connected to Severodvinsk channel by the Shexna navigable waterway). St. Therapontus Monastery, on the other hand, puts you in a meditative frame of mind. It is not currently an operating monastery: within its walls are museums of Dionysius's frescoes and the old Russian art. However, religious services are still conducted here. In summer, the museum invites volunteers for simple but important work to improve the UNESCO site.
Various places become UNESCO sites for two main reasons: either the site is extremely typical for a certain location or culture, or, on the contrary, it is atypical enough in the surrounding environment to be amazing just by virture of its existence. St. Petersburg is among the latter. A city that seems to have been erected on the swamps simply at a whim of Peter the Great in imitation of Europe appears to be a very Russian version of the Old World. Its center and a multitude of man-made objects in its surroundings were named a single UNESCO site, one of the largest, in 1990, concurrently with the Moscow Kremlin.