It was foggy when we arrived at Pushkarka Sloboda.
The train arrived on time. I slept okay, but was still a little tired as
was each of us. The Sundowner driver met the train with a minibus. We
headed to Suzdal. Neither Alaine nor the driver appeared to know which
hotel was the destination, but a phone call at a little before six o’clock
cleared that up. We arrived at Pushkarka Sloboda a little after six. Our
rooms were ready! So we all cleaned up, and had breakfast which started at
7:00 am. It turns out this will be a wash since we have an early train to
Moscow and will be leaving tomorrow before the breakfast room opens.
We met our guide in Suzdal at 9:00. Sergei is a young man with a
history degree, who is a guide with the Vladimir museum. Our first stop
was an open air wooden architecture museum. Interesting to note that this
museum does appear at all in the Suzdal section of the Lonely Planet Guide
for the Trans-Siberian Railroad. There were traditional buildings, dating
mostly from the nineteenth century. They had been collected (under the
Soviet regime) from the area and reassembled at that site. There were two
churches, one chapel, three peasant houses, and a couple of windmills. Most
villages had two churches, one of which was much bigger than the other.
The smaller one was for use during the winter in order to save heating
Vladimir's city gate is under restoration.
The smallest peasant house had no attached shed for tool storage and
such. The medium one had that, but still only two rooms of which but one
was heated. Sergei said that the doorway was small to ensure that anyone
coming in would have no choice but to bow his head in respect to the head
of the household and to the icon at the place of honor, or “red corner” of the
Sergei points out the "red corner" of the house.
The wealthy peasant house was under restoration and so we could
not go in. It had two stories, and the family would have lived in the upper
one. The lower floor would have been for work functions for both the
family and for hired hands. I asked if these peasants would have owned the
land. Sergei answered that the wealthy peasant might have owned some, but
could have been a renter. Mostly likely he would not have been a serf
before 1861. Both the middle and poor peasants would have been tenants,
and would have been serfs before the 1861 liberation.
We walked on over to the Kremlin area. This town looks like pictures
from Photographs for the Tsar! “Kremlin” refers to a fortified area where
townspeople gathered if necessary to defend themselves. The Nativity of the
Virgin Cathedral was originally constructed of limestone in the 1220s. It
was destroyed by fire when the Mongols attacked in 1249. Internal timbers
burned and the upper walls collapsed. It was rebuilt afterward with red brick
atop the limestone foundation, five domes were added in typical fashion, and
whole outside covered with whitewash. “The Golden Doors of Suzdal” are
still there, and survived because they are of copper (bronze perhaps?) and
only have a little gold leaf on the images. The iconostasis is a five-tiered
affair which is quite typical of the traditional style. The frescoes are mostly
from the nineteenth century and are very bright in color. Restoration work
has recovered some of the older frescoes underneath. Two saints of Suzdal’s
relics are commemorated there. They are both bishops of old: St. John and
Suzdal today has about eleven thousand inhabitants, about the same as
eight to ten centuries ago when it was the seat of a sizeable principality. We
saw the outside of the Monastery of St. Euthymius, which has also served as
a prison in recent centuries. Prince Dmitri Pozharsky, who drove Polish
invaders from Moscow in 1612, is buried there. After looking at Suzdal
from several vista points, we went on to Vladimir.
Vladimir succeeded Suzdal as the regional capital. The Assumption
Cathedral there was erected in the twelfth century and served well into the
fifteenth century as the coronation site of the tsars. This cathedral was
expanded into five sections because it was destroyed by fire not long after it
was finished. This change led to the addition of four smaller domes and so it
is in the style of Kiev Cathedral. The smaller Cathedral of Saint Demetrius
was for the prince’s use, and has only one dome and three sections. The
frescoes there are under reconstruction. The older ones’ style shows that
they were painted by Byzantine artists because of the Greek-style faces.
Soviet Union? Huh?? What’s that?? It’s almost the feeling I get
around here. Especially in St. Petersburg. But Sergei pointed out that the
statues of Lenin still stand along the main avenues in both Vladimir and
Suzdal. A couple of days ago, I did see a Communist “demonstration” in
Saint Petersburg along Nevsky Prospekt. That consisted of a row of older
ladies holding placards and USSR flags.
This is a lengthy entry for just one day, but today’s was a very