Out in the countryside
Suzdal Travel Blog› entry 5 of 17 › view all entries
The hotel we stay at in Suzdal is cute, it only has a dozen or so rooms and looks just like a Russian country house made of dark wood. Suzdal is officially a city with over ten thousand residents and a history that dates back to 1024, but yesterday evening when we strolled through some streets in search of a place to eat, we found out it still looks and feels like a small village. Many streets remain unpaved, chicken and live stock are a common sight next to charming wooden houses with decorative window frames. There are no high buildings and just about every third building is a church. Next to that, there are open fields, meadows and streams everywhere, even when you are in the city centre.
It is a lovely place to walk around, it’s almost a pity to focus on convents and churches, since it is obvious the biggest attraction of Suzdal is the actual atmosphere of Suzdal itself. Since there is only so much atmosphere you can taste, we decide to have a look at the Convent of the Intercession. It’s not a very handsome convent, but I was intrigued by it because of the stories and secrets the place has.
The convent was founded in 1364 as a place of exile for unwanted wives of tsars who had somehow disappointed their husbands. One of those discarded women was Solomonia Saburova, the first wife of Vasily III. She was send to this convent in 1520 because she appeared infertile. The story goes that she actually did become pregnant, but that by the time she found about her condition, the divorce proceedings had already started and she was sure nobody would believe her.
A baby boy was born at the convent, but fearing her son would be seen as a dangerous rival to any sons produced by Vasily’s new wife, Solomonia secretly had him adopted while she pretended he had died shortly after being born. There was a mock burial and even an empty tomb.
Later it turned out Solomonia had made the right decision, for Vasily’s second wife did give birth to a son, and not just any son : Ivan the Terrible.
We end up at the market square in the city centre, where local people spread out the products of the land: potatoes, cabbages, apples and so on. I secretly take pictures of the local people, not because I don’t want them to turn their backs on me, but because I don’t want posed pictures. It is as if I’m looking at a different world when I see them, it is impossible to believe we are all Europeans.
Suzdal also has a Kremlin, and like all other Russian Kremlins it was originally a fortress or citadel that functioned as the religious and administrative centre of the city. The old fortress, that dates back to the tenth century, is very nicely located on a bend of the Kamenka river. We’re not really interested in entering more churches (after all, many more will follow), but the bright blue domes of the Cathedral of Nativity are worth a pause. We’re hoping to find a different sight than another church, cathedral or convent and luckily Suzdal has a perfect offer for anybody who is getting tired of religious buildings: the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life.
It is an open-air museum that illustrates old peasant life from this region in Russia. There are log houses, windmills, a barn and lots of displays of tools and handicrafts. The museum also contains the wooden Transfiguration Church from 1756 and the wooden Resurrection Church form 1776. It seems impossible to completely escape from any church while in Russia…
What we enjoy most while walking around in this museum are the employers that are dressed up in traditional clothing, they are the first Russians we see that are able to smile, and the musicians that play traditional music. It is a lovely diversion to visit this museum, and the absolute highlight of Suzdal.
Since the day isn’t over when we are done at the open-air museum, we decide to visit the Monastery of Saint Euthymius.
The monastery also contains a prison form 1764, that originally housed religious dissidents. The prison was also in use during the Soviet period. The prison now houses a museum about the monastery’s military history.