Rostov is one of the oldest towns in Russia and an important tourist centre of the so called Golden Ring. It is located on the shores of Lake Nero in Yaroslavl Oblast, which population is about 35,300 (2002).
While the official name of the town is Rostov, it is better known to Russians as Rostov the Great. This name is used to distinguish it from Rostov on Don, which is now a much larger city. Rostov Yaroslavsky is the official name of its railway station (due to its position in Yaroslavl Oblast); the town itself is hardly ever called so.
Rostov was predated by Tsarskoye Gorodishche, which some scholars interpret as the capital of the Merya tribe, while others think it was an important Viking trade enclave and fortress guarding the Volga trade route. First mentioned in the year 862 as an already important settlement, by the 13th century Rostov became capital city of one of the most prominent Russian principalities. It was incorporated into Muscovy in 1474.
Even after it lost its independence, Rostov was still an ecclesiastic center of utmost importance. In the 14th century the bishops of Rostov became archbishops and late in the 16th century, metropolitans. It is to one of those metropolitans, Iona (Jonah) Sysoevich (ca. 1607-1690) that the town owes its main landmark, the Kremlin that many regard as the finest outside of Moscow. Ravaged by the Mongols in the 13th-14th centuries (last sack by Edigu in 1408) and Poles in 1608, Rostov is now little more than a sleepy village.
Apart from its history, Rostov is renowned for its enamels.
The central square of Rostov is occupied by the enormous Assumption cathedral. It is not known when the present building was erected, mid-16th century being the most likely date. Lower parts of the cathedral walls are dated to the 12th century. The ponderous bell-tower was constructed mostly in the 17th century. Its bells are among the largest and most famous in Russia; each has its own name. The largest bell, cast in 1688, weighs some 32000 kilograms. It is named Sysoi to honor the metropolitan's father.
An area situated between the cathedral square and the lake was chosen by Iona Sysoevich as a place for his fairy-tale residence. All the construction works were carried out between 1667 and 1694. Major buildings include the ornate Savior Church-na-Senyakh (1675), the Church of St Gregory (1670), the barbican churches of St John the Apostle (1683) and of the Resurrection of Christ (1670). The residence, often erroneously called Kremlin, also includes eleven towers of fanciful appearance, numerous palaces, several small belfries and the diminutive baroque Church of Our Lady of Smolensk (1693). All the churches are elaborately painted and decorated.
The cathedral and four tall Kremlin churches with their silver "blind" domes were imitated throughout the city. This tendency is particularly evident in the Savior-on-the-Market church and the cathedral church of the Nativity convent, both dating from the 17th century and situated near the Kremlin walls. The oldest church within the city centre was consecrated to St Isidore the Blessed in 1565. They say that Ivan the Terrible had the architect executed, because his church was so much smaller than its predecessor.
The Kremlin is flanked by two great monasteries, both facing the Lake Nero. To the right from the Kremlin stands the Abraham monastery, founded in the 11th century and one of the oldest in Russia. Its cathedral, commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in 1553 to commemorate the conquest of Kazan, inspired numerous churches in the region, particularly in Yaroslavl.
The Yakovlevsky monastery, situated to the left from the Kremlin on the town's outskirts, has been greatly venerated as the shrine of St Dmitry of Rostov. Most of the monastery structures were built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the fine neoclassical style. There are also two 17th-century churches, dedicated to the Conception of St Anna and to the Transfiguration of Our Savior. Unlike most other churches in the town, the monastery belongs to the Russian Orthodoxy and houses a theological seminary.
The vicinity of Rostov is rich in old architecture. For example, an old wooden church (1687-89) may be seen in the village of Ishnia. One of the best preserved monasteries in Russia, that of Sts Boris and Gleb, is situated in Borisoglebsky, about 20 km west of the town. The monastery was favored by Ivan the Terrible who personally supervised the construction of towered walls and bell-tower around an even more ancient cathedral. The only addition made to the monastery after Ivan's death is a superb barbican church, commissioned by the metropolitan Iona Sysoevich.