Vladimir is a city in Russia, located on the Klyazma River, 200 kilometers (124 mi) to the east of Moscow along the M7 motorway. It is the administrative center of Vladimir Oblast. As of the 2002 Census, it had 315,954 inhabitants. Vladimir was one of the medieval capitals of Russia, and two of its cathedrals are a World Heritage Site.
The area occupied by the city of Vladimir has been inhabited by humans (at least intermittently) for approximately 25,000 years. Traditionally, the founding date of Vladimir has been acknowledged as 1108, which is the date of the first mention of Vladimir in the Primary Chronicle. This view attributes the founding of the city, and its name, to Vladimir Monomakh, who inherited the region as part of the Rostov-Suzdal principality in the 11th century. Its foundation is traditionally attributed to Vladimir's desire to distance himself from the ancient centers of boyar power, such as Rostov and Suzdal. In 1958, the 850th anniversary of the city foundation was celebrated, with many monuments from the celebrations adorning the city squares.
In the 1990s, there has evolved a new opinion that the city is older than this. They reinterpreted certain passages in the Hypatian Codex, which mentions that the region was visited by Vladimir the Great, the "father" of Russian Orthodoxy, in 990, so as to move the city foundation date to that year. The defenders of the previously uncontested founding year of 1108 dispute the claims of those who support the new date, arguing that the new theory was fabricated in order to provide a reason to have a celebration in 1995.
The neighboring town of Suzdal, for instance, was mentioned in 1024, and yet its 12th century inhabitants alluded to Vladimir as a young town and treated its rulers with arrogance. In the words of a major chronicle, they said that the people of Vladimir were "their kholops and scions". In the seniority conflicts of the 12th and early 13th centuries, Vladimir was repeatedly described as a "young town" compared to Suzdal and Rostov. The Charter of Vladimir, the basic law of the city passed in 2005, explicitly mentions 990 as the date of the city's foundation.
Regardless of which founding date is most accurate, the city's most historically significant events occurred after the turn of the 12th century. Serving its original purpose as a defensive outpost for the Rostov-Suzdal principality, Vladimir had little political or military influence throughout the reign of Vladimir Monomakh (1113–1125), or his son Yury Dolgoruky (1154–1157).
Later it became the center of Vladimir-Suzdal principality, when Monomakh's son Yury Dolgoruky moved the seat of Great Princes of Russia from Kiev to Vladimir, thus actually transferring the capital of the country and beginning the city's Golden Age, which lasted until the Mongol invasion of Russia.
At that time, Vladimir was one of Europe's largest and most beautiful cities, enjoying immense growth and prosperity. Yury's sons, Andrew the Pious and Vsevolod the Big Nest, confirmed and enforced Vladimir's status as the capital by moving the seat of the Russian metropolitan from Kiev to Vladimir.
Scores of Russian, German, and Georgian masons worked on Vladimir's white stone cathedrals, towers, and palaces. Unlike any other northern buildings, their exterior was elaborately carved with the high relief stone sculptures. Only three of these edifices stand today: the Assumption Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. Demetrius, and the Golden Gate. During Andrei's reign, a royal palace in Bogolyubovo was built, as well as the world-famous Intercession Church on the Nerl, now considered the jewel of ancient Russian architecture.
On February 8, 1238, Vladimir was besieged and taken by the Mongol-Tatar hordes under Batu Khan. A great fire destroyed 32 limestone buildings on the first day only, while the grand prince and all his family perished in a church where they sought refuge from the fire.
After the Mongols, Vladimir never fully recovered, and even though it remained capital through the middle of the 14th century and continued as the seat of the metropolitans of Russia, it gradually lost its political significance to the new principalities of Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod.
Nevertheless, the highest title of Russian monarchs remained "the Grand Prince of Vladimir". The monarchs were originally crowned in Vladimir's Assumption Cathedral, but when Moscow officially superseded Vladimir as the Russian capital, a similar cathedral was loosely copied by Italian architects after Vladimir's original and built in the Moscow Kremlin. On the other hand, Muscovite monarchs built several new churches in Vladimir, notably the Annunciation church at Snovitsy (ca. 1501), three kilometers north-west from the city, and a charming cathedral of the Knyaginin nunnery (ca. 1505), with its energetic murals from 1648.
Modern Vladimir is a part of the Golden ring of the ancient Russian cities and a significant tourist center. Its three chief monuments, White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage List, are the magnificent Assumption Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. Demetrius and the Golden Gate.
The magnificent five-domed Assumption Cathedral was designed as a sepulcher of grand princes and dedicated to the holy icon Theotokos of Vladimir, which had been brought to the city by Andrew the Pious. The cathedral was constructed in 1158–1160, expanded in 1185–1189, and painted by the great Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chyorny in 1408. In 1810, they added a lofty bell-tower in Neoclassical style.
The warrior-like cathedral of St. Demetrius was built in 1194–1197 as a private chapel of Vsevolod the Big Nest in the courtyard of his palace and was consecrated to his holy patron, St. Demetrius. For all its formal unity, the cathedral represents a truly international project of Russian and Byzantine masters, Friedrich Barbarossa's masons, and carvers sent by Queen Tamara of Georgia.
The Golden Gate, originally a tower over the city's main gate, was built in 1158–1164. The gate acquired its present form after having been grossly reconstructed in the late 18th century, to prevent the dilapidated structure from tumbling down.