White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal
White Monuments Of Vladimir And Suzdal
Cultural Russian Federation Europe And North America Vladimir Region

These two artistic centres in central Russia hold an important place in the country's architectural history. There are a number of magnificent 12th- and 13th-century public and religious buildings, above all the masterpieces of the Collegiate Church of St Demetrios and the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin.

The ancient city of Vladimir, founded in 1108 by the Kiev Prince Vladimir Monomach, contains an important group of religious and secular monuments. The Cathedral of the Assumption (1158) was intended by Vladimir Monomach's son Andrei Bogolyubskii to be the religious centre of all Russia. It was built in the town Kremlin and is a single-domed structure constructed on six piers: the three naves are surmounted by a delicate drum and a helmet dome. It is 17.7 m wide by 22 m long and 32.3 m high overall. The facade is divided into five sections by embedded columns and is notable for its carved reliefs. The interior decoration is important in Russian art. Most of the 12th-century frescoes were destroyed by Mongols in 1238, but new mural paintings were added in 1408 by the master painters Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chernii, in particular the famous Last Judgement . The iconostasis is a fine Baroque example of 1774.

The Golden Gate (1164) forms part of the 12th-century defences, now demolished. It is a cubic tower with a church dedicated to the Deposition of the Holy Robe on top. The Princely Castle at Bogolyubovo (1165) contains the remains of the 12th-century Royal Palace, in the form of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin and the Staircase Tower of Andrei Bogolyubskii. The cathedral is a 17th-century building on the site of the original structure. There is a tent-roofed bell tower of the 17th century.

The Church of the Intercession (1165) on the Nerl River is located at the point of the original river gate of Vladimir. It has a single dome supported on four piers with a helmet dome at the crossing and reliefs on the upper part of the exterior walls. The Cathedral of St Demetrius (1194-97) is a royal church, built to the order of Grand Prince Vsevolod III. It is cubic in form, with three internal naves and a helmet dome. The exterior is noteworthy for over 1,000 stone carvings on the general theme of King David.

Suzdal, which lies some 25 km north of Vladimir on the bank of the Kamenka River, was the site of a settlement in the 9th and 10th centuries, which became a fortress in the 11th century. A civil settlement (posad ) developed around it, housing craftsmen and shopkeepers, and monasteries were attracted to the area in the 13th and 14th centuries. Despite some regularization in 1788, the street pattern remains much as it was in the earlier period. The Kremlin (fortress) is surrounded by earthen ramparts. Within, dominating the whole town stands the Cathedral of the Nativity, built in the 13th century and reconstructed in the 16th century, with its five-domed top and 13th-century Golden Doors.

Important monuments in the posad include several cubic churches of the 16th and 17th centuries with tent roofs, such as that of the Convent of the Deposition of the Holy Robe and the Refectory Church of the Assumption, a number of 18th-century churches, often in pairs, such as those of the Convent of the Intercession, and several monasteries. The most important of the latter is the Monastery of Our Saviour and St Euthymius, founded in 1352, with its Cathedral of the Transfiguration built in the 16th century but in the 12th-century tradition of Vladimir.

On the right bank of the Nerl River at Kideksha, 5 km east of Suzdal, is the Church of St Boris and St Gleb. It is of great architectural importance, as it was the first church in Russia to be built from white limestone, the style that came to characterize above all else the 12th-century architecture of Vladimir. It is small with three apses on its eastern side. It is plain, with little decoration, although remains of medieval frescoes were revealed in 1947.

The buildings in Vladimir and Suzdal (especially the latter) have been the centre of a major cultural tourism effort for several decades and a good deal of restoration has been carried out. It is difficult to evaluate the quality and extent of this restoration from the dossiers, but personal observation shows that it has respected the traditional techniques and materials.