The city of Suzdal is the administrative center of the Suzdal district of the Vladimir region with a population of 9,865 people (2016). Located on the river Kamenka (tributary of the Nerl), 26 km north of Vladimir. In 1974, the city was awarded the Order of Honor for the promotion of cultural heritage, preservation and restoration of monuments of ancient Russian art and architecture, the development of mass tourism and in connection with the 950 anniversary. Suzdal is actually a city-museum, which is included in the Golden Ring of Russia. Suzdal is a historical city included in the list of historical settlements (2010) of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.


Suzdal is a city with a thousand-year history. As archaeological research shows, it originated on the basis of the ancient Slavic settlement of the beginning of the 10th century. The Suzdal land is a rich fertile Opolye, and therefore the inhabitants of the settlement were engaged, first of all, by farming, as well as by handicraft and trade.

At the beginning of the 11th century, settlement "Suzhdal" (as it was called in the "Tale of Bygone Years") was part of the Kiev state. Suzdal was first mentioned in the annals in 1024 in connection with the uprising, raised by smerds (oppressed peasants) who suffered crop failures for several years, against the well-off city elders. The unhappy smerds were led by the Magi (the pagan priests who resisted the spread of Christianity), who covered their struggle with a religious banner. The Kiev prince Yaroslav the Wise came to suppress the uprising in Suzdal.

After the death of Yaroslav the Wise in 1054, the struggle began between his sons for possessions, as a result of which rich northeastern lands were assigned to Vladimir Monomakh. It was he who at the turn of the 11th-12th centuries undertook the construction of the Suzdal fortress (the Kremlin) to protect the city from the raids of the Volga Bulgarians, as well as the great Assumption Cathedral.

During the reign of Monomakh's son, Yury Dolgoruky, Suzdal became the capital of the Rostov-Suzdal principality. Nearby, in the village of Kideksha, there was also the residence of the prince, with the chambers and the church of Boris and Gleb.

Autocratic politics of Andrey Bogolyubsky (son of Yury Dolgoruky) was expressed, in particular, in the transfer of the capital from Suzdal to Vladimir, the construction of a fortress there with the Golden Gate and the main princely temple – the Assumption Cathedral. Following the example of his father, Prince Andrey founded a country residence, Bogolyubov-town, at a strategically advantageous place of the confluence of the rivers Nerl and Klyazma. Prince Andrey led a stubborn struggle with the old boyars of Rostov and Suzdal, the practice of veche gatherings, seeking recognition of his sole authority. The old Rostov-Suzdal nobility resisted the policy of Bogolyubsky, relying on the dissatisfaction of the boyars of the Kuchkovichs, who organized the plot and murder of Prince Andrey in 1174. But after the death of Andrey Bogolyubsky, Suzdal did not get the primacy and became part of the Vladimir principality.

Having risen to the Vladimir-Suzdal reign, the younger brother of A. Bogolyubsky, Vsevolod III the Big Nest concentrated his attention not only on Vladimir, but also on the arrangement of Suzdal. With his participation, the fence of the Suzdal Kremlin was updated, the commercial land, which grew up under Yury Dolgoruky, was expanded, three monasteries were built – of Kozma and Domian (at the confluence of the Gremyachka River in Kamenka), of St. Demetrius (on the Vladimir road) and of the Deposition of the Robe (on the big Yaroslavl road, behind the land). However, despite territorial expansion, in political terms Suzdal remained a secondary city.

After the death of Vsevolod III the Big Nest, the huge Vladimir-Suzdal principality was divided among his numerous sons. In 1217, Suzdal, and then Vladimir, were given to Prince Yury (George) Vsevolodovich. He completely disassembled the Assumption Cathedral, erected at the time of Vladimir Monomakh and repeatedly completed. The new temple was called the Cathedral of the Nativiny of the Virgin and conquered by its beauty and grandeur of contemporaries.

Following Vladimir, in February 1238 Suzdal was plundered and burnt during the Mongol invasion. The Vladimir-Suzdal squad was defeated by the enemies on the river Sit. On the battlefield, the Grand Duke George Vsevolodovich himself fell. During the period of the Mongol rule, the Vladimir Grand Duke's throne lost its power. Suzdal became a specific principality and the center of church life. Here were built new monasteries – Trinity, of St. Alexander and of St. Basil.

In the middle of the 14th century, in connection with the growing influence of Moscow, the Suzdal prince Konstantin Vasilyevich turned Suzdal into an outpost on the border with the Moscow principality, and transferred the capital from Suzdal to Nizhny Novgorod. By this time the foundation of the two largest monasteries-fortresses of Suzdal – Spassky (Savior-Euthymius) and Pokrovsky (Intercession) – belongs.

All the original buildings of the monasteries of the 13th-14th centuries were wooden and not preserved. But they determined the extreme points of the city and places of architectural ensembles created by Suzdal architects of the 16th-17th centuries. In total, eleven monasteries were built in Suzdal, and to this day five have survived.

Despite many attempts of the Suzdal-Nizhny Novgorod princes to maintain independence, at the end of the 15th-the beginning of the 16-th centuries Suzdal fell under Moscow's rule. The largest monasteries of the city, where stone construction began, turned into places of exile of representatives of the old princely and boyar families and received rich deposits and donations. The Suzdal bishop received the title of archbishop. In the middle of the 16th century Ivan IV the Terrible often visited Suzdal, especially the Intercession Monastery and the bishop's chambers.

By the end of the 16th century in the main, there was a planning of Suzdal. Actually, the city was called the Kremlin, to the east of which was a commercial part – the posad with a trade area and a lot of crooked streets, where inhabitants of the posad and craftsmen lived. Behind it were settlements and sides with many churches, which belonged mainly to the bishop and monasteries. In the floodplains of the river stretched vast meadows, which were the possessions of the Suzdal archbishop.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Suzdal, like many towns near Moscow, was plundered by Polish-Lithuanian troops. In 1612, a large squad of inhabitants of Suzdal led by voevoda Izmaylov (governor of a province) took part in the people's militia, which was headed by Prince D.M. Pozharsky, who owned lands under Suzdal. In 1642 D.M. Pozharsky was buried in a family burial vault on the territory of the Savior-Euthymius Monastery. In 2009, destroyed for three and a half centuries, Pozharsky's mausoleum was restored with the utmost precision.

In the 17th century Suzdal experienced many disasters: crop failures and peasant unrest; attacks of Crimean Tatars (1634); a terrible fire (1644), which destroyed the entire posad; epidemic of plague (1654), which destroyed almost half of the city's population. But Suzdal recovered from the misfortunes and began to rebuild anew. The scale of church construction in the late 17th century was observed, first of all, in the monasteries with economic power, especially in the Savior-Euthymius and Intercession. The ruling at that time Suzdal Diocese Metropolitan Hilarion for 26 years managed to build about 70 stone buildings. There were outstanding architects of this period in the city – the townspeople I. Mamin, I. Gryaznov and A. Shmakov.

In the 18th century monastic construction was reduced, however, the parish wooden churches were replaced by stone ones. Most of the monuments of Suzdal in this period were concentrated on the trading land and in settlements, they were built on means of trading people. The stone merchant houses began to appear.

In 1708 Suzdal was assigned to the Moscow governorate as a county town, and in 1709, when the Moscow governorate was divided into nine provinces, it became the center of the Suzdal province. In 1714, in accordance with the decree of Peter I, the first primary school was established in the city, to which a teacher was appointed from Moscow, and in 1723 – a theological seminary, the graduate of which was a famous chemist D.I. Vinogradov, the inventor of Russian porcelain, a friend of M.V. Lomonosov.

In the middle of the 18th century the famous chronicle work of Anania Fedorov, the key-holder of the Nativity Cathedral, "The Historical Collection about the City of Suzhdal" was published, which appeared in print only a century later, and was supplemented later with information from other local lore specialists.

In 1778, Suzdal received the status of a county town of the Vladimir governorship (since 1796, – Vladimir province). In 1781, along with other city coats of arms of the Vladimir governorship, the coat of arms of Suzdal was confirmed: on the blue-red field there was a turned falcon, in natural color with golden eyes and paws, with wings raised to the right and crowned with a golden prince's crown. Falcon – a symbol of princely power in Russia, coming from Rurikovich, – was depicted, in particular, on the coins of the Suzdal-Nizhny Novgorod principality in the 14th century. The Suzdal emblem, unlike the coats of arms of other cities of the Vladimir province, did not receive the image of a lion (a symbol belonging to the coat of arms of Vladimir) on its shield. This is how the period of history was fixed, when Suzdal was independent of Vladimir, and paid tribute to the antiquity of Suzdal compared with Vladimir. The historical coat of arms of Suzdal with minor amendments was retained by the decision of the Council of People's Deputies of the city in 2003.

In 1788 a new general plan of Suzdal was approved, which provided for strict rectangular blocks and straight streets. But the old layout was quite stable, and the reconstruction only straightened and lengthened the central street and expanded the boundaries of the city. Now Suzdal included not only the old central part, but also suburbs – monasteries with handicraft settlements.

In the 19th century, stone construction continued in accordance with the regular plan In Suzdal. In 1806-1811 years, the Shopping Rows (Gostiny Dvor) was built (according to the project of the provincial architect A. Vershinsky), surrounded by a gallery on the pair classical columns, with portal gates,  completed with a spire with a gilded falcon on the spearhead. It was the first Empire-style building in the city, set on the main cobbled square. In 1834, the building for public authorities (the Presence Places) was built, a typical government house of that time (now it houses the Suzdal registry office).

In the construction of the city a great contribution was made by the rich merchant class. At the expense of the merchant V.M. Blokhin the Blokhinsky almshouse was built (now it houses the Suzdal Art College). The central street was built up with stone houses in different architectural styles by Merchants Zhinkins, Zhilins, Nazarovs, Gryaznovs, Firsovs and others. Gradually, Suzdal acquired the face, familiar today.

The inhabitants of the city engaged mainly in olericulture, gardening and art crafts (chasing silver, icon painting, woodcarving, patterned weaving).

In the 19th century, Suzdal developed as a trading center. In the Gostiny Dvor there were 180 shopping benches owned by Suzdal and nonresident merchants. Tradesmen from all over Russia came to the Suzdal annual fair (September 23). However, with the opening of the Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod railroad in 1862, Suzdal ceased to be a trade stop for goods moving from the south to Arkhangelsk and St. Petersburg, and trade in the city began to subside.

By the beginning of 20th century, there was practically no industrial production in Suzdal – only two tanning semi-handicraft plants and one bell-foundry.

A memorable event for Suzdal was the arrival of the imperial family in 1913: Nicholas II and his daughters visited the Deposition of the Robe, the Savior-Euthymius and the Intercession monasteries, presented gifts.  Some of the most valuable icons from the monasteries Nicholas II  transferred for storage to the St. Petersburg Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III, making preliminary copies with them.

After the revolution, many temples and monasteries of Suzdal were closed and adapted to various city needs, 14 churches were demolished. Residents of the city even supported the requisition of church and monastic property, the opening of feretories with relics, burning of icons, which was surprising for one of the religious centers of the country.

Suzdal as a tourist center

In 1923, the Suzdal Museum was opened, housed in the Bishop's Chambers. Its first director V.I. Romanovsky collected more than 3,500 exhibits from closed Suzdal monasteries. At his request, in 1930 A.D. Varganov, a graduate of the Leningrad Higher Courses of Art Studies, was sent to Suzdal, and  replaced V.I. Romanovsky as the director of the museum. Several decennaries, overcoming administrative and financial obstacles, Varganov continued to complete the museum collection, conducted archaeological research in Suzdal, supervised the restoration of the monuments of the city. On his initiative, in 1958 the Vladimir-Suzdal State Unified Museum-Reserve was created. A.D. Varganov – Honorary citizen of Suzdal since 1974, one of the streets of the city was named after him.

Suzdal began to attract more and more excursionists and tourists, including foreign tourists. In 1965, the famous banker Rothschild visited the city, who noted that if he had a chance to rent Suzdal for several years, he would have doubled his fortune.

In 1967, in order to preserve the monuments of history and culture and to develop tourism, a government decree was adopted to establish a tourist center in the city. Huge funds were allocated for the creation of tourist infrastructure (hotels, restaurants, cafes, etc.) outside the old part of Suzdal, carrying out works on the restoration of monuments and improvement of the city. In 1967 the Savior-Euthymius monastery was transferred to the museum-reserve, on the initiative of A.I. Aksenova, director of the museum. This saved the monastery from the previously planned placement in it of the tourist base of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions.

The basis of economic activity in Suzdal today is the industry, focused on the reception and maintenance of tourists: hotel business, catering, production of souvenirs, etc. Since 2003, the family manufactory "Dymov Ceramics" has been working in Suzdal, producing various souvenir and household products made of black-earthenware ceramics and faience. The company carefully preserves Suzdal pottery traditions. Master classes for tourists are held there.

In 2007, the factory "Vladimir patterns" ("Vladimirskie Uzory") moved from Vladimir to Suzdal. It produces wooden art products, with the use of a unique wood painting technique. Also the "Suzdal Medovarny Zavod" (the Mead brewery Plant) works in the city and produces various kinds of mead.

The amazing coloring of an ancient provincial town with a unique architecture, like living decoration, attracts filmmakers. A large number of feature films were filmed in Suzdal: "The marriage of  Balzaminov" (1964), "The snowstorm" (1964), "Andrei Rublev" (1966), "My affectionate and gentle beast" (1978), "The youth of Peter" (1980), "Wizards" (1982), "The Tsar" (2008) and others. On the territory of the hotel complex "Pushkarskaya Sloboda" there is an exhibition "Suzdal in Cinema".

Since 2002, the Suzdal Main Tourist Complex hosts the annual Russian Animated Film Festival, which is the main review of Russian animation.

Suzdal is rightly called a city-museum. It preserved a huge number of monuments of architecture and attractions: the Suzdal Kremlin ensemble with the Bishop's Chambers, the Nativity Cathedral, the Assumption and St. Nicholas churches; architectural ensembles of five monasteries (the Savior-Euthymius, the Intercession, the Deposition of the Robe, St.Alexander and St. Basil monasteries), including museum expositions on the territory of the Savior-Euthymius Monastery; an ensemble of a trading area with Trade rows and six churches; the Posad complex with five churches; nine churches of the Zarechny side; monuments of the settlement Skuchilikhi – a stone town house near the end of the 17th century and two churches; Museum of Wooden Architecture; white-stone church of Boris and Gleb in the village of Kideksha, etc.

Many annual festivals and events are held in Suzdal, attracting a huge number of tourists: Cucumber Day (the third Saturday in July), Apple Savior with bell-ringing (August), Pancake week with goose fights (February), Crafts festival on Trinity (May), Mermaid Week (June), the feast of Bast shoes (July), the festival of Mead (September), etc.

On January 29, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of Suzdal in 2024. This will create good opportunities for the development of the city-museum, the inflow of investments for the preservation of cultural and historical heritage, the accomplishment of the city, the improvement of infrastructure and the attraction of new tourist flows. It is planned in the coming years to increase the tourist flow by 20%, in order to accept two million people a year in Suzdal.

Author: V. Korolkova