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26 February 2020

ACE Tour Director Alex Koller offers his view on why The Golden Ring is an umissable part of Russia's culture.


Alex Koller on Russia's Golden Ring


The ‘Golden Ring’ describes a collection of old Russian cities and monasteries in the vicinity of Moscow. There is no definitive list, and it is strictly speaking not a full circle either. Most casual travellers to Russia see a couple of the sites. Some of the places are even among the most important religious or cultural centres of the country: for example, the great Trinity-Sergius Monastery in Sergiev Posad, or the ancient Russian capitals of Vladimir and Suzdal’.

The most famous places on the Golden Ring are to the northeast of Moscow, and while they are undoubtedly worth seeing it is also important to go off the beaten track, as we do on this tour – for example, to the northern city of Vologda and the two great northern monasteries of Kirillovo and Ferapontovo, the latter a UNESCO World Heritage site. Equally special and little visited are the places to the east and south of Moscow, like Murom and Ryazan’, or the recently restored unique New Jerusalem Monastery in Istra, a monumental paraphrase on the Holy Sepulchre in the language of the Russian Baroque.


Cathedral dome, Voskresensky New-Jerusalem Monastery, Istra


There are different theories how and when the term ‘Golden Ring’ originated: it may indeed be an arc rather than a circle, but the golden domes of so many of the churches really do form one of most abiding memories of this area. The Golden Ring offers one of the most impressive collections of visually impressive monuments that I know. One does not have to be an expert in Russian architecture to be utterly captivated by the picturesque beauty of sites like the Rostov Kremlin, the richness of the churches of Yaroslavl or the sheer monumentality of the Cathedral of Ryazan’. Admittedly, at first sight these traditional Russian churches look rather alike to the eyes of the outsider, but the joy of the tour also lies in understanding how they work and how they evolved.


Kirillo-Belozersky monastery, Kirillov


Apart from the main monuments, which tend to be churches and monasteries, the tour offers a great experience of the Russian city, away from Moscow and St Petersburg. Rather unexpected to many are the spaciousness and palatial qualities of a city like Kostroma with its neoclassical layout and survival of wooden architecture. We even notice how Soviet town-planning worked constructively in the continuity of this tradition to create lively and successful urban spaces, for example in Ryazan’.

If one had very limited time to get to know Russia, I would advise to visit the Golden Ring. More than even Moscow or St Petersburg it gives an impression of the variety of Russian town and country life: village scenes as well as monumental architecture, traditional culture and the impact of modern life, all against a backdrop of the succession of radical changes that Russia underwent in the 20th century. We see subtle changes in scenery, plenty of forest and some of Russia’s most important rivers like the Volga, Oka and Moskva. I have never met anyone who was not profoundly impressed with the monuments on this tour. This is truly Russia from its most attractive angle.


See Alex's Russia's Golden Ring tour here, visiting the architecturally beautiful towns of the Golden Ring that encircles Moscow, as well as less frequently visited sites away from the tourist trail.