Suzdal, Russian Federation


The Suzdal Opol’ye (Suzdal Black Earth Zone) 

природный (ландшафтный) район, занимающий бо́льшую часть Суздальского и Юрьев-Польского административных районов Владимирской области и Гаврилово-Посадского района Ивановской области, а также небольшие части прилегающих  Кольчугинскогои Собинского районов Владимирской области. Находится в бассейнах рек Нерли и Колокши. Ополье простирается примерно на 30 км с юга на север и на 70 км с запада на восток, носит характер волнисто-увалистого плато с абсолютными высотами от 120 до 165 м над уровнем моря, с многочисленными оврагами[1].

The geography of Suzdal, Yuriev-Pol′skogo administrative sub-district of the Vladimir region and Gavrilovo-Posad district of Ivanovo oblast, as well as smaller parts of the adjacent districts of the oblast Sobinskovo Kol′čuginskovoi. Located in the basins of the NERL and Kolokši, the Suzdal Opol’ye stretching approximately 30 km from South to North and 70 km from East to West, was a wavy-uvalistogo plateau with heights from 120 to 165 m above sea level, with numerous ravines [1].

Основные города — ВладимирСуздальСудогдаЮрьев-ПольскийГаврилов Посад. Район древнего земледелия близ города Переславля[2]. Исторически Ополье было одним из первых и основных направлений славянской колонизации Северо-Восточной Руси, став политическим ядром Ростово-Суздальской земли.

Major cities are Vladimir, Suzdal, Yuriev-Polsky, Sudogda, Gavrilov Posad. Ancient agriculture area near the town of Pereslavl [2]. Historically, Opol’ye was one of the first and main directions of Slavic colonization of Northeast Russia, becoming the political core of Rostov-Suzdal lands.

Suzdal Pre-history to 1950s

Photos of Suzdal

This strip of rich and fertile black earth begins upon the shores of the Klyazma River. The black earth zone extends along the right bank of the Nerl River, passes through Suzdal, embracing Nebyloye and Yurev-Polski before sloping into the yellow clay soils of the Alexandrov District and finally ending in the dense Pereslav-Zalesskij forests and the headwaters of its companion river, the Nerl.

This zone had been long known as the Suzdal Opol’ye, or as the Zalesskij.

Numerous small  winding and shoaled rivers make thier way into the deep Nerl or fast-flowing Klyazma. Along their upper reaches amidst deep ravines are the bones of ancient, long-extinct beasts  (mastodons and rhinoceros).

On the other hand the soils on the left bank of the Nerl River are poor, its clay forest-floor soils supporting dense pine and deciduous forests, which extend north-east through bottomless swamps and impassable thickets all the way to the Volga.

In contrast to the Opol’ye, this cross-bank side is named “The Dor.”  Here along its sloped banks in forest clearings ruling over broad flood plains appear these great grave stones. Rushing waters of spring floods from year to year wash the great relics of an ancient people.

The excavation of the grave sites yield the bones of man. Amidst the collapsing earth of gritty escarpments one finds the tools of those buried there.  Stone axes and tools of their inventory.

They did not yet know agriculture.  He was a hunter and fisher.  In his hands there was only the stone axe with its rough chiseled surface with an adroitly drilled hole for placement of the wood handle. He knew how to obtain file and work clay with which to make rough dishware.

The absence of settlements corresponding to this period indicate that these people were nomadic, engaged in the early stages of animal husbandry.  Science has established that these peoples existed in our region around 4000 years ago. The immense cemeteries––Bogomolaya Mountain near the village  of Lopatnits and Gremuchaya Gora (Thunder Mountain) near the village of Grigorevna––have been scientifically associated with the so-called Fatyanovo Culture.

The right bank of the Nerl River is high and unforested. Deep ravines slash its surface as if alternating hill and vale.  Several of these heights have been named since ancient times ‘town’ (Gorodki) or village.  This is not by chance.  The ancient villages around the nowadays village of Yakimanskoye even sports earth fortifications­­––trenches.  About 2000 years ago a родовое(clan?) settlement was here.  The large number of domesticated animal bones which archeologists have uncovered here show that these peoples were involved in animal husbandry.  They knew how to fashion metal,  mine iron and fashion small household articles out of it.  remnants of clay cookware found in this settlement  are characterized by рябчатойsurface of the sides with crude impressions of fabric and material.

The inhabitants lived as a big family––they were related.  Horticulture was weakly developed.  The main family wealth consisted of domesticated animals.  In defense of this accrued wealth from neighboring clans, these clans settled above large rivers on heights surrounded by deep ravines.  This singular defense was strengthened through the construction of an earth trench and ditch around the settlement.

Yakimanskoye settlement was one of those rarest of monuments characterizing the begining of the end of the pre-historical era and representing a huge scientific value (find).  This period is called the ‘Dyakovskii Culture.

We do not know which tribes occupied in this period the rich black-earth zone. The herders had in hand only the primitive wooden hoe and did not have within his power the ability to bring under plow the necessary acreage to support himself.

Upon the lower reaches of the Nerl river iron was mined and worked.

The inhabitants of Yakimanskii knew iron from the very first centuries of our era. However, the small items fashioned out of the so-useful metal did not satisfy to any great extent the economical requirements of this man.

They developed experience in fashioning metal, fashioned new metal tools, and man created the iron axe.   The appearance of the iron axe transformed the economy of the inhabitants of our region.

This era saw significant advances in regional agriculture.  Now, in clearing land for agriculture, men were able to clear larger sections of forest, burning off the forests.  The resultant ash thus did not require deep turning of the soil. The grains grew readily in the ash.

The type of agriculture was of short-duration,  called ‘slash and burn’.

The occasional appearance of metal axe-heads of the slash and burn type gave evidence of the appearance of this type of agriculture among our distant forebearers.

Slash and burn method of agriculture was unproductive.  The ash fertilizer was quickly used up. In three-four years there were required to clear new fields for cultivation.

Among the new metal tools, man created the iron plough share.  At this time, the basic agricultural implement became the plow with a metal share.

In the 8th and 9th centuries the dominant form of production became cultivation by plough.  The plough provided the opportunity to bring under cultivation more land. The horse became a working animal. Bringing under plow greater acreages led to accumulation of value.  Great family size gradually diminished.

In the 9th and 10th centuries Slavic tribes settled in this area.  As is evident from manuscript notations Krivich tribes began to settle in the region displacing the older settlements by Meri tribes.

Pg 6.  The contemporaneous development in agriculture led to a greater demand for metal tools. The farmer occupied with agricultural labor did not have time to bring his technology up to date. These conditions required that the means of production be divided, tool-making vis-a-vis tool-using.

Blacksmithing and other trades and crafts began to be concentrated in separate populated centers which were on the flatlands on the river trade routes convenient for exchange and relations with neighbors as well as being in the center of agricultural regions.  Trade developed.

The majority of the Opol’ye rivers became lively trade routes.  Caravans of boats of overseas merchants made their ways to the fruitful plains of a rich land.  The main trade goods were grain, wax, pitch, honey, bast and other items of local derivation.

New manufacturing centers arose, on the basis of which arose the Slavic cities of Rostov and Suzdal.


The Emergence and Development of the City

Suzdal developed as a city at the site of an ancient trade and manufacturing settlement during the period of the decline of family and clan culture at the dawn of the new feudal society.

Archeological excavations and evidence gathered therein allow us to establish the appearance of the first settlement here not later than the 9th century.

This settlement extended on the slope of a narrow cape bordered on three sides by the Kamenka and Gremyachka rivers.  By the end of the 9th century, the settlement was not alone.  In its vicinity along the heights bordering the Kamenka River there were a series of other settlements whose inhabitants farmed, manufactured various things and traded all of the above.   The creation of small settlement where manufacturing took place was not by chance.  Co-located with the main customer––the farmer––and located on the main river routes, the small tradespeople and artisans of the future Suzdal established their settlement in the middle of the Black Earth zone (about 5 versts from the Nerl River) amidst the Slavic farming population of the Susdal Fields.

Pg 7.

This group of settlements the Chronicles grouped collectively as a basic related core under the term “Suzhdali.”  But in the general understanding the Suzhdali addressed not only this core group of craft-based settlements upon the River Kamenka.  The term applied to the whole right bank of the Nerl River up to the Klyazma. Many of the settlements on the Opolye’ side even according to 17th century descriptions were designated “In Suzdal’.’  In the 1676 census in Suzdal in the settlement there were 633 households, with serfs and landless peasants numbering 18,793 households, that is, Suzdal constituted the whole district, as before.

The settlement spread along the banks of the Kamenka River was not some sort of ‘end of the road’ hole. Trade routes connected it with neighboring districts and distant countries. Khazar and Bol’gar traders penetrated into the Suzdal district from the Volga, Oka, Klyazma and Nerl rivers.  Scandinavian merchants made their way down the Baltic Sea across Lake Ladoga down the Shekse to the Volga and onto the Nerl. Routes to the west along two Nerls: The Klyazmen and the Volga Nerl.  The Klyazma River is tortured, short and low-watered in its upper reaches.  The route did not extend further than the trade craft village of Suzdal.

A livelier trade was conducted along the larger and straighter river, Irmiz, near Suzdal.  Its channel penetrates deep into fecund Opolye lands. About halfway up its course on its left bank was located a small village which already in the 5th Century A.D. was one of the earliest craft centers in the northern section of The Suzdal.   A large number of grave sites located along its shores yield a substantial collection of materials characteristic of a trade center in this part of  The Suzdal in the 8th and 9th century.

Coins found in graves near Ves’ were Samanid, Izmail, son of Akhmed, 9th century, Mansoor, son of Nyk, minted in Samarkhan and Bukhara, Buinski coins (noawdays Tatarstan), Hendrick I, minted in Roggensburg, coins from Central Europe (and a recounting of coins minted in the period 1033-1045).

The examination of graves gave us the opportunity to examine the clothing of members of these groups. In the vicinity of this village of Ves’ the skeleton of a man was excavated. pieces of an ‘ant’ pot with handle werе located near the skull; near the temple fourteen bejeweled silver rings; in his left ear an earring; on the shoulder two silver crests, one of them a wound bundle; on his chest there were three silver gilted beads, a small vest and a piece of wool clothing; on the left forearm near the elbow a bronze bracelet, on the right, nothing; on the fingers of the left hand a ring and а finger ring; along his left side the leather legging were sewn with bronze buttons.

In another of the graves near the village of Shokshov another skeleton was uncovered on whose shoulders were various beads, earring in ears, on the chest a medallion with the figure of a horse, bracelets wound about his forearms, with coins on his legs.

In the midst of the items of wealth was ironware of personal use, axe heads, firemaking tools, knives, keys and so forth.

The variety of materials found in the graves allow investigator to discern the rich from the poor. In the 9th and 10th centuries began the differentiation between the wealthy and the poor, developments contributing to the existence of feudalism and the establishment of the cities.

In the beginning of the 11th century this richest of lands consisting of the Volga-Oka intra-river region along with the cities of Rostov, Suzdal and Murom were part of Kiev.  In social development these cities were will on the way to feudalism. Within were concentrated the more prosperous portion of the population growing out of the old kin-shaped society.  The Chronicles call the “Old Section” or the “Best People.”  These were people who knew how to seize the greater land wealth and in addition subjeugate serfs and service people among the independent yeoman.



At the begining of the 11th century, Rostov-Suzdal territories belonged to the Kievian Prince Yaroslav Mudrom, who was at the same time the Prince of Novgorod. In order to strengthen feudalism in Kievian Russia, Yaroslav entered into the state’s regulations his own “Truths.”

In response to the taking of land and the strengthening of serfdom in the Suzdal region revolts flared up in 1024 and coincided with several years of crop failures. The chronicles note ‘The revolt was widespread and hunger stalked the whole land.”

Led by their leaders, the serfs came to Suzdal and “Нача избевать старую чадь, по неже деркюат гобино”,  in other words grab the stored grains.”  Yaroslav himself came from Novgorod to Suzdal to suppress the uprising, or, as the chronicles report, “seize the leaders,  divide them, punish the others.”

The wave of uprisings seized the whole Suzdal district and lasted throughout the whole 11th century.  In 1071 a great uprising engulfed Beloozero, then spread to Rostov. These conditions led to the construction of strengthening of the moat with a wall of large oak logs around the old settlement of Suzdal.  On the river side this moat skirted the Kamenka river a ways, but from the plateau side а deep ditch was dug.  This enclosed fortress came to be called from then on ‘Suzdal.”

After Yaroslav’s death, Suzdal, Rostov and Beloozero came under the rule of his son, Vsevolod, Prince of Russian Pereslav, as an addition to his appanage, then to the son of Vsevolod, Vladimir Monomakh.

he struggle between Oleg chernigovski and the children of Vladimir Monomakh for the principalities of Rostov and Suzdal devastated the land and resulted in the burning of Suzdal.

The chronicles describe how towards 1096 Oleg Chernigovski invaded Suzdal ‘City’, and retreating before the advance of the troops of Mistislav Novgorod, son of Vladimir Monomakh, burned Suzdal down, and in which only remained “the monastery courtyard of the Pecherski Monastery, and the Church of St. Dimitry and a few other church building.” The battle on the Kolochka River ended in Mistislav’s victory. The captured citizen of Suzdal were freed.


p. 10


Ten years later, in 1107, Suzdal endured an attack by the Bulgars.  The Chronicles of Rostov describes it thus: The Bulgars surrounded the city and inflicted much evil upon the defenders and their congregations killing many Christians…Suzdalians gathered in the city.  Mostly the Bulgar incursion was the reason for the appearance in the city the next year of Vladimir Monomakh.

It was the new Christian religion that brought about a strengthening of the feudal order leading to the replacement of family-based beliefs.  On the eve of the 12th century, Vladimir Monomakh visiting the Suzdal region built the first cathedral in honor of the new Christian religion.  Thus, the Suzdal Cathedral in contrast to the wooden Rostov cathedral was built of stone with interior walls painted with frescoes.

Slowly succeeding Rostov, Suzdal became the capital of the Suzdal-Rostov principality, whose first independent prince was the Vladimir Monomakh’s son, Yurii Dolgorukii.

Archeological excavations permit us to discern in the west side of the cathedral the civic structure contemporary with the cathedral, that is, towards the end of 11th century.  It is very possible that this was the palace of Yurii and his retinue.  According to the evidence of the Chronicles Yurii Dolgorukii live more in Suzdal than Rostov.. He constructed the Church of the Our Savior (церковь Спаса )  It was from this town he marched on his campaigns and to which he returned.  Suzdal was the permanent residence of Yurii.  Even in Kiev he was surrounded not by Rostov nobles, but those from Suzdal.

Susdahl in Yurii’s time became the capitol of the immense North-East principality, bordered on the north by the White Sea, on the east by the Volga River,  to the south by the Murom-Ryazin lands and on the west, by Smolensk and Novgorod. The Novgorod Republic had begun to considered part of Suzdal, and not Rostov.

Attempts by the Rostov nobility to regain their supremacy were unsuccessful. Yurii Dolgorukii’s political objective was to secure, the strengthen this young and growing barony for his family and assert its supremacy over all of Rus’.

During his life Yurii kept his sons––Vasilok, Michail, and Vsevolod––in Rostov and Suzdal. However, an older son (from another wife), Andrei, (later named BogoLyubski) did not leave the riches of the Suzdal lands.  The growing economic and political signification of Suzdal beaconed him.  He had not, in all probability, cut his ties to his homeland, Suzdal, though, under his father’s orders, stayed in the south, in Vyshgorod.

In hope of reestablishing their political leadership and strengthening the power of the council (Vech) of the Prince, the Suzdal nobility backed Andrei for leadership of the Suzdal principality.  A chronicler in 1157 noted that the Suzdal and Rostov nobility (I can’t read the ancient Russian text), or in other words, requested Andrei to assume leadership. By choosing a prince themselves, the nobility hoped to circumscribe his power.  However, the calculations of the leading citizens didn’t work out.  Disobeying his father’s command by leaving Vishgorod,  Andrei not only did not succeed to the leadership of Suzdal, he broke with Suzdal and his former Boyar circles and settled in the small town––Vladimir––which his grandfather, Monomakh has created.

Andrei Bogolyubski’s concept was to strengthen unity of command in the principality, create a new all-Russia capital in place of the “mother of Russian cities”, Kiev,  and unify the divided and various Russian princedoms in Vladimir––until then a mere suburb of Suzdal and Rostov––the all-princedom seat.

Now Suzdal’s political importance began to decline. Although the insulted Suzdalian nobility attempted to stigmatize the neighboring artisans of Vladimir as (оратарями, даменотесцами, и древоделами),  all the same the new capital on the Klyazma had become a fact.  All Andrei’s attention was directed at establishing the new capital and strengthening the influence and power the Vladimir princedom’s  leadership, which was constituted in his person.

After Andrei’s tragic death in the Bogolyubov castle,  the Rostov and Suzdal nobility again attempted to escape submission to the young town of Vladimir. They went over the side of the Ryazin nephews of Bogolyubov in the struggle for control of the Great Vladimir throne. However, the struggle ended with the victory of the young brothers––Andrei, Mikhail, and Vsevolod––not receiving its own prince became part of the Vladimir principality.

Pg 12.

Attaining the great reign, Andrei’s younger brother Vsevolod III “Big Nest” directed his attention not only upon Vladimir. In 1194 he had the wooden stockade at Suzdal restored.  Monomakh’s wooden fence, an outmoded defensive military fortification,  was replaced with a new log city.  In 1196 a major restoration of the cathedral.was undertaken.

Construction activity under Vsevolod increased in tempo.  In Vladimir the Uspensky Cathedral was expanded, the beautiful white-stoned Dmitriev Cathedral was built in the prince’s courtyard and the Uspensky Chruch, all erected by the master-builders of the feudal population.  For repair of the Sudahl Cathedral Vsevolod no longer sought German experts, but hired his own builders (princedom and Episcopal)

Suzdal proper continued to grow spontaneously. The trade center located on the east side between the fortress walls and the Gremyaka River that had been established in the the Yurii Dolgorukii era continued to expand.  Where the Gremyachka River joined the Kamenka on the site of the discarded pagan idol Yarun the Kosmodamianskij Monastery was built.  On the Great Yaroslav road beyond the settlement the Rizpolozhenskii convent was founded. On the south-west side of the fortress at  the confluence of the Mzhara and the Kamenka on the wide plateau the Mikhailov settlement which belonged to Vsevolod’s brother Mikhail expanded out.  On the south side beyond the Kamenka River and on the road to Vladimir stood the ancient Dmitrievskii Monastery with its land grants, which the Episcopal Efrem had given in the 11th century.

The old settlements of related families which were located across the river became suburban settlements belonging the spiritual notables of Suzdal.  However, in spite of Suzdal’s territorial expansion, in the political realm Suzdal became a second-rate city.


After the death of Vsevolod III, the vast Vladimir-Suzdal state was divided into separate princedoms. The Old Rostov went to the oldest son, Konstantin, the second son, Yurii received the greater principality of Vladimir and Suzdal, Pereslav went to Yaroslav, , Yurev to Svyatoslav, and the youngest son, Ivan would later receive Starodub on the Klyazma.

The old northern cities––Rostov, Yaroslav, Kostroma and Beloozero–– no longer held their former economic significance.  The then current trade routs passed through Suzdal along the Nerl and Klyazma, somewhat shortening the old Volga route. Not by chance, the fortress which Andrei built in Bololyubov and its filial––Pokrovskij Monestary at the mouth of the Nerl––were important centers which controlled the Nerl trade route leading into the depth of the Suzdal Region. This route led to the Volga via the village of Ksyatin to the middle Volga cities of Rostov and Yaroslav.  This diminishment of his position dissatisfied the Rostov Prince Konstantin.  Considering himself disadvantaged yet the eldest son of the Great Vsevolod III, he sought the position of the Grand Prince.  The battle over Vladimir in Konstantin’s victory in 1217 on Lipetskij Field.  After the battle Yurii was required to absent himself to Gorodets on the Volga, but soon thereafter, forgiven by his brother, he received Suzdal as his command. For two years Yurii II, Vsevolodovich was an absent prince of Susdahl, but upon the death of Konstantin in 1219 he again occupied the Lead Prince throne in Vladimir, at the same time retaining his position in Suzdal.

During Yurii II rule in Suzdal the new white-stone cathedral was built.   Monomakh’s old cathedral building had deteriorated by now, and as the chronicler reported “its vaults had collapsed.” The church of the Nativity (Yurii I) was improved. Its white-stone portals were tinted with a light azure of carved plant patterns woven among animal figures. Richly decorated with a thin lines,  a precise line circled the middle of the building, the the roof was three-faced.  A witness and participant in the construction of the new Suzdal Catherdral was Bishop Simon, who called it “The Beauty of Suzdal” and not without pride added “I designed it myself.”

So Suzdal, glorified during the rule of Yurii Doldorukii as his capitol city in the middle of the 12th century, had to relinquish its leading role to a new center––its suburb, Vladimir.




In the years 1237-1238 the Mongol-Tatar storm broke over Russia, and  it did not pass Suzdal by.  That winter the Tatars under the leadership of the Khan Batir defeated the forces of Vladimir capturing the son of the Prince of Vladimir (whose name was Vladimir), and on 3 February besieging Vladimir while sending a large contingent onto Suzdal.  Suzdal was plundered and set to fire.  Some of the population escaped, those not managing their escape were captured, some killed.

The main force of the Vladimir-Suzdal army was located on the river Siti awaiting reinforcements from Svyatoslav of Yurev and Yaroslav of Pereslav.  The battle on the Siti was long and bloody.  Yaroslav did not appear to support his brother.Yurii’s forces were defeated and Yurii fell in battle.  In reward for switching sides, Yaroslav received the title of Great Prince of Vladimir.  Svyatoslav Vsevolodovich received Suzdal as his prize.

The population that had fled slowly returned.  The housing was rebuilt.  Alexander Yaroslavich (Nevski) ordered new monasteries constructed––Alexandrovski Monastery, the “Great Monastery,” and the Vasilevski Monastery.

After the Tatar invasion the Great Vladimir Seat lost its actual power, the title of Great Prince becoming in reality an honorific, for which the princes competed.  Suzdal become a center of the Church’s spiritual life.

After the death of Yaroslav, his son Andrei became the ruling prince of Suzdal,  and who is considered the patriarch of the Suzdal line of princes.  Andrei, Son of Yaroslav,  fully subordinate to the Khan of the Golden Horde, in 1250 was forced to flee to Sweden. However, through the offices of his brother, Alexander Nevski, the Great Khan forgave him, and in 1256 returned to Rus’, recieved Suzdal back, which he ruled until his death.  It was around this time we establish the founding of the Andreevski Monastery in Suzdal opposite Alexandrovskii on the opposite side of the Kamenka.

In 1257 the Tatars took a census of the whole population of Suzdal and assigned them a tax.   Special sites called ‘Baskaki’ were established for tax collection

pg 15

The insupportable burdens of the Tatar slavery and theft raised dissatisfactions and led to revolt. So, in 1262  uprisings flared engulfing Suzdal, Yaroslav, Rostov and Vladimir.  The rebels killed the Golden Horde tax collectors and drove them from their districts.  The reigning Prince, Alexander Nevski, had to travel to the Golden Horde to plead for mercy and deflect the Khan’s revenge.

Upon Andrei’s death, his children––Yurii, Michail and later the young Vasilii––succeed to Suzdal’s leadership.

At the end of the 13th century Suzdal suffered repeated devastation from Tatar raiding parties.  During the struggle between Andrei Gorodetskii and Dimitrii Alexandrovich Pereyaslavski, for Great Vladimir Prince,  Andrei approached with a Tatar host and, negotiating an alliance with the Yaroslav and Rostov princes,  attacked in 1281 and leveled Suzdal.  IN 1293, Dyuden’s host enveloped Suzdal, destroying utterly the city along with Vladimir and Yurev.

With  rise and increased power of Moscow’s princes,  Suzdal increasingly lost its independence.   Andrei (1304-1332), the son of Vasilii Andreevich, in 1237 jointed Moscow Prince Ivan Kalita against Tver and in 1329 he was in Pskov to capture Alexander, the prince of Tver.

In 1332 the Moscow Prince Ivan Danilovich took control of the Great Vladimir seat.

The growing influence of Moscow and her politics of centralization constrained the Suzdal Prince Konstantin Vasilovich to distance himself from his growing and influential neighbor.  In 1350 he moved his capital from Suzdal to Nizhnij Gorod on the Volga.  The Suzdal-Nizhnij Gorod Principality still covered a goodly expanse.

pg 16.

The whole Volga region from Yurev to Suri and along the shores of the Oka from Berezhets to Nizhnij Novgorod.  Suzdal again ceded its political leadership role to the younger city, Nizhnij Novgorod, becoming an outpost––a strategic military stongpoint on the border with the Principality of Moscow.

Around this time,  they began the construction of two immense fortress-monasteries in the vicinity of Suzdal––Spassko-Preobrezhenski and the Pokrovskij. The responsibility for construction of the two monasteries was given to Boris and Andrei Konstantinovich.

Passing from hand to hand the Grand Duchy of Vladimir, in 1362 finally became the patrimony of the Moscow Prince, Dimitrii Ivanovich (Donskoi). The seated prince, Dimitrii Konstantinovich Suzdalskij, was unseated, and exiled.  But in 1366 the Bishop of Suzdal arranged the marriage of Dimtrii Suzdalskii’s daughter to Dmitrii Doskoi, bringing peace to the feuding families.  Then, with the assistance of his son in law, Dimitrii Donskoi, Dimitrii Suzdalskij occupied Nizhnij Novgorod, driving his brother off the throne and settling his own son, Vasillii Kirdyap, in Suzdal.  This constant warfare between princes significantly weakened the warring princedoms preparing their subordination to Moscow.

However, under Dimitrii Konstantinovich’s leadership, Suzdal enjoyed an artistic revolution.  Suzdal artisans created gems and jewelry of sublime beauty. A reliquary, apparently created in 1383 according to its inscription “by order of the Archbishop of Susdahl during the reign of Dimitrii Konstantinovich”, fashioned with complex designs in niello with fillgree and enamel layed out in circles and half-circle, remains as a monument to the artisanal skills of Suzdal craftsmen.  The Suzdal monk, Lavrentij, in 1377 completed his renowned chronocle “A Tale of Time Passing.”  Also during this time the Spasskij Cathedral was constructed within the walls of the Suzdal Monastery.

p 17

In 1392 the khan gave the prince of Moscow, Vasilii Dmitrovich, the Duchy of Nizhniygorod.  The sitting Prince, Boris Konstatinovich, was sent to Suzdal, where  he died in prison, and his nephews, Vasilii Kirdryapa and Simon were exiled from Suzdal and received Shyu (they were ancestors of the future prince-boyar Shoiskik).

Thus ended the independent existence of the Duchy of Suzdal-Nizhegorod.

In his proclaimation of 1425 the Great Moscow Prince Vasilii Dmitrevich without comment noted that Novgorod was “his providence.”  But the Suzdal aristocracy did not what to kneel before the Moscow Prince.  The struggle for independence and its former glory continued throughout the course of the first half of the 15th century.  The last attempt at reestablishing not only the political power of the Suzdal princes,  but also the former territory of the old times occurred around 1415.

In the spring of 1445 the Kazan Tsar Ulu-Mukhamed besieged Nizhnij Novgorod sending his sons Mamuteka and Yakubu to Suzdal.  Forewarned of the Kazan khan’s attempted attack Moscow’s great prince Vasilii with numerous detachments deployed his camp near Suzdal on the Kamenka River. On July 6th, the Tatars crossed the river and encountered the Russian host of around 1500 men.  Not attending to the flanking Tatar forces, Vasilii tore into the center of the Tatar line and forced it back.  The application of deception won the day for the Tatars.  The Russian host was surrounded and defeated by overwhelming Tatar numbers and Prince Vasilii was captured.  The Tatars looted and burned the villages surrounding Suzdal, and also parts of the city itself including setting the cathedral afire.

The imprisonment of the Moscow Prince Vasilii brought to power in Moscow Galitskii Dmitri Shemyaka.

Making use of these events, the Suzdal princes Vasilii and Fyodor Yurevich (the nephews of Vasilii Kirdryapa) concluded an agreement with Shemyaka to restore Suzdal’s former independence as well as its former borders.

This attempt by Suzdal’ princes to restore the old rights of the Suzdal principality did not meet with success. Suffering defeat, Shemyaka was bribed in 1450 by the Moscow boyars and died in Novgorod. The Suzdal princes had to reconcile themselves

p 18

With final subordination to Moscow and their into small clans the Suzdal princes seemed to melt into the numerous circles of the Moscow nobility.  Suzdal became a frontier city the Moscow state, no longer involved in the stormy political and economic life of the country over which Moscow ruled.

By the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century Suzdal came to be considered one ‘not-Moscow’ cities,  and its great monasteries became places of exile for members of the shattered princely and boyar clans who opposed the centralization strategy of Moscow.

One popular prison was the Suzdal Pokrovskij convent.  The exile and imprisonment of women involved in their husbands’ political activities or taking an active part in ‘Moscow’s affairs’ did not diminish in the 16th century.  As part of this process, the monasteries’ participation in the economic life of the country grew, part being the contribution of their agricultural land and part the contribution the exiles brought to the monastery’s account, all of which contributed their wealth.  Gold and silver objects,  jewelry, hand-woven capes, fine fabrics and carpets filled the monastery vaults.

Construction in stone continued. Pokrovskij Convent was one of the first to replace its wooden church and monastery buildings with stone. The Spaso-Evfimievskij Monastery followed its example.

In 1528 a brick facade was added to the old city cathedral and the cathedral of the Rizpolozhenskij Monastery was built.  Icon artists, carvers, silversmiths, etc appeared. The senior bishop of Suzdal became an archbishop.

Tsar Ivan IV, The Terrible often came to Suzdal, particularly its Pokrovskij Convent and the Bishop’s House where, in preparation for his visit,  Bishop Afanasii (Prince Paletskii) in 1559 built the church of Annunciation with its stone refectory.

The Susdahl skyline filled with numerous wooden church building now in the 16th century filled with architectural wonders of the stone monastery buildings.

Suzdal became the center of a religious flowering of  spiritual life.

In 1565 Suzdal among numerous other Russian cities was swallowed up in the “Oprichina.”[1]  The Suzdal Region, its black-earth zone the bread basket of Moscovy,  was completely transferred to ‘Oprichnina’ State of Ivan IV.



By the end of the 16th century the basic layout of the city of Suzdal was established.  At the time what was called “Suzdal’ was essentially the Kremlin, that is, the part fenced within the remains of the old eathworks topped with the old wooden wall.  The city trade center extended from the eastern wall and was called “Ostrog.”  This section in the 13th century was still surrounded with an earthen rampart topped with a wooden palisade.  Beyond the “Ostrog’ the suburban settlements and monasteries.


The stone buildings of the cathedral and the Archbishop’s quarters rose amongst mean wooden buildings on the Kremlin’s central square.  Five wooden churches surrounded the cathedral square, on which stood the “Arrival Hut.”  Along the ramparts stood the siege quarters of the great landlords––the monasteries, boyars and the Princes Shoiskii, Pozharskii and others. 105 wooded ‘living huts’ with gardens and a jail were all contained within the log palisade.  A wooden wall with 15 towers, two passages and two pedestrian passages ran along the top of the rampart.  The Ilinskii Passage topped with a two-headed eagle passed from the Kremlin into the Ostorg Settlement.  The Dimitrii Gates were topped with an equestrian statue.  Through these passed the road to Vladimir via the village of Ivanovskii.  The gates were equipped with steel gates and drawbridges.  The Nickolai pedestrian bridge (In the direction of the current Big Bridge) and Vodynii (at the corner of the rampart towards Ilyian Hill) went toward the Kamenka River.  Wide meadows––The “Andreev Meadow” (the current Ilinski), “Vorok Meadow” and the “Bolgolusov Meadow” spread over the river flood plains and were the property of the Bishop of Suzdal.

pg 20

Beyond the river (before the Kremlin) stood the settlements Dmitrii, Borisoglebskii, Ivanov and Andrei which belonged to the Bishop. The Bishop’s staff and household servants, children of the boyars,  and other members of the ruling staff.

In the narrow floodplain between the Andreev Monastery and the Church of the Epipheny on a bend of the river in the Kozhevennyi settlement lived townspeople. Each little settlement contained at least two churches. Up the river beyond the Kozhevennii settlement as if a warning to those approaching the city from the north, stood the monasteries Pokrovskii, Spasskii, Alexandrovskii, Trinity and Rizpoloženskij, each with its village in which lived the monastery artisans, tradesmen and retainers.

In the center between the Kremlin and the monasteries on the wide plateau was located “The Village”, in the middle of which was the main trading square (where it is currently located) and surrounded by the many crooked streets and alleyways of wooden houses of townspeople, tradesmen and cottagers and lower classes.  In the midst of this housing stood 11 wooden churches.

On the trade square the customs house,  dentist (Губная изба) barns,  malt shops, and the state trace center with similar shops: the general store, the fish, meat, salt shops and the shop that sold pitches and tars “which contained 290 shops, half-shops and sub-shops.”  They traded onions, garlic, braces, hops, rounders, loofa, chandlery, caps, coats, jewelry, honey and other small goods.

The village was surrounded by аn earthen wall through which the gates––Red Valley (which passed onto the Red Valley street),  Mikhailovskij, Vasileevskij, Sarekon-stantinovskij, Rizpolozhenskij, Bogoslavenskij, Il’inskij, Varvarskij––passed.

The main street traversed from the Kremlin along the shoreline of the Kamenka River to the Rizpolizhenskij Monastery (only a portion of the old street remains today). The Rizpolozhenskij gate exited onto the road past the Spasskij Monastery and onto Yaroslav.  The road turned to the left down from the turn  in the direction of Moscow and was called ‘Strominka (nowadays called Krupskaya Street).  The Voznesenskij Ford crossed the Kamenka River where the current Pokrovskij Bridge is located.

pg 21.

The monasteries and their villages with their numerous churches, which by the end of the 17th century were mostly built of stone, were located beyond the Suzdal settlement.

The events taking place in Russia in the beginning of the 17th century also left their trace upon the city’s appearance.

In 1607 the ‘False Dimitrii’ II advanced upon Moscow and established his camp at Tushino.  The strong fortifications of the Moscow Kremlin denied his the possibility of investing Moscow on the march and he was forced to besiege the city.  In the meantime Polish-Lithuanian units looted cities in the region.

In 1608 Polish-Lithuanian units under the command of Prince Lisovskij besieged Suzdal and after a short resistance took, looted and burned her.

On the 14th October, 1608 the people of Suzdal were required under threat to swear loyalty to the Pretender.  Nine days later the Pretender presented Suzdal his proclamation in which he promised mercy and assistances.  Despite the promises, Polish soldiers raped and pillaged Suzdal and the surrounding countryside.

In 1609 the Russian military commander, Pleshcheev, who had gone over to the Pretender, was forced to complain to the Cossack Hetman Peter Saper about the behavior of the Polish nobles. In one of the missives,  Pleshcheev wrote “The Polish noblemen, Lithuanians and Cossacks stationed in Suzdal riot, abuse women and girls, the boyar children,  rob in the surrounding villages, steal and burn the monasteries…’  However, no amount of complaint provided any relief.  the Polacks terrible abuses continued on, pillaging the city to the ground.  The foreign forces departed Suzdal in the spring 1610.

Returnees were soon forced to survive yet another catastrophe.  In 1611 from 20 July to 6 December Latvian forces occupied Suzdal; many inhabitants managed to flee; those remaining were enslaved or killed.  It took Suzdal many long years to erase the marks of those terrible events.


A city census accomplished in 1612 per command of Prince D.M. Pozharskij’s steward and military commander (The census did not include the Kremlin) of the city and surroundings counted: Living quarters and housing: 78 occupied; 19 domiciles the people have left; 60 houses empty, the inhabitants either departed or moved into the surrounding villages unknown: 251 houses empty, the inhabitants either killed by the Latvians or dead. These were the results in Suzdal of the Polish Intervention.

Suzdal forces took an active part in the liberation of Moscowy from the Poles. In 1612 large Suzdal units commanded by Ismailov marched to aid D.M. Pozharskij’ militia.

Suzdal took a long time to recover from the Polish predations. The massive destruction in the city, population loss, but to a great extent the mistrust complicating relations between the priviliged classes.  The portion of the upper class that had sworn loyalty to the Pretender, remained in the city and were able to hand onto their dwelling and possessions; the others left their property,  escaped, and returned to find their properties destroyed.  In the same vein,  returning workers after the war felt themselves freer that before the Polish occupation.  They enserfed themselves to the propertied classes but at the same time felt themselves free to quit when they wanted.  By such means the richer citizens turned the workers against one another.

Particularly sharp conflict arose between the monasteries and their serfs.  Growing peasant exploitation by the monasteries led to massive flight.  Grain harvests became a sometime occurrence.  In the first half of the 17th century peasant uprising occurred across the whole of the Suzdal district to include the large counties of Shui and Lukha.

Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich’s government became alarmed and was forced to take the ‘most severe measures’ against the rebellion. In July 1631,  a criminal affairs investigator, Prince Ofanasii Grigorevich Koslovskii and his subordinate, Mikita Gavrilov,  were ordered into the Suzdal district to investigate thieves, criminals, robbers and arsonists “because the district is overrun with thieves, robbers, arson and murder, the roads dangerous and overrun with highwaymen.”

p 23.

Neither Prince Ofanasii Grigorevich Koslovskii or his subordinate, Mikita Gavrilov could pacify the peasantry. The uprising spread to Kostroma Province.

In 1645 by special government charter Prince Mikhail Shchetinskij was ordered to investigate the condition of the peasants in Suzdal region for which task he was to take with him citizens of Suzdal, gentry and their children for a total of one hundred people.  But, as Shchetinskij reported, ‘no one came.”

In a follow-on Order the tsar ordered “Go after the robbers yourself, send the old men and leave the genty behind.”

In this time of social discord the head of the Russian church Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russian Joseph came to the aid of the Tsar and the monastery landlords.  In a special charter to the Suzdal Archbishophric Serapion he ordered the canonization of Solomina Saburovaya (In the Sofia Monastery), the first wife of the Great Prince of Moscow, Vasilii III,  was exiled to Suzdal for barrenness and buried in Pokrovskij Nunnery in 1542, that is, one hundred years earlier.  A special service was composed for the spiritual consecration over Solomina’s grave, special ikons were created with images of St. Sophia, the patron saint of Suzdal and miracles were ascribed to her.

However all these state and church measures did little to calm the anger of the pesantry  This anger amongst the people became part of a larger movement under the leadership of Stepan Razin.  The 1634 Crimean Tatar invasion of Suzdal cooled the city’s rebellion.

All the same Suzdal rose from the ashes.  Living quarters were built, the village grew, and life gradually returned to normal.

However the struggle between the great landowners––the princes, boyars and monasteries––attempting to seize lands belonging to the city dwellers continued well into the 1640s.

p. 24

Battered and oppressed by the monasteries and by the bishop Suzdal’s townsmen complained in their petition that “in the city of Suzdal and surroundings the monasteries and archbishop have claimed all ploughed fields and hay meadows for their own use…no one knows why.” The lands seized were not only the meadows and fields but also the Kamenka River.  Thus the Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius, the river’s owner, did not even allow the townspeople to fish.  On the other hand,  the leather tanning trade continued along the river banks and polluted the waters thereby raising the wrath of the monastery leadership.

on 19 July 1630 taking advantage of the townspeople’s away presenting the ‘poverty petition” in Moscow, the Archbishop Josef Kurtsevich supported by gentry attacked the tanners.  The ringing of the bells of the Church of God’s Glory raised the alarm.  The townspeople responding were met with threats, curses and raised knouts from the archbishop’s henchmen.  Such confrontations often ended in flames.

In 1644 Feudal rights to Suzdal were assigned to Prince Woldemar Kolyshtinskij, betrothed to Tsareva Irina, the daughter of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich. In this same year a conflagration destroyed the whole settlement. Two years later the townspeople again petitioned Moscow “The whole city was utterly destroyed including the settlements of the Patriarch, the Archbishop, the princes and the gentry, all Monastery servant quarters, those of the priests and independent churches as well as those of the deacons.”

Suzdal’s misfortunes did not end here. In 1654 plague struck carrying off 1177 inhabitants leaving 1390 survivors.  This was the last major disaster in 17th century in memory of which a chapel ‘in the name of the cross’ was erected at the crossroads in the center of the settlement.

Recovering somewhat from the repeated disasters Suzdal began in the second half of the 17th century to rebuild.  Construction in stone remained relatively rare.  Only the monasteries had sufficient resources and even then were not able to fund stonemasonry all the time.   Thus the Spassky and Prokrovskij Monasteries had sufficient assets to undertake the construction of stone church buildings during this period.

However, the financially precarious Vasilevskij Monastery commenced construction of its stone cathedral in 1662 but only with great effort was able to finish construction in 1669.  Noting the difficulties inherent in construction using stone the father superior of the monastery wrote “We began construction on the Monastery grounds of the stone church, and nothing came of it.”

However, there was a blossoming of architecture in wood.  In 1677 was begun the construction of a new fortress wall complete with towers and gates.

For city defense a permanent militia was organized from personnel recruited in the monasteries, bishoprics and town, in all 1417 men of which 174 were armed with sabers, harquebus and carbines, 35 armed with saber and harquebus, 290 , harquebus only and the remaining 918, pole axes, axes and spears.

(questionable translation) A police force was established holding in its arsenal harquebus made of copper, 10 of steel, ten of tin with 130 bullets, 19 hand-held harquebus, 18 muskets, 14 pood wick (what do they call that stuff that is lit, then touched to the powder?) 21 poods of lead, 34 poods of shot and 8 poods of “iron pieces.”

However, the Ostrozhnyj Trench used in 1630 was destroyed and never again reconstintuted.

The end of the seventeenth century witnessed the beginning the city’s economic revitalization.  The Suzdal monasteries, grown rich on the tax and sacrifice, became the largest landowners, building their economic wealth upon the labors of indentured peasants.

Thus, according to the 1678 census, three major Suzdal slave (serf) holders––The Archbishophric, the Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius and the Pokrovskij Monastery held in their account 22761 men in 5192 households, who earned thereto 7640 Rubles 74 kopek, 5324 fourths of grain and 405 poods of grain.  Their landholding, not counting the city settlements, extended far beyond the boundaries of the large Suzdal District to include large forests, salt mines, fishing rights on large water bodies, tillable lands, toll bridges, and so forth.  The monasteries owned properties in the district of Moscow, Beloozero and other distant districts.  The monasteries maintained large stone buildings containing palaces, servants’ quarters and churches in the center of Moscow.  Large villages were located beneath the monastery walls and were populated with skilled workers and artisans who worked only for the monastery.

P. 26

The town dwellers, having achieved property rights, expanded trade. Suzdal merchants not only traded on the Volga and Oka rivers, but also in more distant market centers.  For example, Kutushkin, а descendant son of town dweller, Petrushka Semionov, who in the beginning of the 17th century was a shop owner on the lands of the Archbishop, participated in Shelekhov’s (1783-1788) expedition to Alaska. The growth in the Monasteries’ economic power led to an expansion of church construction. The Suzdal residents Mamin, Gryaznov and Shmakhov became well-known architects in the region.

Thus, Metropolitan Illarion, the head of the immense Suzdal Bishopric, managed over the course of his reign to have built over seventy stone church buildings.  A stone wall with twelve towers, each covered with decorative motifs, was built around the Spasskii Monastery.  Within the monastery the Blagovashchenskij Gatehouse Church (Благовещенская надвратная церковь) was restored as was Archimidritskij House (Архимандритский корпус) The fie-sided Smolensk and Petropavlovsk churches, styles typical of the time and place were built in the Monastery Village.


The Rizopolozhenskii Monastery (Ризоположенский монастырь) built the truly beautiful Trinity Church.


был построен в 13 веке. К сожалению, от первых построек ничего не осталось, уцелели лишь каменные здания, начиная с 16 века. Самой ранней, считается постройка Ризоположенского трехглавого собора, он датируется первой половиной 16 века. Собор выдержан в строгих формах того времени.



Suzdal churches destroyed in the twentieth century

[1] oprichnina (Russian: опри́чнина) is the period of Russian history between 1565 and 1572 during which Tsar Ivan the Terrible instituted a domestic policy of secret police, mass repressions, public executions, and confiscation of land from Russian aristocrats. The six thousand political police enforcing the policy were called oprichniki, and the term oprichnina also applies to the secret police organization[1] and to the territory in which, during that period, the Tsar ruled directly and in which his oprichniki operated.[2]