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White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal

Cultural criteria: i, ii, iv
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 1992

Ancient cities Vladimir (founded in 1108) and Suzdal (known since 1024), which in the XII-XIII centuries were at the head of the powerful Old Russian Vladimir-Suzdal Principality, are situated in the center of the European part of Russia, approximately 200 kilometers east of Moscow, and 30 kilometers one from another.

During the period of the Vladimir-Suzdal Principality existence its own school of art and architecture emerged here, typical of which was the following: White limestone laying (the name “white stone” monuments is from this origin), refinement of proportions, fine boasted work on various natural topics (animals, plants), false arcading, superficial lightness of buildings and the ability to fit them into the surrounding natural landscape.

True masterpieces of this school are just those monuments (to be more precise – eight separate monuments plus two ensembles), which form this nomination. Some of them are in the center of the city of Vladimir (the Cathedral of the Assumption and the Dmitriev Cathedral, the Golden gates), others are in Suzdal (the Nativity Church and Hierarchal palaces of the Suzdal Kremlin, the Monastery of the Saviour and St. Euthimius and the Pokrovsky Monastery). These are also monuments situated in the suburbs - the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin on the river Nerl, Andrei Bogolyubsky's Palace in Bogolyubovo, as well as the Church of Sts Boris and Gleb in the settlement of Kideksha.

The Cathedral of the Assumption that was laid at the top of the hill and built in only three years (1158–1160), became at once the main architectural dominant of the ancient Vladimir. The high white stone five-domed cathedral, amazing by its harmony, abundance of golden decorations, also became the main church of the whole principality. Alexander Nevski, Dmitriy Donskoy, other Vladimir and Moscow princes were elevated here to Prince, some of which (Andrei Bogolyubsky, Vsevolod the Big Nest and others) were buried here too. Here was also placed a sacred thing of Vladimir – the Icon of the Mother of God, brought to Russia from Constantinople and called Vladimirskaya (now it is in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow). In 1408 the cathedral was painted by Andrei Rublev and Black Daniel (fragments of these frescos remained).

The Dmitriev Cathedral (1194–1197) – this is a rather small one-domed church having four internal piers, whose architecture is very typical for the Vladimir-Suzdal Russia of the XII century. Harmonicity of its proportions is combined with the perfect technique of white stone masonry. Its lacy boasted work in the shape of a “stitched pattern” numbers about 1,500 reliefs. The cathedral was burning several times, and during the Tartar-Mongol invasion was completely plundered, henceforth it was restored more than once. At the close of the XII century the cathedral was painted by the Byzantine and Russian painters, but only fragments of these frescos are extant.

The Vladimir Golden Gate (construction was finished in 1164) served not only for a fortress structure, but also for a triumphal front arch at the entrance on the west. It was constructed simultaneously with the earth mound that formed a defensive ring around the city. The Golden Gate was laid in white stone; its massive oak doors were sheathed with gilded copper boards, what they were called Golden for. The lower part of the gate is secure from the XII century to the present day, and the Gateway Church was afterwards renovated in the XV, XVII and XVIII centuries.

The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Suzdal was built in 1222–1225. It is a part of the ensemble of the Suzdal Kremlin, on three sides enclosed by the Kamenka River, and its massive, blue domes “studded” with stars define the aspect of the whole kremlin complex to a large extent. In the XV century the Nativity Church came down, whereupon (in the XVI century) its top was built of bricks and crowned with five domes. The cathedral’s reconstruction was carried out in subsequent time too, and its frescos date from the XIII, XV and XVII centuries.

Near the cathedral, within the Suzdal Kremlin as well, there is another very important white stone monument, also reckoned among the World Cultural Heritage, – Hierarchal palaces built in the XV-XVIII centuries.

On the outskirts of Suzdal there are two unique monastery complexes (main stone structures date from the XVI century) – the Pokrovsky Monastery and the Monastery of the Saviour and St. Euthimius. These monasteries, being belted by high stone walls with towers, resemble very much strongholds outwardly. Inside the walls there are cathedrals, churches, belfries, various kinds of auxiliary structures.

One can see now ruins of the residence of Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky in the settlement of Bogolyubovo 10 kilometers east of Vladimir, on the Klazma River. This reinforced castle was built in the middle of the XII century, but not many things remained of it. In place of the main Nativity Church already in the ХVIII century the now existing church was raised. Only a part of the stair tower remained of the palace that connected it with the cathedral in such a way that members of prince's family could pass to its choirs straight from their rooms. Traces of previous earth mounds are still perceptible.

The Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin on the river Nerl (1165) is not far from Bogolyubovo, it stands in solitude among flood lands on the Nerl bank, and amazes by its refinement and orderliness. It represents a not high one-domed church having four internal piers, decorated with fretwork of the XII century. This is undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of the world architecture.

In the settlement of Kideksha, situated not far from Suzdal, near the place of the Nerl and Kamenka Rivers’ confluence, the Church of Sts Boris and Gleb was constructed of white limestone, being in a good state of preservation. This church is one-domed with narrow windows resembling loopholes and small false arcading on a facade. The church structure dates from the middle of the XII century (1152), and in the XVIII century it was rebuilt; however the remained fragments of fresco date from the time of its construction.

Now all the mentioned monuments (as well as a number of other remarkable sights of the Vladimir-Suzdal land) are a part of the Vladimir and Suzdal state historical, architectural and art museum-reserve (founded in 1958).