Sergiev Posad - the Orthodox Pearl of the Moscow Region

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If you ever travel to Moscow don't miss a chance to take a day trip to Sergiev Posad. The city is located 70 km northeast of the capital and can be easily reached by train. So, if you get tired from the urban fuss of Moscow this is a perfect place to enjoy the atmosphere of a small Russian town. Besides being a quaint town, Sergiev Posad is the home to the famous Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergius monastery complex that for many centuries has been home of the Russian Orthodox Church. The architectural ensemble of the Trinity Lavra is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

From the Wooden Church to a Prosperous Monastery

The history of Sergiev Posad dates back to the 14th century. The city takes its name from the founder - the monk Sergius of Radonezh. Together with his brother Sergius was looking for a secluded area to settle in and live an ascetic life devoted to God. They settled on the Makovets Hill surrounded by wild forest where later they eventually built a wooden church in the name of the Holy Trinity. In the following years the settlement grew into a monastery complex and eventually gained political significance in Russia. Today along with another seven cities Sergiev Posad makes up the "Golden Ring" tourist route. These picturesque provincial towns have for preserved the historical appearance and charm up to the present day and are popular both among tourist and Russians alike.

During its history Sergiev Posad went through several sieges and successfully served as a barrier to foreign enemies that wanted to conquer Moscow. Despite trying to be apolitical Sergius of Radonezh still played a critical role in several historical events. His opinion and wisdom were highly valued by both rulers and common people. For instance, Sergius inspired the Russian princes and commoners to unite against Tatar-Mongol invaders in the 14th century (the period when the county suffered numerous internal conflicts). Soon after his death Sergius was canonized by the Orthodox church and also honored as a saint by the Catholic Church. Every year thousands of pilgrims visit the monastery and the Trinity Cathedral in particular, where the relics of the saint are kept. The cathedral also is a popular attraction as it has the works of the most famous Russian icon-painter Andrei Rublev.

Today's monastery ensemble includes more than fifty buildings and ten cathedrals. The central Assumption cathedral adorned with five gold and blue chapels was built in the 15th century. During your visit to Sergiev Posad the Assumption Cathedral might remind you of the Moscow Kremlin's Assumption Cathedral. This is not a coincidence! Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible, it reflects the shape of the Moscow cathedral that was the main symbol of Orthodoxy and thus served as a prototype for many religious structures.

Apart from the magnificent iconostasis, the cathedral contains the shrine of Russia's most controversial ruler – Boris Godunov. Once during his reign, in order to acknowledge the importance of the Trinity monastery, Godunov made a valuable gift to the convent. By the order of the Tsar several copper bells were casted and placed in the monastery's belfries. Among other bells there was one that due to a defect had a remarkably pure sound – for this feature people started to call it "the Swan". It was believed that the bell brings luck and can only presage good news.

The 18th century significantly contributed to the magnificent external appearance of the monastery. Due to the frequent visits of the empress Elizabeth the monastery was well maintained and upkept. During such visits the monastery was festively decorated, and cheerful feasts were held for the empress and her suite. The monastery's bell tower was constructed in 1770 and reached 88 meters. The tower even exceeded the height of the Moscow Kremlin's Ivan the Great belfry that for many years had been the tallest building in Moscow. As many other buildings in the monastery the tower was brightly colored and built with baroque architectural design that was especially beloved by the empress. Also, by the order of Elizabeth one of the largest religious educational institutions was established in the monastery.

The Soviet Anti-Religious Campaign

The monastery was significantly affected by the establishment of USSR in the early 20th century as the Russian Orthodox Church began to suffer from repressions. Some of the religious structures were destroyed, others were converted into service buildings. The Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Lavra was transformed into a museum of history and architecture while its clergymen were sent to the labor communes. Most of the bells were either destroyed or melted down for reuse. Nowadays "The Swan" remains one of the few surviving bells from those ancient and mystical times.

What Else to Do in the Area

Currently, all of the above listed sights are a part of the modern museum reserve. Besides visiting the glorious interiors of the cathedrals, you can also try the monastic bread and drink healing water. For the bravest ones and for a true Russian experience you can take a dip in the Holy spring located in a ravine outside the monastery.

If you still have time after visiting the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius here are some other places you can see in Sergiev Posad.

Sergiev Posad Museums

In the Museum of Toys you can find the collection of more than 30,000 toys and learn which of them were popular among kids of Russia and other countries.

Speaking about toys, do you know that the world-famous Matryoshka doll (nested doll) has been initially invented by the master from Sergiev Posad? The city's State History and Art Museum-Preserve has a great exhibition dedicated to the history of the Russian most beloved toy. Apart from that, the museum hosts an exposition on the Russian applied and decorative art, the history of the Russian Revolution and Great Patriotic War (World War II).

Last but not least, stop by the Abramtsevo Estate-Museum, located 20 km away from Sergiev Posad. In the 19th century the estate belonged to the Russian writer Sergei Aksakov and frequently hosted other well-known artists and writers. For many years the estate served as a place of inspiration and exchange of ideas for aspiring artist. And it's not surprising, considering the beauty of the area's nature. Who knows – maybe walking around the museum and the beauty of the surrounding you be inspired yourself :)!

Want to visit Sergiev Posad with a friendly local expert? Check out our Sergiev Posadday trip tour to the city!
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