Rostov or should I say Rostov Veliky (Rostov the Great) to differentiate it from the now much larger Rostov-on-Don. I am accompanied on this visit to the Rostov Kremlin by Mila who is a Russian art historian, and our guide Natalya from the Rostov museum.
There has been a settlement here for thousands of years. Many think if not on the same site very close by was the capital of a Finno-Ugric tribe called the Merya. This seems logical as the Russia we know today was not formed until c 862 by a Varangian (Viking) prince named Rurik at Novgorod Veliky.
Sitting on the shore of Lake Nero some 126 miles north-east of Moscow in the Yaroslavl Oblast. Rostov Veliky is the oldest town of Russia’s “Golden Ring” of towns lying north of Moscow.
The lake is about eight miles in length and five miles in width. The water depth is estimated at 12 feet,but the lakes bottom is covered with a thick layer of silt at least twice that depth. Not surprising when you consider eight rivers flow into the lake.
Rostov’s past is mostly that of an ecclesiastical centre from as early as 988 AD it has been a See of the Russian Orthodox Church. By the 14th century the bishops became Archbishops, becoming Metropolitans in the 16th century.
In the 14th century Rostov was encompassed in the Duchy of Moscow. Prior to that the cathedral and churches were often at the mercy marauding tribes of mongol’s especially “The Golden Horde”.
The current Assumption Cathedral above and it’s bell tower were built approximately 1680, but a cathedral or church has stood on the site since circa 991 Rostov Veliky being the oldest Christian site in north – eastern Russia.
As we come though the gate into the courtyard of the cathedral the bells are being rung. This bell tower has a set of 15 bells the biggest and heaviest being named Sysos and weighing in at 71000 lbs or 31.69 ton UK. The other 14 bells have names to but I cannot remember them. As I try to get my head around the enormous effort it must take to ring Sysos musically, and wonder how the guy’s I see working in the two smaller bell chambers go on when it is rung while they are up there. Although you cannot see the guy’s in the picture below I can assure you they are up there operating the bells via a series of ropes and pulley’s.
Kremlin buildings can be found in many Russian cities. The word Kremlin being a fortress.
They were often built of wood initially, the first stone Kremlin being built in Moscow around 1360-1368.
Our guide the diminutive Natalya less than five feet in height I think. Tells me it is thought the Rostov stone Kremlin was instigated by Metropolitan Iona which would put it in the middle to late 1600’s. It comprises of the Cathedral of the Assumption,a number of churches law courts, a dwelling place and a bath house in the garden leading to the lake.
What our guide Natalya lacks in height she more than makes up for in her knowledge of Rostov and her mastery of the English language. Which makes it easy for her to answer both mine and Mila’s questions. As she shows us around the different buildings via the connecting galleries from where you can look out onto the town or inward to the courtyard. Below the pictures looks across the courtyard from the east wall gallery towards the garden and beyond that lake Nero.
Natalya tells me how under various princes of “The Duchy of Muscovy” and ecclesiastic patrons the arts flourished here. Indeed althought Rostov was brought into the Duchy of Muscovy by Ivan III (Ivan the Great) it seems to have been highly prized by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) who invested heavily here in the arts.Be it fresco painting and icon painting,to the fantastic woodwork carving which it seems can be even in or on the most humble Russian home in this and many other towns.
In the 18th century the painters of icons and fresco’s turned there hands to a type of enamelware often called finift. Unlike ordinary paintings enamelware does not lose its colour so a piece made in 1760 is as bright today as it would have been on the day it was last fired. Presuming of course it been reasonably well looked after. I am told that the painters often work with a brush of one hair when adding detail a piece.
By the middle of the 20th century “The Rostov Finift Factory” was founded creating hand-painted enamels. From the samples I saw enamelling has been going on in Rostov Veliky for much longer, but the hand painted finift ware does seem to mirror much of the earlier work of the icon and fresco painters. Mainly that of nature or religious paintings rather than original works that said it still seems to thrive even in an international market.