A Slice of History in Suzdal

Coming from gigantic Moscow, which you could live in for years without seeing all of, Suzdal was another world. Suzdal is so small that you can easily walk across the whole town, and our four-hour walking tour covered most of it while stopping frequently to look at historical sites.

There are five monasteries in Suzdal today, and ten thousand people in the town. There used to be fifteen monasteries in pre-Soviet times. The residents are clearly proud of Suzdal’s history as a pious city. There is a regulation that prevents new buildings from being raised more than two or three stories, so that they don’t block the view of the innumerable churches and bell towers, many from medieval times, that still dominate the skyline.


We got to walk to the top of one of these bell towers.

This tower belongs to the Rizopolozhenskii women’s monastery. The view from the top of the tower, as shown in the photo below, was incredible. It was a nice early spring day, and I could see the fields and forests surrounding the town on all sides. There was a part of the town with modern (though still short) buildings, but for the most part it was easy to imagine past centuries when you look at the modest dwellings and golden domes.

What is hard to guess from the peaceful, touristy atmosphere of Suzdal today is that it was once a political center. The rulers of Suzdal were connected by blood to powerful Kiev in the 12th century, and later the princes of the Suzdal/Vladimir area overtook Kiev in prominence. In the 13th century this Rostov-Suzdal Principality would move its capital to Moscow, where the concept of Russia was born.


All this is evidenced by the presence of a women’s monastery (Pokrovsky Monastery) in Suzdal that was specifically for aristocratic nuns. Looking at its gleaming white walls, I thought that probably many of them were unwanted wives, daughters, or dowagers of contemporary princes.

But today, Suzdal is filled with tourists instead of former princesses. The day I was there, there were only a few stalls lined up on the market square in Suzdal. Most of it was empty.

That was enough to satisfy my craving for a meat pirozhok, but it must have been much busier when Suzdal was the capital of a principality in the 12thcentury. Still today, though, a million tourists visit Suzdal each year, according to our tour guide. It’s clear that Suzdal is one of a kind, combining symbolic and historical significance with quaint tourist appeal.




  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir-Suzdal#Rostov-Suzdal
  2. http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?groupid=2367&HistoryID=ac14>rack=pthc
  3. http://russia.com/activity/suzdal/

Article written by braulickjim

2 Responses

  1. Beth Dyer Clary
    Beth Dyer Clary at | | Reply

    Fun to read this, Julia! What an adventure all of you are having. Never had heard of Sudzal – had to look it up. Now with your stories and history, I’ll remember it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Carolyn M Warden
    Carolyn M Warden at | | Reply

    Julia, this was just like having you talking to me! Thanks for this post. Carolyn

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