History and Fantasy: Suzdal and Vladimir

Suzdal, located about two and a half hours outside of Moscow, prides itself on its history and its ancient architecture. After all, it must—with only about 10,000 full-time residents, it welcomes around a million visitors a year, and tourism is the town’s lifeblood. The early medieval architecture on display in Suzdal is magnificent, from the Suzdal Kremlin (built in 1222) to the five monasteries dispersed throughout the town. Our guide told us that before the revolution, there were fifteen monasteries, and Suzdal has a plaque dedicated to the memory of the cultural and religious treasures that were lost during the Communist repressions of the 1920s and 30s. This plaque is a reminder of the attempted erasure of the history that Suzdal tries so hard to re-create.

Church inside of Suzdal Kremlin

While stunning, Suzdal’s buildings sometimes seemed a bit like a medieval Russia theme park. Even the ordinary, traditional wooden houses are in perfect repair, with gleaming paint and completely straight window shutters. Elsewhere in Russia, you can see similar houses, but usually not in the same spotless condition. Visiting, it doesn’t really feel like a town where people live, and it certainly doesn’t look like it must have hundreds of years ago when the buildings were first contructed. Suzdal is a kind of idealized version of the Russian past—beautiful, but not entirely honest.

House in Suzdal

The Soviet past, on the other hand, is somewhat hidden in Suzdal. Like almost every Russian city, there’s a large statue of Lenin in a downtown square, which I photographed from the bell tower of one of the monasteries. Signs also bear names such as “Karl Marx Street”. In the market, I found and purchased an old Young Pioneer pin (a real collector’s item for me), hidden among more elaborate, folksy arts and crafts.

In Suzdal, it really seems like there are different layers of past Russias, piled on top of each other, some pushed to the front, some fading. None of them accurately represent the Russian present, but all of them contribute to it.

Article written by prestonj2

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