Suzdal, first mentioned in chronicles in 1024, is one of the oldest and the best-preserved Russian towns. The town has lots of splendid architectural monuments of different epochs which preserved its original character and appearance.
Suzdal is located on the river Kamenka 35 km north of Vladimir. The name shows its Fino-Ugric origin. Prince Vladimir came to Suzdal from Kiev in 990 to establish a missionary bishopric. From 1096 Suzdal was called a town. By then it had a fortified Kremlin with earthen walls. In 1125 Prince Yurii Dolgoruki made Suzdal his capital. But he also built a new palace and fortress at Kideksha, 5 km from Suzdal, where the church of St. Boris and Gleb (1152) still stands. It was the first limestone building in the northeast region.
After Prince Yurii died, Andrei Bogoliubski moved the capital to Vladimir to escape the rebellious boyars. This increased the rivalry between the two towns. In 1194, Andrei's brother, Vsevolod III "Bolshoye Gnezdo" ("Grand Nest") who succeeded him rebuilt and refortified the Kremlin with new towers. He built the new Cathedral of the Assumption.
In 1238 Suzdal was destroyed by the Mongol invaders along with the other main Russian towns. By 1328 the rebuilt city was strong enough to lead the struggle against the rising power of Moscow. The Suzdal princes united with Nizhni Novgorod in a new principality. Finally Grand Prince Vasilii annexed it to Moscow. The city remained a religious center. During this period many monasteries were founded. There are still more than 50 churches and secular buildings of old times. These date from before 1238 and after 1500, with nothing in between.
The Suzdal Kremlin, with its partially preserved 11th century earthen walls that originally were topped by wooden palisades and towers, is adjacent to the Kamenka River. It originally stood 10 meters high with a circuit of 1400 meters. The river protected three sides, and on the eastern side a moat 8,5 meters deep and 35 meters wide defended the fortress. Parts of the earthen city wall are also preserved to the east of the Kremlin.
The Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral built in 1222-1225 is located inside the Kremlin. The cathedral is built on the site of an earlier church erected by Vladimir Monomakh. The nearby belfry was built in 1635. The bishop's palace dates from the same period. There are other churches in the Kremlin and many more just outside. There is also an excellent and extensive historical museum.
On a hill within the town stands the Deposition of the Robe convent built in 1207. Its original wooden walls were replaced by stone in the 17th century.
Our Savior and St. Euthymius Monastery founded in 1352 is set right on the high bank of the Kamenka. It also hosts a few museums. Once it was a fortress too, with high walls over 1 km long and 12 powerful towers. The present brick walls dating back to the 17th century (1664) are 6 meters thick and 8,5 meters high on the northern, eastern, and southern sides and 7,5 meters high on the western side, above the river. The powerful 23-meter entrance tower on the southern side protects the Holy Gates. Beside it is the Annunciation Gate Church, also dating back to the 17th century. Inside is the Transfiguration Cathedral, constructed in 1594, and the Refectory Church of the Assumption with a tent roof of the oldest type built in 1525. Next to it is a fine bell tower of the 16-17th centuries. The oldest part is the 9-sided column.
The Suzdal Prince Dmitrii Pozharski, the hero of the relief of Moscow in 1612, was buried beside this cathedral. There was a prison in this monastery that originally housed prisoners of Catherine II. During World War II it was used to hold Field Marshal Von Paulus after his surrender at Stalingrad.
On the opposite bank of the Kamenka is the Intercession Convent, originally built in 1364. But all of its original buildings were destroyed. It was rebuilt by Vasilii III in the16th century. Apart from two 17th century towers in the north wall, its present fortified walls and nine towers of the 18th century. This convent was the place for exile of many famous Russian noble ladies, among them the wives of Vasilii III (Solomonia Saburova), Ivan IV (Anna Vasilchikova), and Peter the Great's first wife, Evdokia Lopukhina. Many boyar class women also spent their lives there.
Today the town is an outstanding architectural museum, containing more examples of period architecture than any other Russian town, and its original architectural topography was retained. The town population is 12,000. Tourism here is high, not only because of the educational value of the locale, but also because Suzdal has preserved a picturesque timelessness which visitors find interesting as well as relaxing.