Yaroslavl is an ancient town located 260 kilometers to the northwest of Moscow. Prince Yaroslav the Wise founded the city on the bank of the Volga River about 1010. Before the foundation of the fortress a settlement of pagans was located in this place. Its inhabitants were engaged in hunting and fishing. According to the legend Prince Yaroslav killed a bear, their sacred animal, and subjugated the pagans. The legend about this event is represented in the emblem of the city: on a silver shield a bear is painted standing and holding a gold pole-axe in his left paw.
Yaroslavl developed rapidly because of its favorable location by the Volga trade route. In 1218 it became the capital of the independent feudal Yaroslavl principality. In 1463 the Principality merged with the Moscow state. In the 16-17th centuries Yaroslavl turned to be an important center of commercial relations of centralized Russian state with the East (along the Volga river) and Europe (through Arkhangelsk, the only Russian sea-port at that time). Foreign merchants used their own trade houses in Yaroslavl ("podvorja") for transporting goods to Moscow, Kostroma, Nizhny Novgorod and to Persia (Iran). Handicraft industry was highly developed at that time and its production was much in demand throughout the country. The Volga River teemed with fish, sturgeon and beluga caviar brought a great income to the State treasury. In 1634 Yaroslavl held the third place in receiving of commercial tax and the second place (after Moscow) in population.
After the foundation of St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl lost its former importance and started to build its own industry. Textile manufacturing developed on the basis of handicrafts. During the 17th century Yaroslavl advanced to the third place after Moscow and Kazan as a center of trade. It was then that Yaroslavl reached the peak of its development. Architectural ensembles went up to make Yaroslavl one of the most beautiful cities of Russia, with churches rich in frescoes and ceramic ornamentation. The city retained its importance as an economic and cultural center. The first Russian theatre was established in Yaroslavl by Fyodor Volkov, and the first Russian provincial magazine had its origins here in 1786.
In the central part of the city is the Monastery of the Transfiguration of Our Savior founded in the late 12th century, its structures dating back to the 16-19th centuries. Located near the main river crossing, it guarded the approaches to the town. In the 13th century, when the independent Yaroslavl principality was formed, the monastery became a burial place for the Yaroslavl princely dynasty. The monastery ensemble includes the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, built in 1505-16, its frescoes dating back to 1563-64, the Holy Gate (1516), the Belfry (1516), and the Refectory Chamber with the Refectory Church of the Nativity of Christ. In the 15-17th centuries the monastery was one of the largest and richest in Russia, and in the 16th century, after the stone walls and towers had been erected, it became one of the strongest fortresses in the area beyond the Volga. In 1609, the monastery successfully withstood the siege of the Polish and Lithuanian invaders. It was here that the Home Guard of Minin and Pozharsky was formed in 1612, which subsequently forced the Polish invaders out of Moscow. In spring 1613, the monastery became a place of residence for Michael Romanov - the founder of the Romanovs dynasty. In 1787, the monastery was abolished and turned into the residence of the bishops of Yaroslavl. Since 1959 the monastery premises have housed the Yaroslavl History, Architecture and Art Museum-Preserve.
The Church of St. Elijah the Prophet built in 1647-50, stands on Elija Square, which has long been the center of the city. The church is a fine example of Yaroslavl architectural style of the 17th century. It was erected for one of the richest and most influential Russian families of that time. The asymmetrical structure of the five-dome church with the bell-tower came down to our days unchanged. The chief treasures of the church - its frescoes - have been preserved in excellent condition. The frescoes were created in 1680-81 by a group of icon painters headed by Jury Nikitin and Sila Savin of Kostroma. The church frescoes - vibrant, colorful, and optimistic - are possibly the greatest achievement of monumental art in Yaroslavl. It should be noted that, in spite of their religious subject matter, the frescoes are a unique encyclopedia of Russian life in the 17th century. The carved gilded iconostasis with a collection of most ancient icons, and splendid church-plate add to the beauty of the interior decoration of the church. The church is part of the Museum-Preserve of Yaroslavl History, Architecture and Art.
The Church of the Epiphany (1684-93) is located opposite to the walls of the Monastery of Transfiguration. It gave name to the square with a monument to the founder of the city in the center. The church is one of the first ones in Yaroslavl without inner supports. It was built of brick and lavishly decorated with architectural details and colorful glazed tiles. The building has frescoes painted by unknown Yaroslavl artists, and a carved iconostasis of the 18th century. It is also part of the Museum-Preserve of Yaroslavl History, Architecture and Art.
No other Russian city possesses so many beautiful masterpieces of medieval wall painting. The Yaroslavl masters enriched the traditional Christian themes with elements of folk art and features derived from everyday life thus reflecting a new understanding of ideals close to craftsmen and merchants. They were closely connected with the life of their people they came from and painted the scenes of their everyday life in frescoes: harvest time, hunting, constructing of a church, feasting; made illustrations of the popular literature subjects and thus depicted a varied life of Russia.