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To view any photo at full size, click on the thumbnail. All photos are copyright Wayne and Patricia Primeau. All Rights Reserved.
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guard towerZvenigorod is the oldest town in the Moscow area. Its name means "city of chimes". The town grew up beside the ancient Smolensk road leading on to Lithuania and Poland. The area with its wooded hills and valleys is often called the "Russian Switzerland". Some of the hills rise to 235 m (771 ft) above sea level, 35 m (115 ft) higher than Moscow's Vorobyovskiye Hills.

dome and crossThe first historical mention of Zvenigorod occurs in 1328, when Prince Ivan Kalita willed it to his second son, Ivan, before he himself went to the Golden Horde with tribute money for the Tatar Khan. Soon thereafter, the town was burned to the ground by Tatars. Perhaps the tribute was considered to be insufficient. The area revived under Prince Yuri, the second son Primce Dmitri Donskoi. He ruled it from 1389 to 1434. Prince Yuri fortified Zvenigorod and in 1404 the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery was founded at his request by the monk, Savva, a pupil of Sergiy of Radonezh.

Like St Francis of Assisi, St Savva counted the wild animals among his friends. Legend tells us that St Savva even baptised Brother Bear. Savva died in December 1407, and local traditions say that two nights after his death, the brothers heard a noise as the bear climbed over the wall. He came to the new grave and lay down upon it, and in the morning it was found that he had died too so he was buried there, alongside his master.

monastery bell towerThe Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery is thought to have taken the second part of its name from the observation point (storozha) on the hill where it stands. This emplacement served as a vital defence point on Russia's western border. The main road from Poland and Lithuania lay in full view, and the border itself was only about 100 km (60 miles) distant. The sound of the monastery bells could carry as far as Moscow, strategically important in unsettled times.

In 1609 the whole town suffered badly from the depredations of the Poles. The local bears were also a menace. Legend recounts that Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich encountered an angry bear near the monastery and that his frantic prayers were answered by the timely appearance of a monk who called the beast off as though it had been a dog. The tsar asked the name of his benefactor and was told, "Savva" before monk and bear turned away into the forest. Only when he asked after him at the monastery gate was he told that Savva had already been dead for two hundred years. Thereafter the tsar contributed to the cost of the monastery's original gate-church and came here frequently with his son, the future Peter the Great.

The monastery lost its strategic importance after Smolensk was united with Moscow in 1667. It gradually faded into obscurity. It's once formidable guns were fired only to mark royal birthdays. During Catherine the Great's campaign to improve the appearance of cities and villages, new town plans were approved and implemented.

Uspensky CathedraliconIt is worth the drive out to Zvenigorod from Moscow to see the Uspensky Cathedral, built by Prince Yuri and surrounded by an earthen walled kremlin or gorodok, meaning "small town".

cathedral interioriconastasisThere was a palace here too, but only the cathedral has survived. As no late 14th century churches have survived in Moscow, it is of special interest. The cathedral was built in 1396-99 and today stands among some small houses. It is decorated by a triple frieze of carved stone. The design is a simple cube with three apses and a simgle dome. The walls are divided vertically into three and each is pierced by an entrance door and decorated with carved stonework The frescoes, some fragments of which still remain, were painted by Andrei Rublev, considered to be the father of Russian icon painting.

Rozhdestva Bogoroditsy Cathedralfresco frescoThe current monastery of Savvino-Storozhevsky was built in 1650-54. Its outer walls are 22 m (72 ft) thick and 8.5 m (28 ft) high. Of the six towers, Krasnaya is undoubtedly the most impressive. The principal building within the walls is the golden-domed Rozhdestva Bogoroditsy (Nativity of the Virgin) Cathedral, also founded by St Savva and where his grave lay until the time of the revolution in 1917. Prince Yuri financed the construction of the limestone cathedral. In the 15th Century it had frescos apparently belonging to the Andrei Rublev school but these were covered with oil paintings in the 17th century. The cathedral was partly reconstructed in 1972, and was reconsecrated in 1990.

gate churchTroitskaya (Trinity) Gate-Church built in 1652 by Sharutin has an octagonal tent-roof, in fact an anachronism after Patriarch Nikon had decreed that cupolas should be built instead.

belfryThe belfry has four bells, one huge one weighing 34 tons which was cast by Alexander Grigoryev in 1667 and three small ones, gifts from Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich, founder of the Romanov dynasty.

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This page was updated on 26 November 2007.

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