Rostov Kremlin

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Rostov Kremlin - architectural ensemble of the XVI - XVII centuries, which is situated in Rostov, Yaroslavl Oblast.

According to its original purpose, the ensemble of the Rostov Kremlin was the residence of the Metropolitan bishop of the Rostov-Yaroslavl diocese. According to experts it is one of the most significant and original architectural monuments in Russia. The Kremlin is in the center of Rostov, determining the impression of the city itself. The ensemble of the Kremlin consists of four special complexes: the Metropolitan's Court; the Cathedral Court; the Metropolitan Garden; the Stable Yard. The oldest building of the ensemble is the Assumption Cathedral (1508-1512). The architecture of all the churches of the Kremlin was determined by this monument. The Kremlin buildings, with a few exceptions, appeared in the second half of the XVII century. It is important that the main part of the ensemble is built according to a single plan – a rare phenomenon in Russia at that time. This is what determined the exceptional architectural and artistic integrity of the Kremlin. Also because of the efforts of the museum specialists, the Kremlin has preserved outstanding monuments of Russian monumental painting of the XVII century.

Since 1998 the Rostov Kremlin has been included in the Tentative list[1] of UNESCO World heritage objects.

History of the ensemble

The main dominant of the ensemble is the Assumption Cathedral — the oldest building in the city[2]. The Church was built in 1508-1512 on the site of its white-stone predecessors of the XII-XIII centuries. The gorgeous volume of the Cathedral, covered by keel-shaped zakomars, is crowned by a powerful five-domed construction. The internal six-column structure of the building is revealed by pilasters of a large take-out on facades.

Most of the extant buildings of the Kremlin were built much later than the Cathedral, mainly during the reign of Metropolitan Jonah (1652-1690), who had a significant influence on the formation of the artistic appearance of these structures. Thus, according to his plan, around 1682, a belfry was built to the South-East of the Cathedral. At the same time, Moscow masters Philip and Cyprian Andreev cast two huge bells for the belfry: "Polyline" in 1000 poods and "Swan" in 500 poods. Later, in 1688, the master Flor Terentyev cast a large bell of 2000 poods, named "Synonym", in the memory of the father of Metropolitan Jonah. Especially for this bell an additional tower-like building was constructed and adjoined the Northern facade of the belfry. It has a complete set of 15 original bells[3].

The construction of the central part of the Kremlin ensemble began with the formation of the main courtyard, which was surrounded mainly by the religious and administrative buildings. One of the first buildings constructed here in the 1650s – 1660s was the two-story edifice of the Judicial Office, which, in addition to judicial functions, was in many ways the center of the general administration of the diocese. Around 1670, the Church of the Resurrection with two flanking fortress towers on its Northern facade was constructed close to the Judicial Office building. This complex was designed as the main entrance to the Metropolitan courtyard - the Holy gate. The appearance of the Church of the Resurrection is also striking by the contrasting combination of the harsh, almost unadorned top of the temple with the lower part, which is abundantly decorated with various brick patterns, multicolored tiles, and a large picturesque kiot.

On the other side of the Central courtyard stands a large building of Metropolitan chambers, constructed under Metropolitan Jonah in about 50s — early 70s of the XVII century. From the very beginning, it was intended for the residence of the Metropolitan, as well as for the storage of his treasury. Part of the premises was occupied by the Exchequer, which oversaw all financial affairs of the diocese. Until the end of the XVII century the building remained two-story, in XVIII century, the third floor was added, and at the end of the same century it has received a new decor in the spirit of classicism. Now only the ornamental belt, typical for the second half of the XVII century, and the narrow windows of the first floor, restored by restorers in the 1920s, remind of the ancient appearance of the structure.

There is a complex of the Royal Apartments or, as it is also called, the "Red Chamber", which were constructed in 1670 – 1680. The building has a picturesque layout of volumes, each of which is completed with a special steep roof. A magnificent porch topped with two tents gives even more picturesqueness to the Royal chambers.

The complex of the Church of the Saviour of the Holy Image (later — the Saviour by the Porch) was built behind the Metropolitan chambers around 1675. A bakery and the other administrative offices were situated on the ground floor, and at the first: the Church of the Saviour of the Porch, a large dining room, porch between them, and vostochnye chambers (storage of kitchen utensils) which was adjacent to the Northern façade of the building and was dismantled in 1778. The Church of the Saviour was the home church of Metropolitan Jonah. Its slender volume, crowned with a gilded head on a drum of complicated shape, dominates the surrounding buildings.

The Dining or White chamber has a tradition for the XVI-XVII centuries single-column design. The interior is well lit by wide windows decorated with the so-called "hanging stone". Here, Metropolitan Jonah has arranged a festive meal.

During the 1670s – 1680s the fortress walls and towers of the Metropolitan residence were built. The masters provided them with all the attributes of a fortress structure, the loopholes of the plantar, oblique, and upper battle. However, the richness of the decorative decoration of the towers, which, like ordinary chambers, have wide windows with platbands, indicate that the fortress from the very beginning had no military significance. Undoubtedly, it was intended to demonstrate the greatness of the Rostov diocese, one of the largest in Russia. At the same time different buildings of the household yard were constructed. Storerooms, brewery, and drying rooms were housed in buildings situated between the Watery and Wood-burning Towers. And on the other side of the Wood-burning Tower – kitchen and pastry shop. The architectural decoration of all these structures is very modest. Thus the hierarchically subordinate position of household buildings in the overall artistic whole of the ensemble was emphasized.

One of the last Kremlin buildings of the time of Metropolitan Jonah was the gate church of John of Patmos the Theologian (1683). This is perhaps the most perfect work of the Ionian masters. All the best of the experience gained during the years of construction of the metropolitan residence, found a brilliant embodiment in this wonderful monument. The Church of St. John the Theologian looks more elegant and festive than the churches of the Kremlin that preceded it. There is no longer a contrast between the richly decorated bottom and the severe, almost ascetic top of the temple in its appearance.

A completely different architectural treatment has the Church of Gregory the Theologian (1680s), which is a part of the Grigoriev Monastery, that was attributed or completely dependent on the Metropolitan. At first glance, the Church of Gregory the Theologian with its multi-pitched completion and five-domed structure is close to other Kremlin churches. But there are no either an arcature-columnar belt, or a tile one, or rich platbands in its decoration. That had to underline the ascetic essence of the monastery life.

The last independent building of the Rostov Kremlin was the Church of Hodegetria, which construction started in 1692 and was completed in 1693. It has received the features of the "Moscow Baroque" style, which was widespread in the late XVII-early XVIII centuries. But unlike most of the buildings in this architectural trend, the Church of Hodegetria looks much more modest. The masters did everything to harmoniously fit it into the already established ensemble.

At the end of the seventeenth century a large Stable Yard was built for the Metropolitan residence, which included residential and domestic sections as well as stalls for the horses. This is the earliest surviving Russian building of this kind.

So, by the end of the XVII century, the formation of the Bishop's court was almost completed. All its various structures were combined in a rare picturesque, but at the same time surprisingly harmonious ensemble. The unity and noble restraint of the color scheme gave it a special spirituality. White with a slightly pinkish tinge color of the stone walls was peculiarly combined with the silvery, almost black color of the plank roofs and the dull luster of the tinned coating of the heads and crosses. The picture was completed by a magnificent garden laid out in the central courtyard with a wide pond, which resembled a garden of paradise. And the ensemble as a whole, according to the plan of Metropolitan Jonah, was supposed to symbolize the heavenly city — Jerusalem.

From the South to the Central part of the Rostov Kremlin the Metropolitan garden is situated. Initially, it was an integral part of the Metropolitan residence. it was built under Metropolitan Jonah, at the end of the XVII century, when the formation of the Rostov Kremlin ensemble was completed. The inventory of 1701 shows that the garden had "a length of fifty-five fathoms, a length of three hundred fathoms, and in it trees of Apple, pear, cherry, and other garden trees"[4].

In 1787 the decision to move the Episcopal see from Rostov to Yaroslavl was made, and the Rostov Metropolitan residence lost its function, was left without attention, and gradually became dilapidated. The buildings of the ensemble were occupied by various departments as warehouses and there were no services in the temples of the ensemble.

However, thanks to the enlightened Rostov merchants, the architectural complex was restored at their expense in the 1860s and 1880s. On the initiative of A. A. Titov and I. A. Shlyakov, the Rostov Museum of Church antiquities was opened in the White chamber of the Kremlin in October 1883. In 1886, the Kremlin was taken under its patronage by the heir to the Imperial throne, the future Emperor Nicholas II. In 1910, the State Duma legislated the all-Russian status of the Museum, deciding to release money from the Treasury for its maintenance[5].

In 1953 many monuments of the ensemble were damaged because of the tornado. Emergency restoration work of individual objects of the Rostov Kremlin turned into a scientific restoration to recreate the original appearance of the entire ensemble. The work was supervised by the outstanding restorer V. S. Banige, who arrived in Rostov almost immediately after the tornado. In 1957, restoration work was completed on most of the sites[6].

Since 1960 Rostov Kremlin became one of the key attractions of the tourist route through the ancient Russian cities of Central Russia "Golden ring"[7].

In the late 1990s, the garden was reconstructed. Its cross-shaped layout and species composition corresponds to the Metropolitan garden of the end of the XVII century. This is the only reconstructed medieval garden of the Bishop's residence in Russia. In the Northern part of the garden, a Bosket marks the plan of the cell building of the Grigoriev monastery that existed here in ancient times. the remains of this building were discovered by archaeologists.

Rostov kremlin architectural ensemble

Ensemble includes:

Assumption cathedral (1508—1512)

Assumption cathedral belfry (around 1682, around 1689)

Judicial Office [Sudny Prikaz] (1650s - 1660s)

Gateway Church of the Resurrection (around 1670)

Metropolitain Chambers (1650s - beginning 1670s)

Royal Apartments (1670s - 1680s)

Church of the Mandilion (Church of our Saviour - by - the Porch) (around 1675)

White Chamber (around 1675)

Gateway Church of St. John the Theologian (around 1683)

Church of St. Gregory the Theologian (1680s)

Domestic Courtyard (1670s - 1680s)

Stable Yard (end of XVII century)

Church of Hodegetria (1692 - 1693)

House on the Cellars (1660 - 1680s, 1697 - 1698, middle of the XVIII century)

Fortress walls with five corner and two gate towers (1670s - 1680s)

Fence with two towers and the Metropolitan garden chamber (1680s - middle of the XVIII century)

Fence of the Cathedral square with the Holy gate (XVIII - XIX century)

Assumption cathedral

The present building was preceded by three churches. The first was built "of oak timbers" in 991, only after 3 years after the adoption of the Christianity in Kiev, it was the oldest Orthodox church of North-East Russia[8]. A new one of White stone was erected on the site of the wooden cathedral in 1160s, but destroyed in 1204.The next white-stone cathedral was built on the same foundation in 1213 - 1231.

Actual cathedral was erected in 1508 - 1512. It was the first large, six-columned church with a triple apse and live domes to be built in Russia in the sixteenth century outside Moscow. The walls and dome drums are made of brick, but most of the decorative relief details are of white stone.Crowning, the majestic main body are ogee-shaped zakomars and live domes, which were originally helmet-shaped. The six-columned interior arrangement is reflected on the facedes in broad pilaster strips, which protrude strongly and therefore look particularly impressive. The facedes are divided by cornices into four tiers.

Assumption cathedral was constructed by an italian architect from Venice. Whereas the general composition of the cathedral follows the traditions of medieval Russian architecture, its decorative treatment clearly expresses features of late Venetian Gothic.

Originally the walls of the interior were painted "imitation brick". The cathedral did not acquire wall paintings until 1659. They were commissioned by Metropolitan Jonah of Rostov. The paintings were executed in 1670 and 1671. In 1843 paintings were covered with oil painting. The seventeenth century frescoes survived in part beneath this layer.

The Cathedral's main iconostasis and pilar iconostasis are not the original ones. They were executed in 1731 - 1740 in the Baroque style.

Assumption Cathedral Belfry

Around 1682 a belfry was constructed to the south-east of the cathedral. Facades of the belfry were divided by pilaster strips and horizontal bands, and topped by ogee-shaped zakomars and pointed kokoshnik. The Church of the Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem was situated in the lower part of the building. The belfry's height and exterior ornament lend a remarkable unity and harmony to the ensemble of the Cathedral Court. Belfry has got 15 bells and all of them appeared there in the days of the Metropolitan Jonah. Two enormous bells: "Polieleny" (1000 poods) and "Lebed"(Swan) (500 poods) were casted in 1682. Later, in 1688 the largest bell "Sysoi" (2000 poods) was made for the belfry. Special additional tower-shaped unit adjoining the belfry's north facade was erected for this bell.

Judicial Office

This two-storey building was erected in the 1650s - 1660s. The rusticated window surrounds and pilaster strips of the first floor can not be found in the Rostov architecture of that period.

Church of the Resurrection

The gateway Church of the Resurrection with a fortified tower flanking was bult next to the Judical Office. This original composition was used here for the first time in Russian architecture. With its two towers the gateway Church provided a magnificent main entrance to the Metropolitan's Court,a kind of Holy Gate.

The pilar-less cube of the Church, similar to the decoration of the Assumption Cathedral, was decorated on the outside with pilaster strips and horizontal bands, and the pendiments of the multi-pitched roof repeat the ogee-shaped kokoshniks that remind one of the cathedral's zakomaras.Other features borrowed from the Assumption Cathedral are the pointed kokoshniks by the guttering and the decor of the five dome drums. The Church of the Resurrection is remarkable for the contrast between the strict upper part, void of the decorative brickwork so characteristic of seventeenth-century architecture, and the lower part adorned with all sorts of figured brick, multichrome tiles and a large attractive icon niche. That is probably because Metropolitan Jonah saw the ascetic simplicity of the upper part of the church as reflecting the image of the heavenly, celestial world, while the lower part was an image of the earthy world.

The decor of the interior of the Church of the Resurrection is even more original. The rectangular ground plan of the main body,covered by a transverse vault, is adjoined on the east by a sanctuary with a triple apse, and on the south, west and north by galleries. The walls are densely covered with splendid frescoes painted in the 1670s. Unlike other Russian churches of the same period, there were hardly any icons here, only two on either side of the Royal Doors. Instead of the usual wooden iconostasis the Church of the Resurrection has Russia's first high stone iconostasis executed in the fresco technique. As a result the overall artistic treatment of the interior is exceptionally integrated for its time. The fresco-painted iconostasis in the Church of the Resurrection shows that, unlike most of his contemporaries, Metropolitan Jonah attached a special sacral importance to church wall paining.

The frescoes consist of a chronical and detailed Gospel account of Christ earthy life. This unfolds on the walls from the top to the bottom, finishing at the northen edge of the solium with the composition of "The Resurrection of Christ", a direct reference to the church dedication. The interior is well lit by numerous windows and the wall painting in golden ochre, bright blues, greens and pinks makes an unusually festive impression.

For the first time a ciborium or canopy was set up on four gilded posts over the Royal Doors of the iconostasis and the High Place in the sanctuary behind the altar, and the lower section of the iconostasis wasdecorated with an arcade on gilded semi-columns. Another unsual feature is that the sanctuary together with the adjacent solium and choir places was raised four steps above the level of the floor in the main body of the church. These features were probably designed to lend a special significance to the liturgical rites taking place in the church and led by the Metropolitan Jonah, in other words, the divine service of the arch prelate. The painting in both the sanctuary and the main body of the church was largely designed toserve the same purpose.

The painting in the galleries of the Church of the Resurrection is devoted to subjects from the Old Testament and Revlations, with special emphasis on John the Divine's vision of the heavenly city, the celestial Jerusalem.

Church of the Mandilion (Church of our Saviour - by - the Porch)

This complex was built around 1675 behind the Metropolitan Chambers. It served as the private church of the Metropolitan Jonah and was regarded as the main church in the Metropolitan court in those days. The lower storey contained a bakery and other domestic facilities, and the upper one the Church of our Saviour separated by a vestibule from a large refectory with serving chambers adjoining the north facade which were domolished in 1778. The Church is square in plan and has a cross vault. Its slender outline topped by a gold dome on a rather elaborate drum dominates the surrounding buildings. Thr double-pitched roof, which reflects the church's cross vaulting, was clearly inspired by sixteenth-century architecture. The most striking details of the decor, namely, the band of blind arcading, the apsidal frieze of five-pointed niches and the kokoshniks by the guttering, were borrowed from the nearby Assumption Cathedral. Almost all the decor including the rich window surrounds, is concentrated in the lower part of the church. The upper section is an austere as that of the gateway Church of the Resurrection.

Shortly after it was built, the Church of our Saviour was painted with frescoes and acquired a stone iconostasis like one in the Church of the Resurrection. Other features of the Church of the Resurrection interior decor are repeated here as well, but Church of our Saviour has some new details which developed the general concept of the interior. The solium has eight steps instead of the usual four and there are no canopies over the High Place in the sanctuary or the Royal Doors. Instead there is an arcade on gilded posts over the solium parapets, somewhat similar to the Byzantine sanctuary barrier. Additional arches of no constructional importance stretch from the arcade to the sanctuary wall. Royal Doors here are shaped like a receding stone portal faced with bronze gilt.

The main forms of the interior and wall painting are connected in meaning and rich in symbolism. Thus, the eight steps of the solium indicate the divine symbolism of the sanctuary to which they lead, since the number eight is a symbol of paradise. This number also indicated that the church belonged to Jonah himself. The fresco of Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and Apostleson the wall over the solium arcade recalls the Gospel prophesy that on the Day of Judgement Christ and the Apostles will judge "the twelve tribes of Israel". The images of the twelve sons of Jacob, the ancestors of these twelve tribes are also depicted on the solium parapet just under the arcade. The fresco of the Last Judgement unfolds opposite, on the west wall. Thus the images of the judges and the judged , in keeping with the wishes of Metropolitan Jonah relate to one another.

Church of St. John the Divine

Elevated main body, superbly arranged five domes, and beatifully elongated dome drums and crosses the building seems to be soaring up to heaven. As with the earlier Rostov kremlin churches, the decor on the upper part of the facades consists exclusively of elements borrowed from the Assunption Cathedral. The cube with its multi-pitched roof is divided up evenly by pilaster stripes united at the top by ogee-shaped kokoshniks, with a charming ruff of pointed wooden slats above them. There are bands of blind arcading between the pilaster strips and small kokoshniks on the corners by the guttering. The drums are decorated with austere blind arcading and ornamental bands with cornices above them. All decorative elements characteristic of the seventeenth century (rich window surrounds and other types of patterned brickwork) are concentrated in the lower part of the building, which also repeats the principle of decor on the facades of the earliest Rostov Kremlin churches. At the same time, the contrast between the upper and lower parts of the building is not so strong here, because the bling arcading on the cube and the picturesque icon niche on the west facade bring the two parts closer together in terms of decor, thanks to which it looks more elegant.

The square ground plan and high interior of the building, which has a cross-vaulted roof, repeat the interior of the Church of Our Saviour, while the stone iconostasis with an arcade at the base and the canopies over the Royal Doors and high place are similar to the corresponding elements in the Church of the Resurrection. The solium here is a perfectly ordinary one, however, raised by one step only, which may be explained by the proximity of the church to the Royal Apartments. When the Russian sovereigns were in residence the church may have been used as a royal one, prompting Metropolitan Jonah to refrain from having high solium, one of the most unusual features of the church interiors in his residence.

The Church of St. John the Divine was painted in 1683. The wall paintings in the main body and the sanctuary have survived with only a few small losses. This painting unite three different cycles: the two upper tiers depict subjects from the Gospel story, followed by three tiers with the life of the Apostle John the Divine and right at the botom, closest of all to the spectator, another tier depicting the life of the Venerable Abraham of Rostov. This combination was clearly programatic, as John of Patmos|John the Divine was one of the central figures in the Life of the Venerable Abraham. It was he who gave abraham the rod with which he cast down the idol of Veles (god)|Veles. The scenes of "The Apostle John the Divine Appearing to the Venerable Abraham of Rostov" and "St. Abraham casting down the idol of Veles" are on the wet wall, right next to the enrance, meaning that anyone who came in would realise straightaway that the great Christian saint to whom the church was dedicated had a directconnection with Rostov.

The freaso painters did not simply correlate the three cycles, but moulded them visually into an invisible semantic and artistic whole, givingsimilar iconographic features to scenes they wished to compare. This similarity is particularly obvious in the scenes of Abraham casting down the idol of Veles and the destructionof the pagan temple by St. John the Divine, and also the scenes of Abraham being taken to be tried by the prince and the "Entry into Jerusalem" in the festal tier of the church's stone iconostasis. So this original method appears to have been used to express the idea of the similarity between the feats of the Venerable Abraham and those of St. John the divine, and to compare both of them to Christ. There can be no doubt that it was Metropolitan Jonah who encouraged the artists to make use of this device.


  1. Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Rostov Kremlin". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2020-12-11.
  2. "Успенский собор". (in русский). Retrieved 2020-12-11.
  3. "Ансамбль Ростовского кремля". (in русский). Retrieved 2020-12-11.
  4. "Митрополичий сад". (in русский). Retrieved 2020-12-11.
  5. "История и культура Ростовской земли. — 2009. — С. 33" (PDF). [Rostov Kremlin]. Retrieved 11 December 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. "К 130-летию Ростовского музея: смерч 1953 года". Культурная Эволюция. Retrieved 2020-12-11.
  7. Данилов, Андрей Юрьевич (2018-12-29). ""Золотое кольцо России": история становления и развития туристского маршрута". Вестник ЯрГУ. Серия Гуманитарные науки (in русский). 0 (4): 41–45. ISSN 1996-5648.
  8. Melʹnik, A. G. (Aleksandr Gavrilovich) (2011). Rostovskiĭ kremlʹ = Rostov Kremlin. Gosudarstvennyĭ muzeĭ-zapovednik "Rostovskiĭ Kremlʹ.". [Moscow (Russia)]: Severnyĭ palomnik. ISBN 978-5-94431-251-8. OCLC 859381420.

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