Suzdal (2018)

In 2018 I visited Suzdal, which is one of the places that make up the Golden Ring, a collection of cities of historical importance near Moscow. It was founded about 1000 years ago and was the capital of this region when Moscow itself did not yet exist. Suzdal is a town more than a city. It never underwent any major industrialization since the Russian railroads do not have a stop here, and its churches largely survived the era of communism.

Tourist attractions in Suzdal are largely centered along one street (Lenin street, oddly enough). In the map below, it is the street roughly going down the center of the map. Observe in the directory (map legend) underneath the map that each item is written not just in Russian and English, but also in Chinese.

On the map itself, only 4 items are in Chinese: the Kremlin and the Museum of Wooden Architecture (purple regions below), the city administrative building (upper right), and the Shopping Arcade (center).

In the center of Suzdal is a shopping area, where one store was selling a pair of jars with intertwined handles and elsewhere I could buy green tank slippers (but didn't).


From behind the shopping area there is the following view of a meadow across the Kamenka River down a steep hill. This illustrates the largely rural feel of Suzdal. The building on the left is the Antipievskaya Church (church of Antipia) and the building straight ahead with blue onion domes is the Cathedral of the Nativity, which is inside the Suzdal Kremlin. We'll see more of that later.

In the evening at the same location behind the shopping area, there was a group of older people taking painting lessons outside and a group of younger people just hanging out.


Near the center of Suzdal I found wooden 15-puzzles for sale. This was fantastic! All 15-puzzles I have ever seen are built with a plastic casing around the sides, which doesn't allow the pieces to be removed. Therefore in such a puzzle I can't swap the positions of the 14 and 15 as a physical demonstration to a class of this "impossible" configuration (it can't be reached starting from the pieces in their usual order by moving them according to the standard rules). But in a puzzle with wooden pieces that easily come out, I can swap the 14 and 15, as in the second photo. (The puzzle stays closed with the magnetic metal stub at the bottom.)

For a cost of 150 rubles (under 3 dollars) I was willing to buy this 15-puzzle, but to be honest it is a huge pain to play: the wooden pieces have a lot of friction with the wooden backboard, so nothing moves quickly or smoothly. I placed the pieces in a random position and then tried to solve it: there was a 50% chance of reaching the standard configuration with 14 and 15 in the right order and a 50% chance of reaching the configuration with 14 and 15 swapped. (For a 15-puzzle with a plastic casing, the rearrangements of the pieces are not completely random: they all lead to the standard configuration.) It turned out my random placement of the pieces led me to the configuration with 14 and 15 swapped, which is the first time in my life this possibility ever occurred. It might be the last time too, because of how frustrating it is to move the pieces repeatedly.

The next photo, from a cafe in Suzdal, shows Russians suffer just as much as everyone else from smartphone distraction disease. In the second photo, the man is wearing a yellow Pittsburgh Pirates baseball hat! To me that was very surprising, because normally when I see people abroad wear a baseball team's hat, it is the NY Yankees. I called out to the guy, hoping to find out how he got the hat, but he did not hear me so I let it go. He probably didn't even have any idea his hat means something anyway.


The building below, which looks like a lighthouse, is a firehouse. At night, the small plant in the next photo cast shadows with different colors since it being illuminated by different types of street lights.


The next photo shows a view of the Pokrovsky Monastery, which was built in the 1300s. This is where Russian czars and other nobles sometimes sent their wives to live as nuns and then they would marry someone else. Across the river, which you can see at the bottom of the photo (the same river as in the big photo above), is the biggest monastery in Suzdal: the St. Euthymius Monastery.

This monastery, shown below, was eventually fortified for the defense of Suzdal, so it was given very thick brick walls. I got this photo from here.

Inside the St. Euthymius Monastery is a large herb garden, which was created in the 1600s for medicinal purposes.


The monastery has a bell tower, shown below, where a man in the upper level on the left (hard to see) rings the bells for several minutes by pulling ropes. Most of the bells are replacements for the originals, which were melted down in the 1930s. The clockface that is visible in the photo, to the right of the bells, has its hours marked by Cyrillic numerals rather than Roman numerals.

Here is a YouTube video of the bell tower in action. The video is over 6 minutes long, so skip ahead if you don't want to listen to all of it. It's interesting to see the changing clouds, say at 1:00 and 6:00.

Not far from the bell tower is this mausoleum, where Dmitry Pozharsky is buried. Pozharsky, who was from Suzdal, led an army together with Kuzma Minin that saved Moscow from Polish invaders in the early 1600s. They basically stole the food that was meant for the Poles, who gave up because they were starving. (I wrote about Pozharsky before on the page about my visit to Nizhny Novgorod, which is where the army of Pozharsky and Minin was organized.)

Part of the monastery was used a prison for 200 years, from the 1760s to the 1960s. During World War II some captured officers from the German and Italian armies were kept in the prison, and there is an exhibit elsewhere in the monastery about their experiences. In the former prison area itself is an exhibit about the history of the prison and the gulag. Below is a map of the USSR on a wall showing the location of gulag camps. A copy of Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" is hanging on the right side directly under the map.

It's almost time to visit the Suzdal Kremlin. First, here I am standing across the road from it, with the building in the distance behind me being part of the Museum of Wooden Architecture.

The Suzdal Kremlin has no impressive boundary wall like kremlins in other places (e.g., Moscow). It is basically bordered by the Kamenka river and by an elevated piece of earth. On the internet there are photos that label the thick brick wall of the St. Euthymius Monastery (which is on the opposite side of Suzdal from the Kremlin!) as the being the Suzdal Kremlin wall. For example, below is a screenshot from Wikipedia with such a claim. Another example is here.


Inside the Suzdal Kremlin, which is where Suzdal was founded, I am standing in front of 2 churches below. The wooden one is the Church of St. Nicholas. It is not originally from Suzdal, but was transported there from a nearby village about 60 years ago. Notice the ground floor is elevated. The church with the blue domes is the Cathedral of the Nativity, first built in the 1100s (and then rebuilt a couple of times after being destroyed). The building with the green roof is the Bishop's House, which contains former residences of those who lived in the Kremlin and a history museum.

There were numerous white chairs set out on the grounds of the Kremlin, so I relaxed in one for a little while. In the second photo below, I am looking at a book I bought earlier in the day from a sidewalk antiquarian book seller. It's a number theory book from 1888, and it is in pretty good shape! The cost was 1000 rubles, which is less than 20 dollars.


The cover page of the book is below. It says "Higher Algebra, Part 2: Introductory Number Theory (publ. in St. Petersburg)". The author is Julian Sokhotskii, who was Polish but was educated and worked in St. Petersburg. I later read in the book Mathematics of the 19th century: Geometry, Analytic Function Theory that Sokhotskii was "the first genuinely original Russian researcher in the area of the theory of analytic functions of a complex variable" (page 229). In the tradition of Russians using different names of theorems compared to the West, they call the Casorati-Weierstrass theorem from complex analysis the Sokhotskii theorem or Sokhotskii-Weierstrass theorem since Sokhotskii discovered it independently of Casorati and in the same year, 1868. (Weierstrass published it later but may have known about it earlier.) I asked the woman selling me the book if there might be a problem taking such an old book out of the country, but she said (reasonably enough) that nobody cares about old math books. If the book were a work of art, there might be a problem exporting it.

I'll show you a few scenes from inside the Kremlin buildings.

Below is the interior of the Cathedral of the Nativity: icons along one wall and frescoes along the others and the ceiling.


Next, inside a history museum within the Bishop's House I am standing next to a large handwritten Book of the Gospels. Created in the 1600s, it is physically the biggest book in Russia. Its dimensions are roughly 3 1/2 feet by 3 feet, its weight is 77 pounds, and its cover is made from 26 pounds of silver. (I got this information from here.) The book was given to the Suzdal Kremlin by the sister of Peter the Great.

Here are some sewn materials from long ago: the heading at the top of the photo says it is from the 1600s (XVII-th century). The Russian word for embroidery is шитье (sheet-yaw) and the verb "to sew" is шить (sheet'), so when I first saw this item I read the title not as "Ornamental embroidery, 17th century", but as "Ornamental shit, 17th century".

In the evening after visiting the Kremlin I had some sparkling lemonade at a table with a view towards the center of Suzdal. The last photo is a closer view of the center from the same location. The tall building in the middle is the bell tower of yet another monastery (named Rizopolozhensky).

You can see my trip to Vladimir here.