welcome to another part of the series “Day trips” from Moscow!
Today we will take you to Zvenigorod, a small town about 50km west of Moscow. It is one of the oldest towns in Moscow Oblast.
Some historical background
The town exists since the 12th century, and it first appeared in written papers in 1338. The town’s name comes from either a personal name (cf. Zvenislav, Zvenimir) or on a hydronym (cf. the Zvinech, Zvinyaka, Zveniga Rivers); the derivation from “town of ringing (bells)” is a folk etymology. But this isn’t confirmed.
Zvenigorod became famous in the 14th century after it was given by Dmitry Donskoy to his second son Yuri, who founded his residence on the steep bank of the Moskva River. The local kremlin, called Gorodok, contains the only fully preserved example of 14th-century Muscovite architecture, the Assumption Cathedral (1399) (Cathedral of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin Mary; in Russian: Успенский собор на Городке). The cathedral’s interior features frescoes by Andrei Rublev.
Zvenigorod was granted town rights in 1784. By the late 19th century, the town gained popularity among the upper class as a fashionable suburb of Moscow. Many extravagant dachas (country houses) were built in the neighbourhood. Some of these house museums of Sergey Taneyev, Anton Chekhov, and Isaac Levitan.
The main sight
In Zvenigorod, the most popular sight to visit is the Rozhdestvensky Cathedral and the surrounding Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery at the end of town.
Zvenigorod is primarily remembered for internecine wars waged by Yuri’s sons for control of Moscow during the reign of their cousin Vasily II (1425–1462). After their party was defeated, the town was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
In 1398, Prince Yury asked St. Savva, one of the first disciples of Sergius of Radonezh, to go to Zvenigorod and to establish a monastery on the Storozhi Holm (Watching Hill). St. Savva of Storozhi was interred in the white stone cathedral of the Virgin’s Nativity in 1407. This diminutive, roughly hewn church still stands, although its present-day exquisite look is the result of recent restoration. The frescoes in the altar date back to the 1420s, but the rest of interior was painted in 1656. A magnificent iconostasis in five tiers and the Stroganov-school heaven gates were installed in 1652.
After the death of Feodor III, who spent most of his time there, the monastery declined. In May 1918, when the Bolsheviks tried to seize the relics of St. Savva, several persons were shot dead. In 1985, the cloister was assigned to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. St. Savva’s relics were returned to the monastery in 1998
How to get there?
The easiest way to get to Zvenigorod is again to catch on of the local trains.
To Zvenigorod, they depart more or less every hour, some from Moscow Savelovskaya station and from Moscow Belarussian station. The journey will take between 1h and 1h30, depending on how often the train stops. Tickets can be bought at the counter or at one of the many ticket machines in the station, which also work in english.
If you want to explore more, or combine Zvenigorod with Istra, which is not far from, I recommend going by car.
Here you can see the map of the area (the whole trip will be around 150km):
Stay tuned for more destinations, which can be easily reached from Moscow!