Yuryev-Polsky (loosely translated as “a town of Yury in the fields”) was founded by Moscow’s founder Prince Yury Dolgoruky only five years after the capital city, in 1152. It is one of the less-visited “long shot” towns interspersed between such major cities within the Golden Ring’s famous travel zone as Rostov the Great in the north or Vladimir in the east. The town had been designated a capital of the smaller local princedom at the beginning of the 13th century.
The Tatar-Mongols had trampled it more than once, and the Poles had burnt it, but it still stands, exuding its ancient atmospheric charm. Unlike Suzdal or Pereslavl Zalessky, its postcard-worthy neighbors, Yuryev-Polsky instead invites one to reflect, ponder and pensively muse over the fleeting passage of time and how provincial Russian life is still centered around the age-old traditions.
This quaint little town is located at an almost equal distance from either Pereslavl Zalessky or Vladimir, but travelling towards it may be one-of- a-kind challenge. On its northern side, the road has seen its better days whereas the road south is quite a joy to travel on… However, those who choose to pursue it and make it there will find in it a rough jewel in the crown of the ancient Rus strongholds.
Nothing beats the opportunities this tranquil town offers to capture a glimpse of life in rural Russia. Its market (where one can clearly feel like travelling back in time), its 19th century provincial architecture, traditional crafts and some amazing bits of local history – all in all, it is remarkably reflective of a well-worn phrase: “time stands still” there. The visitors will be taken by the serenity, easy pace, and its old-fashioned, almost palpable, peacefulness.
For pilgrims and passing tourists alike, the town will create lasting memories as they will walk around its ancient earthen walls or visit the Archangel-Michael monastery located within. The monastery coexists and shares space with a well-stocked museum of local history, architecture and arts. The museum will surprise its visitors with its open-air display of colorful carved window frames and other ethnic exhibits.
An exquisite pre-Mongol’s era St. George’s cathedral (dating way back to 1234!), with its intricate stone carvings and an imposing single dome, is located within the fortress’s earthen walls. The intricate chaos of its stone-clad mystic images is lost in translation to a modern visitor, who may not understand the stories it tries to tell. Nonetheless, they deal an impactful blow to a viewer’s imagination and will unlikely be ever forgotten. This church is almost like that Churchillesque “enigma wrapped in mystery” of a Russian soul, never understood though called to be loved. A few monasteries and churches encircle the downtown of Yuryev-Polsky, some in ruins and others slowly getting back in shape. The town will entice some meaningful and soulful discussions rather than the feast for the eye or much less, to the stomach. For visitors, few modern dining options are available, since none of the Western chains or its lifestyle had reached Yuryev-Polsky’s central streets. Therefore, taking a packed lunch or planning ahead and pre-ordering meals at a local café would be a good idea. Regardless, it is a must-do trip to anyone who craves authentic Russian and Russian Orthodox experiences.