Alexandrov is a city in the north-western part of Vladimir Oblast. The medieval residence of russian princes that played significant role in russian history during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Presently, the main attraction of Alexandrov is the ancient monastery from 16th century, while the city itself is quite unremarkable and industrial.
Alexandrov is located on the eastern edge of Klin-Dmitrov ridge, a series of hills in the northern part of Moscow Oblast. The city stands on the banks of the tiny river Seraya, the left tributary of the Sherna that further flows into the Klyazma. The land near Alexandrov is very typical for the central part of Russia: there are vast forests, separated by small fields, and few hills. Alexandrov is an important transport hub, the crossing of the principal Moscow–Yaroslavl railway and the circular railway line around Moscow (the so-called Big Ring of Moscow Railway). The M7 highway runs 25 km west from the city. A number of local roads pass through Alexandrov and offer connections to Kirzhach, Kol'chugino, Yuryev-Polsky, and the cities of Moscow Oblast. The population of Alexandrov is 63 thousand (2008).
The settlement is known since 14th century. However, the official foundation date is 1513, when Vasili III, the Grand Prince of Moscow, built a residence, fortifications, and first stone churches on the banks of the river Seraya. At that time, the settlement was known as Alexandrova sloboda or Alexandrovskaya sloboda (sloboda means an independent settlement, sometimes just outside the city walls; during the Middle ages, such settlements were exempt from taxes and duties). In 1564, Ivan the Terrible, the son and the successor of Vasili III, made Alexandrov his permanent residence. He suffered from defeats in the war with Lithuania and felt constant fear of treason. Therefore, the tsar decided to leave Moscow and to escape from the nobility in Alexandrov. This decision had two-fold consequences. On one hand, Alexandrov became the cultural center of the country: for example, one of the first printing factories appeared in the town in 1568. On the other hand, Alexandrov was the center of oprichnina, the center of savageness. Oprichnina is a special army, organized in 1565 for the protection of Ivan the Terrible and for effective fighting. The warriors of this army were considered superior to other citizens and were legitimate to violate the law (rob, torture and murder) without punishment. The most known action of this army is the campaign against Novgorod. Ivan the Terrible suspected the people of Novgorod for treason and for help to Sweden. As a punishment, the city was ravaged, and some of the finest pieces of art were moved to Alexandrov. The fluorish of Alexandrov lasted for 17 years, until 1581. In the fall of 1581, Ivan the Terrible killed his son (this accident is shown in the well-known painting by Ilya Repin) and left Alexandrov forever. The town rapidly decayed and also suffered from Polish army during the Time of Troubles (1598–1613). In 1654, the former residence was transformed into a convent and later used as a place of exile. Alexandrov is oficially considered a town since 1778. At that time, it gained the regular, rectangular layout. The Moscow–Yaroslavl railway passed through the town in 1870. The active transport connections led to further development of Alexandrov. In 20th century, a number of factories appeared, including the production of TV sets (the well-known Soviet brand Rekord) and other electronics, crystals and diamonds, textile, and alcohol. Presently, Alexandrov is an industrial city and a railway hub: a huge part of its territory is occupied by factories and railroads.
The layout of Alexandrov is somewhat irregular. The Moscow–Yaroslavl railway goes from west to east through the northern part of the city. The second railway (to Kirzhach) goes along the western boundary of the city and heads south. The railway station is found in the western part of the city, on Komsomol'skaya ploschad (Комсомольская площадь). One of the main streets, ulitsa Lenina (улица Ленина), starts from this square, heads east, and ends at the central square – Sovetskaya ploschad (Советская площадь). Sovetskaya ulitsa (Советская улица) goes further east, crosses the river, and passes along the convent. The other large road, Krasnyi pereulok (Красный переулок) runs from north to south. In the north, it crosses the railway and connects to the road from the M7 highway, while in the south the road to Kirzhach begins. Stone buildings are found in the central part only (between the main railway station and the river), while other parts of the city are occupied by private wooden houses.
Alexandrov is located on the boundary of Vladimir Oblast. Therefore, it is conveniently reached from Moscow Oblast and from Yaroslavl Oblast, while the connections from Vladimir Oblast are sometimes more problematic. Alexandrov is usually visited together with Kirzhach and Yuryev-Polsky or on the way to Rostov Veliky and Yaroslavl.
There are two railway stations in Alexandrov.
- The main station (Alexandrov I) stands on the Moscow–Yaroslavl railway, in the very center of the city. This station is quite active: lots of local and long-distance trains stop or terminate here. The station building is open round-the-clock and offers a lounge. Phone numbers: +7-(49244) 24-171 (local trains), 94-310 (general information), 24-051 (station assistant).
- The second station, Alexandrov II, is minor. It is located in the western part of the city, on the railway to Kirzhach. Alexandrov II is a regular stop for some of the local trains. The station building is closed.
The trains are preferrable for travelling from Moscow, Yaroslavl, and Kirzhach:
- From Moscow: local trains every hour (during the daytime, the trains run even more often). The trains depart from Yaroslavsky station, and the trip takes 2 hours. Additionally, there are 2 daily express trains to Yaroslavl and one express train terminating in Alexandrov. The express trains are slightly faster, but they may require a special ticket (see Russia:Get Around for details). These trains pass through Sergiev Posad. A number of long-distance trains departing from Yaroslavsky station also make a stop in Alexandrov.
- From Vladimir: an indirect and inconvenient connection with a change in Orehovo-Zuevo (the way takes at least 4 hours).
- From Dmitrov: two local trains daily (2 hours).
- From Ivanovo: one local train (early morning) and two long-distance trains (night), the trip takes five hours. All the trains pass through Yuryev-Polsky.
- From Kirzhach: local trains every 1.5-2 hours, the trip takes 40 minutes (mind the huge gap in the afternoon).
- From Yaroslavl: two local trains and two express trains, the trip takes 4 hours and 2.5 hours, respectively. The express trains are considered long-distance and require a special ticket. A number of long-distance trains running in southern direction can be used as well. All these trains make a stop in Rostov Veliky. Additionally, there is one more local train from Rostov to Alexandrov.
The bus station is located on the square near the main railway station. The building is open from 5:00 till 21:15. Phone numbers: +7-(49244) 24-055, 20-641, 20-357.
- From Moscow: 3 buses per day (# 676), departing from VDNH metro station. The trip takes about two hours (mind longer trips during rush hours).
- From Vladimir: 6 buses per day (3.5 hours).
- From Kirzhach: 5 buses per day.
- From Yuryev-Polsky: 2 buses per day (2 hours).
In the city, the roads are quite bad: there are numerous pits and poor road marking. The parking space is available all round the city.
The central part of the city is rather small and easily explored by foot. The convent and the train station are found on the opposite sides of the city center (about 20 min walk). A number of city bus routes are available: in particular, buses # 4 and 7 run between the station and the convent.
Alexandrova sloboda is the eldest part of the city, the former residence of russian princes. The spot is sometimes called Alexandrov Kremlin, although oficially it is the Assumption convent (Успенский монастырь). Presently, the territory is jointly used by the convent and the museum. The walls and the towers are from 17th century, while parts of the ramparts outside the walls represent original fortifications from the prince residence of 16th century. The buildings of the convent show remarkable examples of russian architecture:
- Cathedral of St. Trinity (Троицкий собор) was built in 1513. The cathedral is rather conservative in its shape and decorations. It resembles the ancient constructions of Vladimir, Bogolyubovo, and Yuryev-Polsky. There are few stone carvings, while the shape of the building is slightly distorted by later galleries. Nevertheless, the cathedral of St. Trinity looks like a trace of ancient russian architecture within the later structure. Some people even claim an earlier foundation date of the cathedral, because the 16th century traditions normally implied more ornate buildings. The interior of the cathedral preserves a number of original frescos from 16th century, while the other notable element are the iron gates. The gate in the southern portal was brought from Novgorod during the punitive expedition of Ivan the Terrible in 1570. The other ancient gate is installed in the western portal, the origin of this gate is still disputed. Both the gates date back to 14th century and show well-preserved forged images. The gates are a unique example of ancient russian wrought iron crafts.
- Church of the Intercession (Покровская церковь). This hip-roof church was originally built in 16th century. It is the first hip-rood church in Russia. Later on, in 17th cenutry, a refectory building and a bell-tower were added; these reconstructions changed the appearance of the church. The inner walls present a number of frescos from 16th century. A more unusual and remarkable element are the frescos inside the hip. In general, painting the inner part of the hip was uncommon for the russian tradition, and the church hips were not common as well: this feature was usually reserved for bell-towers. The specific shape of the hip strongly affects the impression of paintings, while their dark color is also somewhat unusual.
- Bell-tower of the Crucifixion (Распятская колокольня) – an unusual building from the middle of 16th century, the time of Ivan the Terrible. The bell-tower was constructed on the spot of an earlier church: the original church was simply covered with the new building. This building is a strange combination of different elements: semi-round kokoshniki are typical for churches, while the hip-type roof is a standard for 17th century bell-towers. Additionally, there is a stone building attached to the bell-tower. This is the so-called Marfa's Chambers, the place of imprisonemnt of princess Marfa, the daughter of Tsar Alexey Michailovich.
- Church of the Assumption (Успенская церковь) is a regular building in the style of 16th–17th centuries. The church was originally constructed around 1525. However, the reconstructions followed in 1570s and in the 17th century: galleries were modified, and the bell-tower was added. Presently, the church is used by the museum.
- Further buildings: church of Theodore Stratelates (надвратная церковь Феодора Стратилата: 1682, over-the-gate), church of the Presentation (церковь Сретения Господня: 1682, a small stocky building in russian style), living chamber (келейный корпус: 1682, rebuilt in 19th century), and a number of small buildings from 18th – 19th century. All these buildings are rather unremarkable.
Museum (музей-заповедник "Александрова Слобода"), Музейный пер. 20, ☎ +7-(49244)-2-80-73 (information), 2-03-97 (excursions), 2-17-74 (secretary) (firstname.lastname@example.org), . T–Su, 09.00–17.00 (on Friday, till 16.00). The museum includes more than ten different exhibitions and a number of "interactive excursions" – special programs that will probably help you to feel the atmosphere of the place (normally, these excursions should be booked in advance). There is a single type of the entrance ticket that covers all the exhibitions. The entrance to the convent is free. The full list of the exhibitions is available at the web site, while the principal displays are listed below:
- Alexandrova sloboda: legends and facts – an exhibition on the mysteries of Alexandrov: the library of Ivan the Terrible, the first flight of the human with wooden wings, and the death of Ivan the Terrible.
- Church of the Intercession – unique frescos painted inside the hip.
- Dining hall – the 16th century tableware.
- Treasures from three centuries – the collection of old books, icons, textile, and embroidery.
- Tsar court in Alexandrova sloboda – the history of the tsar residence and oprichnina.
Most of the exhibitions are pretty regular. The most interesting one is probably the church of the Intercession with its wall paintings.
- Cathedral of the Nativity (Собор Рождества Христова), Советский пер. 11 (near the Cathedral square). The cathedral was built in 1696 and rebuilt in the middle of 19th century. The present appearance of the building is rather unusual and can be referred to russian style.
- Church of Bogolyubobo Icon of Our Lady (церковь Боголюбской иконы Божьей матери), Красный пер. 11. A regular church from 1800 in classicism style.
- Church of St. Seraphim of Sarov (церковь Серафима Саровского), Вокзальная ул. 8 (near the main railway station). A russian revival building from 1904.
- Church of the Transfiguration (Преображенская церковь), Садово-Огородная ул. 2а (behind the convent). A baroque-style church from 1743, rebuilt in the beginning of 19th century.
- Estate of Pervushin (усадьба Первушина), ул. Советская, 16. The main building and two small adjoining buildings from the middle of 19th century (neoclassicism style). Presently, the estate houses the art museum.
- House of the imperial stud farm (здание императорского конного завода), ул. Революции, 45.
- House of the inn-keeper Ivanov (дом трактирщика Иванова Е.Н.), ул. Красной молодёжи, 7 (near the Cathedral square). An interesting building in art nouveau style (1912-1914). Presently, the city administration.
- Railway station, Комсомольская пл. The station building (1870) is a nice example of railway buildings from late 19th century.
- Trading rows (Торговые ряды), ул. Советская, 5. Small building from late 18th century.
- Art museum (Александровский художественный музей), ул. Советская, 16, ☎ +7-(49244)-2-43-89, 2-13-82, 2-16-04, . Daily, 10.00–18.00. The collection of provincial russian art from late 19th – 20th century. The paintings are pretty regular and not very interesting. The main reason for visiting the museum is to see the interior of the old building that once belonged to a merchant Pervushin.
- Museum of Marina Tsvetaeva and Anastasia Tsvetaeva (Александровский литературно-художественный музей Марины и Анастасии Цветаевой), Военная ул. 6 (south from Sovetskaya square), ☎ +7-(49244)-2-42-79, 2-66-74, 2-56-93, . W–Su, 8.30–17.00. The original wooden building where Anastasiya Tsvetaeva, a Russian writer, lived in 1915-1917. Her sister Marina Tsvetaeva, a famous poetess, visited this house and spent here the summer of 1916 – the period of fruiful poetical work, known as Alexandrov summer (Александровское лето). The museum presents the history of Tsvetaev's family along with the information on other famous people who lived in Alexandrov in 20th century. The specific role of the city during this period is caused by its position – about 100 km away from Moscow. During the Soviet time, people released from the prison were prohibited to live in Moscow or within 100 km from Moscow, thus leading to the phenomenon of 101st kilometer. The cities lying beyond the 101st kilometer from Moscow were occupied by intellectuals, previously imprisoned for political reasons. Alexandrov was one of such cities, the place of residence for many cultural workers.
- Museum of Stone (Музей рукотворного камня), Институтская ул. 1 (south from the railway station), ☎ +7-(49244)-9-25-46. M–Fr, 8.00–17.00; excursions can also be booked for the weekend. This museum is attached to the institute of synthetic crystals where artificial crystals of diamond, sapphire, quartz and other minerals are produced. The exposition shows natural and artifical stones, the production technology, and the resulting jewelry. The artifical stones can be purchased in the museum shop.