Situated on the banks of the Volga River where it meets the Kostroma River, this city is the northernmost of the Golden Ring. Founded in 1152 by Prince Yuri Dolgoruky, also the founder of Moscow, it was occupied and destroyed many times at the hands of the Mongols, Tatars, and river pirates from Novgorod. After the last attack by the Poles a muscovite delegation offered Mikhail Romanov, then living in the local Ipatiev Monastery, the crown as Tsar of Russia, thus ending the Time of Troubles when he became the first Romanov tsar. The Romanovs took Kostroma under their protection, many of them coming to visit throughout history, up to and including the last tsar, Nicolas II. The city grew as a main commercial center first as a port on the Volga, then later thanks to the establishment of the Muscovy Company, which monopolized trade between England and Russia through the northern sea port of Arkhangelsk. In the 17th century Kostroma was the third largest Russian city, trailing only Moscow and Yaroslavl. In 1773 it was almost destroyed by a terrible fire, though the fire brought with it a silver lining: Catherine the Great decided to make Kostroma a model of her new urban plans, setting an indelible footprint on the city’s architecture that is still easily visible today. The historical city is kept almost intact, complete with its provincial charm, typical izbas (small wooden houses) mixed in with baroque and neoclassical buildings, and a wide array of other fascinating sights. Kostroma is Russia’s main textile and jewelry production center, and is also home to Snegurochka (“Snow child”), a character from Russian fairy tales who is the granddaughter and helper of Ded Moroz, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus.

Panoramic tour of Kostroma. We will discover Catherine the Great’s urban plan, one which, according to legend, mirrors the shape of a fan she threw on the city map in order to describe her idea of a radial design for its streets. The streets spread out from a hub on the banks of the Volga, or what is today Susanin Square. The square features some of the main city sights, such as the Fire Tower, built in 1827; the Guard House; the Palace of General Borshov (1824); the Drama Theatre (1863); and the Monument to Mikhail Romanov. The area is also home to the famous “Merchant Galleries”, or “Trade Rows”, their neoclassical style dating back to 1786. They were built to concentrate city trade, streamlining work for traders and simplifying life for tax collectors. Each was constructed with a ground floor for trading and an upper floor for storage, with each dedicated to a corporation or even specific product: the Flower Gallery, milk, tobacco, oil, fish, sweets, etc. The Epiphany Monastery, on the other hand, is a haven of peace, and behind its strong walls and massive towers monastic life continues even nowadays unperturbed. Inside its Epiphany Cathedral, the oldest stone building in Kostroma, is the 10th century byzantine icon of St. Theodora Virgin, believed to be miraculous. The Church of the Resurrection on the Forests (on Debre) served as a vegetable storage facility under the Soviet regime, though it was subsequently restored.

Visit to the Ipatiev Monastery, built in 1330 at the junction of the Volga and Kostroma rivers, it was heavily fortified, and we can still admire its 16th century walls, belfry, and towers, as it is one of the few medieval buildings that survived the fire of 1773. Inside is the Trinity Cathedral, built in the 16th century and decorated with magnificent frescoes and icons painted by such masters as Nikitin and Savin. Also within the monastery is the Romanov Palace, built in the 17th century for Mikhail Romanov and his mother, who used it as a shelter and hiding place during the Polish invasion. It was here that Mikhail I was blessed as the first Romanov tsar.

Visit to the Museum of Wooden Architecture. Situated next to the Ipatiev Monastery in a beautiful park surrounded by lofty trees and quiet ponds, it hosts 28 buildings typical of the region, including churches, houses, and mills. The most noteworthy is undoubtedly the Cathedral of Our Lady (1552), the oldest wooden church in Russia.