To Novgorod!

Trip Start Jan 30, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Великий Новгород. Veliky Novgorod. Novgorod the Great.

As part of the program, we go on several excursions, and this past weekend we went to the ancient city of Novgorod, one of the oldest cities in Russia. About three hours away from St. Petersburg, Novgorod is a beautiful city, and the history is quite incredible.

Novgorod began as a trading post and became one of the most important political and cultural centers in northwest Russia. Norse sagas tell the city's early history, and by the 12th century it was the biggest in Russia. The end for the thriving city came not at the hands of the Mongols (who got bogged down in the surrounding swamps), but at the hands of the Russian Tsars. Ivan III annexed the city in 1477, and the storm troopers of Ivan the Terrible** completed the job. The founding of St. Petersburg as a trade city was the final end for Novgorod.

However, despite its unfortunate history, much of ancient Novgorod remains preserved. There are a number of old churches, and the kremlin complex remains standing.

Novgorod has one of the oldest kremlins in the country, dating back to the 9th century (it was rebuilt in the 14th century with brick). When most people hear "kremlin," I think they equate it with the White House, in that they think of the center of the Russian government and the residence of the president. There is even “Kremlinology,” which is the study of the inner workings of Russian politics. But the word “kremlin” actually means “fortress,” and refers to the heavy fortifications surrounding the central citadels in historic Russian towns. During the time of the Soviet Union, the government was located inside the Moscow Kremlin, but now the government of the Russian Federation is located in a building outside. “Kremlin” is still used to refer to the government though, and the official website of the Russian President is

On the first day we walked around the churches and inside the kremlin. Inside the kremlin walls stands St. Sophia’s Cathedral, which was finished in 1050. Apparently it was built like a fortress to withstand attack or fire, and it has some of the best onion domes. It is one of the oldest working churches in Russia, and is absolutely beautiful inside.

The second day we went to St. George’s Monastery, which was founded in 1030 by Yaroslav the Wise and still a working monastery. It also had a beautiful church. We then went to the Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture, which is a collection of churches and houses and other buildings brought from areas around Novgorod. One could go into some of the houses and they had set it up so it would be like when people lived in them. It was pretty neat how they found these buildings in the surrounding countryside, disassembled them, brought them to the site, and reassembled them. There was also a huge slide, that was a lot of fun to slide down, but as one went sliding out onto ice at the bottom, many people regretted their choices when they had to sit on the bus-ride back to St. Petersburg with wet bottoms.

The weather was less than optimal, as it was rather rainy the whole time. It’s odd to look at pictures of Novgorod in the summer, as it looks like a completely different place. But all in all, I really enjoyed the trip. It was fun to see Novgorod and to see another part of Russia.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading, and to those who left comments. It means a lot!

**Translating Ivan Grozni as Ivan the Terrible does a great disservice. “Grozny” is  more like “awe-inspiring” or “thundering” than “terrible.”
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Dad on

Nice selection of onion domes. Is that style native to Russia?

Sharon Silverman on

Hi Jen, love the blog entries. I always learn so much from you. The playground surprised me. Hope you are warm and dry!

Boom Boom on

Russia has the best playgrounds!

Cannot wait to hear more!

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