History of Yaroslavl
Foundation of Yaroslavl
Although there is archaeological evidence of Viking settlements dating from the 8th or 9th centuries in the area of modern day Yaroslavl, the city is officially considered to have been founded by Prince Yaroslav the Wise in 1010, making it the first Russian city on the Volga. This is based on the fact that it is known from chronicles that the city was founded by Yaroslav the Wise when he was prince of Rostov Veliky where he reigned from 988 to 1010. The city was founded on the cape known as the Strelka where the River Kotorosl flows into the Volga. Yaroslav founded his new city on the site of Medvezhy Ugol (Bear’s Corner), a settlement of a pagan Finno-Ugric people.
According to legend, when Yaroslav approached the settlement the locals released a bear and several dogs on him. During this era, the bear was occasionally worshipped among pagans. Yaroslav managed to kill the bear and the dogs retreated. Upon seeing this the local people bowed down to Yaroslav and accepted him as their overlord and allowed him to convert them to Christianity. A kremlin was subsequently founded on the Strelka which became the centre of Yaroslavl, known as the Rubleny Gorod. However, it was not long until the boundaries of the city grew beyond the fortified centre. The first written mention of Yaroslavl was made in 1071 in the Primary Chronicle in connection with a revolt led by Volkhy pagan priests as a result of a famine.
Throughout the 12th century, Yaroslavl was a small fortified town on the border of the Rostov-Suzdal lands and as such was occasionally subjected to raids. In 1149, the city’s surrounding area was raided by Novgorodians and in 1152 the Volga Bulgars laid siege to the city. However, the siege was unsuccessful and eventually relived by troops from Rostov.
Grand Prince Konstantin Vsevolodovich of Vladimir and Rostov died in 1218 and left the grand throne to his brother Yuri, however, he also left smaller principalities to his sons. In such way, the Yaroslavl Principality was established and Vsevolod Konstantinovich became its first prince. Prince Vsevolod continued the building work started by his father in Yaroslavl and during his reign Yaroslavl’s Dormition Cathedral and the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery’s Holy Transfiguration Cathedral were completed.
Mongol-Tatar Invasion of Rus
Like many other Russian cities, Yaroslavl was sacked by the Mongol-Tatars in 1238. Prince Vsevolod of Yaroslavl led his troops to join forces with the grand prince of Vladimir and subsequently met his end at the Battle of the River Sit in 1238 fighting the Mongols.
Vsevolovod was succeeded by his sons, firstly Vasili Vsevolodovich, who reigned until 1249, and then Konstantin Vsevolodovich. In 1257, censuses were conducted by the Mongol-Tatars to better enable the recruitment of soldiers and collection of taxes. Yaroslavl citizens rose up and, led by Prince Konstantin, met the Golden Horde troops in battle at Tugovaya Gora just outside Yaroslavl. This though ended in disaster for Yaroslavl; many of its troops and Prince Konstantin himself were killed in the battle and then the city was devastated by the Golden Horde troops as punishment.
Prince Fyodor the Black of Yaroslavl
The male Yaroslavl line of Ryurikids died out with Prince Konstantin Vsevolodovich and so Anastasia Vasilievna (daughter of Prince Vasili Vsevolodovich of Yaroslavl) and her mother Ksenia informally ruled as regents. In 1260/1261 Anastasia married Fyodor Rostislavich the Black, son of the Grand Prince of Smolensk, and upon the marriage Fyodor became prince of Yaroslavl. Shortly afterwards Fyodor was called to the Golden Horde where he fought in the wars of Khan Mengu-Timur, who held him favourably. Whilst in the Golden Horde he learned that his wife Anastasia had died. When he tried to return to Yaroslavl his mother-in-law Ksenia and a group of boyars blocked him from entering the city claiming that Ksenia would rule as regent on behalf of Mikhail — his young son with Anastasia.
Fyodor returned to the Golden Horde where he married a daughter of Khan Mengu-Timur — christened Anna. When Fyodor learned that his son had also died he returned to rule Yaroslavl. Thanks to Fyodor’s connections with the Golden Horde, Yaroslavl flourished as it was free from Mongol-Tatar raids and internecine wars. Fyodor also became prince of Mozhaisk in 1275 and Grand Prince of Smolensk in 1279 upon the death of his brothers. Prince Fyodor died in Yaroslavl in 1299 and was canonised in 1467.
Our Lady of Tolga Icon
In 1314 Bishop Propkhor (also known as Trifon) of Rostov founded the Tolgsky Monastery on the banks of the River Volga in the village of Tolga which has since been incorporated into Yaroslavl. It was founded at the site where an icon of the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ miraculously appeared. This icon is now known as the Our Lady of Tolga Icon and was said to be wonder-working. In the following centuries, the monastery would grow rich from donations from people who claimed to have been cured by the icon.
Prince Vasili the Terrible Eyes of Yaroslavl
After Prince Fyodor the Black’s death, his sons David and Konstantin ruled Yaroslavl, perhaps jointly until David’s death in 1321 (Konstantin presumably died earlier). Both sons were canonised along with their father. David was succeeded by his son Vasili Davidovich known as Terrible Eyes. This was a time when the Moscow Principality was becoming more and more powerful and its leader Grand Prince Ivan I Kalita proposed his daughter Yevdokia as a wife for Vasili. The marriage took place in the 1330s, but Ivan’s attempts to make Vasili submit to the seniority of Moscow did not go according to plan as it only led to Vasili calling himself the grand prince of Yaroslavl, rather than just prince. When Ivan Kalita died in 1341, Vasili Terrible Eyes tried to get himself appointed Grand Prince of Moscow by the Mongols, but he was unsuccessful. Upon his own death in 1345, he split his principality between his sons. Vasili Terrible Eyes was succeeded in Yaroslavl by his son Vasili Vasilievich. His reign saw an outbreak of the plague in 1364 and raids the Ushkuinik Novgorod pirates in 1371. He also took part in Dmitri Donskoy’s campaign against Tver and the Battle of Kulikovo Field.
Dissolution of the Yaroslavl Principality
In around 1380 Prince Vasili died and his throne was then occupied by two of his sons, firstly Ivan until he succumbed to plague in 1426 and then Fyodor until 1434. Fyodor’s son Aleksandr Bryukhaty became the last prince of Yaroslavl in 1434. During the Moscow Civil War, Prince Aleksandr of Yaroslavl sided with Grand Prince Vasili II of Moscow and met Vasili Kosoy in battle outside Yaroslavl in 1435. Vasili Kosoy defeated. Later Aleksandr and his wife were captured by troops from Vyatka coming to the support of Vasili Kosoy. Only once Vasili Kosoy was himself taken prisoner were the royal couple of Yaroslavl released. The end of the Yaroslavl Principality came in 1463 when Aleksandr was forced to sell his principality to Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscow. Aleksandr remained prince in title till his death in 1471, but after 1463 the city was ruled as part of the Moscow Principality by viceroys sent from Moscow.
In 1501 a great fire practically destroyed the city including the Dormition Cathedral and the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery. The Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery’s Transfiguration of the Saviour Cathedral was rebuilt in 1516 and painted with frescos in 1563 and 1564 which have been preserved to this day and are the oldest in the city. Tsar Ivan the Terrible often visited Yaroslavl to prayer at the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery and the Tolgsky Monastery and made valuable donations whilst there. In 1569 Tsar Ivan included Yaroslavl as part of the Oprichnina.
Time of Troubles
As a major trading and agricultural city Yaroslavl was strategically important during the Times of Troubles and played a significant role. After the First False Dmitri was overthrown in 1606, his widow Maryna Mniszech and her father Jerzy fled to Yaroslavl and remained there until 1608. Later in 1608 after their failed siege of Moscow, the Second False Dmitri and his army took Yaroslavl as the city’s military governor surrendered and provided support to the pretender to spare the city. The city was liberated in 1609 when a volunteer army defeated the Polish interventionists outside the city, although much of the city was briefly captured once more in the spring. In 1611 a group of volunteers from Yaroslavl joined Prokopi Lyapunov’s First Volunteer Army and then in 1612 Kuzma Minin and Dmitri Pozharsky with their Second Volunteer Army arrived at the city from Nizhny Novgorod. They stayed here several months and Yaroslavl became Russia’s de facto capital city, even printing its own money. Once the army had gathered enough strength it set off on its successful mission to liberate Moscow.
During the unrest of the Times of troubles much of the city was destroyed and many of its citizens lost their lives, but the city was able to recover over the rest of the 17th century. Yaroslavl’s development was thanks to its location on the Volga which meant it was a centre of trade from both the west (via Arkhangelsk) and the East. The city also became a centre for leather and textiles and the production of metal and clay wares. In 1646 the Dormition Cathedral was built once more in the kremlin and the art of icon and fresco painting flourished. In 1654 a deadly outbreak of plague hit the city, followed by devastating fires in 1658 which once again destroyed much of the city, including its wooden kremlin which was never rebuilt, although new larger fortified walls were built out of stone around the city. After this the city was rebuilt but this time mainly using stone instead of wood. Up until the founding of St Petersburg, Yaroslavl was Russia’s second city in terms of population and this era of revival is considered Yaroslavl’s Golden Age.
After the foundation of St Petersburg, Yaroslavl was connected to the new capital via the Volga and the Vyshnevolotskaya Water System. In 1708 Yaroslavl was made part of the St Petersburg Governorate, then in 1719 it became the centre of the Yaroslavl Province in the St Petersburg Governorate. As St Petersburg became a new port for trade with the west overtaking Arkhangelsk, Yaroslavl’s significant for trade also decreased. However the city was able to compensate this lost by developing its textile industry. The city’s continued importance was demonstrated in 1777 when it became the centre of the Yaroslavl Viceroyalty and then the Yaroslavl Governorate in 1796. A regulated city plan was also adopted around this time.
During Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia in 1812, Yaroslavl served as an important support base for the Russian war effort. Yaroslavl continued to grow and develop its industry throughout the 19th Century and it became a centre of textile, tobacco, chemical and metalworking industries. Communications with the city were also improved. In 1812 a bridge over the Kotorosl was built. In 1860 Yaroslavl was linked via a telegraph and in 1870 the Moscow-Yaroslavl railroad was completed.
Soviet power was established in 1917 but was briefly overthrown in the 1918 Yaroslavl Uprising. The rebellion was organised by Boris Savinkov’s anti-Bolshevik Union for the Protection of the Motherland and Freedom and was successful in capturing strategic buildings in the city and arresting Bolsheviks stationed there. The uprising was supressed by the Red Army who surrounded the city, cut its supplies and started bombarding it with artillery and air fire, heavily damaging many of the city’s landmarks.
Second World War
In 1929 the Yaroslavl Governorate was dissolved and Yaroslavl found itself as part of the Ivanovo Industrial Region. However the Yaroslavl Region was later seperated from this region in 1936 with Yaroslavl as its centre. Yaroslavl was not occupied by the Nazis during the war however it was bombed in air raids as it was a strategic location for the Soviets due to its status as a transport hub and a crossing on the Volga. Many citizens were killed in these raids and many buildings damaged. In addition to its citizens being sent to the front, Yaroslavl helped the war effort by converting its industries to produce weapons for the army and housing children evacuated from the Blockade of Leningrad.
Yaroslavl’s historical centre was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. In 2010 President Medvedev opened the celebrations of Yaroslavl’s 1000th anniversary. In the run up to the celebrations restoration work was carried out on many of the city’s landmarks and a park was created on the end of the Stelka where a Millennium Monument was unveiled. In addition Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus consecrated the newly rebuilt Dormition Cathedral.