The Road to Sergiyev Posad

MT
Sergiyev Posad, a satellite on the Golden Ring, is often the only "real Russia" destination for people on a short Moscow visit. Easily accessible about 70 kilometers from the capital, it is primarily a religious center, known for the Trinity-Sergius Lavra Monastery.

The spectacular architecture and the museum housing a mini-armory draw thousands of visitors every year who are not necessarily interested in the Orthodox relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh, one of the main religious attractions here. St. Sergius, a spiritual leader whose disciples founded monasteries all over Russia in the late 14th and 15th centuries, died in 1392 and was canonized in 1422.

The town is rather spread out, so don't expect the cozy Suzdal atmosphere. Most of the action gravitates toward the monastery, with the shops and restaurants crowding the surrounding streets and competing for tourist attention. Throngs of Orthodox visitors here coexist with more secular merchant activity. Smack in front of the monastery's main gates there is a store sign beckoning enlightened pilgrims with "Wine and Other Colonial Products."

"Lavra" is name for a monastery of the highest rank and greatest cultural and educational importance. Besides the monastery, the premises of Trinity-Sergius Lavra house the oldest theological academy in Russia, a seminary, an icon-painting workshop and a museum.


Maria Antonova / MT
The monastery complex sits on a hill flaunting its main churches that date from different centuries. The main gate is covered by frescoes inside. Outside is the favorite spot of pigeons and matryoshka sellers.
The monastery was founded in the 14th century by St. Sergius. It was the center of Orthodoxy in Russia, and its demonstrative closure, disbandment of monks, nationalization of the treasury and opening of the relics in 1919 were a major step in forcefully secularizing the country. The town was subsequently renamed Zagorsk, in honor of a Moscow Bolshevik party secretary. Its original name was returned in 1991.

Today, the bustle of pilgrims, monks, scholars and international visitors can be disorienting, especially in the summer. But there is something special about the white snow offsetting hundreds of monastic robes, while the crowds of people huddling over hot tea in the cafeteria after standing in an incredibly long line to worship the relics, make the Lavra feel like an Orthodox version of Santiago de Compostela.

The museum is housed next to the main 15th-century Trinity cathedral. Tour groups are taken into the vestry four times a day to look at icons, gold embroidery, jewelry and precious stones.

The town is also a historic center of wooden crafts. Sergiyev Posad is the birthplace of the Russian nesting doll, or matryoshka. A toy museum not too far from the monastery has the original matryoshka -- a modest creature holding a black rooster, the subtle ancestor of today's baby-faced and wide-eyed beauties, not to mention their political spinoffs. Matryoshkas and other folk crafts are widely sold in front of the monastery gates, at a small Izmailovo-like market on the bottom of the hill, and on the second floor of the Toy College across the street from the Lavra. You can stock up on wooden Christmas ornaments and play with the traditional peasant-and-bear dynamic toys, carved in Bogorodskoye, a village north of Sergiyev Posad.

How to Get There



By car: Sergiyev Posad is 70 kilometers from Moscow, on the M8, Yaroslavskoye Shosse.

By bus: Bus 388 leaves every 20 minutes from near VDNKh metro station and takes 90 minutes.

By train: Express commuter trains leave Yaroslavsky Station at 8:24 a.m. and 9:05 a.m. and take one hour. There are frequent suburban trains.

What to See



Trinity-Sergius Lavra, 144 Prospekt Krasnoi Armii. Museum (496) 540-5342. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Vestry groups at 12.15, 12.30, 3.30, and 3.45 p.m.

Chernigovsky Skete, a small monastery on the outskirts of town, was founded by monks from the Lavra who were looking for some peace and quiet. In the 19th century, Filippushka, a wandering ascetic who was accustomed to walking barefoot year round and carrying an 8-kilogram iron staff, came to the monastery and dug a system of caves for himself and a few other hermits. The caves are accessible only with tour guides, who tend to be elusive. Call ahead to make sure there is someone who can take you down there. The skete is currently a monastery, but monks live in quarters above ground.
1 Ul. Gefsimanskiye Prudy (496) 540-3268.

Toy museum: The base for this museum included items from the Romanov family toy collection in Tsarskoye Selo. Rumors have it that some exhibits have been sold to private collectors, but there are still things to see, such as old theater puppets, Russian 19th-century toys and Japanese dolls.
123 Prospekt Krasnoi Armii, (496) 544-4101, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wed.-Sun., closed last Fri. of the month. Admission 50 rubles.

Where to Eat



Russky Dvorik restaurant is part of a franchise that also includes a hotel. White mushroom pokhlebka in black bread crust, solyanka, salo, mors and other Russian food is on offer. Main courses are priced around 300 rubles.
134 Prospekt Krasnoi Armii, (496) 544-5114, 547-3852, open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, until 9 p.m. on weekends, closed on Mon.