In 1151 Yuri Dolgoruky, the Prince of Suzdal, lost his campaign in the South to the Prince of Kiev and was exiled from his home town of Pereyaslavl** Russky. In the summer of 1152 Yuri Dolgoruky attempted to conquer Chernigov and failed again. After this failure he had to give up whatever expansion plans he had and focus on protecting his transsilvan or “zalessky” lands from numerous foes.
Prince Yuri decided to safeguard his lands from the western approaches where Novgorod the Great lay. The town of Pereyaslavl built on the Lake Kleschin did not block the North-South water route “from the Varangians to the Arabs” completely, leaving the river Trubezh free to navigate. The Prince needed a fortress on the riverbank to have full control over this important trade and strategic route.
By that time town builders of southern Rus*** had already mastered building fortresses on the plain. That is why in 1152 Yuri Dolgoruky transferred the town of Pereyaslavl from the Lake Kleschin to the river Trubezh. “To Pereyaslavl from Kleschin did he bring a church to be laid down”.
The new town founded by Yuri Dolgoruky was one of the largest in northeastern Rus. At the day of the foundation its fortifications were most extensive and even surpassed those of Vladimir.
The new town of Pereyaslavl was made solely of wood, which required a lot of timber. As a security measure for the new fortress, centuries-old trees were felled on the opposite bank of the Trubezh. Those trees were used as the framework for the rampart and as the defense paling for the town’s moat. The numerous residents of Pereyaslavl the New built their houses from riverside trees.
Boats came to the town under construction in an endless stream, bringing white stone for the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior, initially, from the old town of Pereyaslavl, then from the Volga Bulgaria. The boats also brought food for the two thousand builders. Several vessels would be unloaded simultaneously. A temporary wharf was erected on the opposite bank. It was August and the yet homeless Pereyaslavians set up their tents on the both banks of the Trubezh.
Numerous tents, this time felt-covered ones, of the type never seen in Rus before, appeared again near the fortress in 1238. For a whole month the banks of the Trubezh accommodated the headquarters of Mongol and Tartar khans led by Batu Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson and the conqueror of Rus.
Princes of Pereyaslavl, Yaroslav Vsevolodovich, his son Alexander Nevsky, the famous warlord and diplomat subsequently canonized to become one of the most revered saints of the Russian Orthodox Church, and his grandson Dmitry Alexandrovich, took incessant care of their little native fief when they became Grand Dukes of Vladimir.
In more than a hundred years the banks of the Trubezh were again covered with mighty trees. In 1369 Grand Duke Dmitry Ivanovich, later on named Donskoy for a crashing victory over the Mongols and Tartars on the river Don, erected new wooden walls and towers on the rampart and restored the town’s corduroy. A rampant grove on the opposite bank provided the necessary timber. A spacious vacant lot resulted, and it was there that the town’s Posad was laid down in 1372. For the first time the town-dwellers began building their homes beyond the fortress’s walls on the opposite bank of the Trubezh. The clergy and the laity who used to seek shelter inside the fortress now ventured outside. The first building to be erected there was the Church of Saint Paraskeva Pyatniza. The money for construction was donated by merchants of Pereyaslavl, although those merchants were of Novgorod origin. Paraskeva Pyatniza then became the guardian angel of Pereyaslavl merchants as well.
The merchants built numerous wharves on the Trubezh bank. Next to the wharves stood warehouses with permanent living quarters for those who engaged in trade. Many of them were not Pereyaslavians and, as soon as all transactions were carried out, their vessels moved on.
The road to the Golden Horde, later one of the country’s post roads, passed through Pereyaslavl-Zalessky. The road connected Pereyaslavl to Moscow, Tver, Vladimir, and Rostov the Great. Across the river from the town the road forked and ran in two directions. The northern one led to Rostov and then on to Yaroslavl, the eastern one took travelers to Yuriev-Polskoy, Suzdal, and Vladimir. To service those roads postal facilities were built to the left of the bridge. The post facilities had stables, a blacksmith’s workshop, and an inn accommodating ambassadors, merchants, officials, travelers, and coachmen. Thus, the first inn appeared in the Posad as a part of the post station.
In 1382 Khan Tokhtamysh burned down the town and the Posad. The Tartars did not find any people inside Pereyaslavl-Zalessky; all town-dwellers took to boats and rafts and rowed to the middle of the lake where they waited through the devastating raid. Soon people returned and rebuilt the whole town, including the church in the Posad.
On December 4, 1408 a detachment of Amir Edigy’s army assaulted Pereyaslavl. The Tartars burned the town, and many dwellers perished at the hand of aggressors. Some of those who escaped the swords froze to death. The Posad dwellers were the first to react, in just one day they built an enormous house for all survivors.
Before early 16th century Pereslavl traditionally hosted a trade fair. Apart from merchants of Novgorod and Smolensk, merchants of Tver brought their merchandise in “great sail-boats”.
Tzar Ivan the Terrible supported development of liquor trade. In his time, Pereslavl-Zalessky saw many places selling liquor opened under diverse names: bars, taverns, bath-houses with taverns.
As trade with England was developing – and English merchants under Ivan the Terrible had monopolized all trade with Russia – the inns in Posad grew in number. English merchants tried to build houses in the English style lest foreigners who permanently lived in Pereslavl-Zalessky should feel any discomfort. Each inn had all the necessary auxiliary facilities like storerooms, taverns, stables, etc.
In 16th and 17th centuries Pereslavl thrived and prospered. The construction of a port in the town of Archangel boosted the flow of goods through Pereslavl.
In the time of Interregnal Distemper (1609-1612) the Posad was ravaged, yet the post station by the road remained intact. Numerous troops of all creeds and languages did not plan for destruction of a vital facility.
The central structure of the Posad was Zemskaya Izba, the building that housed the local authority. Its main function was the collection of sales duty from the numerous shops. The greatest contributors to the town’s budget were liquor-selling taverns.
In the middle of 17th century Pereslavl had dozens of inns, eating-houses, horse forage shops, smithies, cart workshops.
The Savior Tower of the town’s kremlin had a through passage onto the bridge that took town- dwellers to the Posad. The town gates were closed for the night, and those Pereslavians who got carried away enjoying the pleasures of the Posad could not get in. Some of them would spend the night in the inns of Posad. Most of them were accommodated in the house on the riverbank.
The Posad was also growing as a result of new churches being built there. The Church of the Cover of Our Lady was erected near the Church of Saint Paraskeva Pyatniza that stood by the river. The Church of Saint Great Martyr Anastasia also stood on the bank among the shops, close to the Zemskaya Izba. This church was built by all town-dwellers in one day in the middle of the plague that devastated Pereslavl in 1654. There were also the Church of Sergy of Radonezh, the Church of St. John that stood by the market square, and the Church of Saint Theodore Tyron, later, the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin was built near it.
Numerous fires and the outflow of merchants thwarted the development of the town in the time of the first tsars of the Romanov dynasty.
During the early years of the rule of Peter the Great (1688 – 1709) the town began regularly receiving numerous guests. The tsar’s Court, a multitude of courtiers, foreigners, builders of Peter’s “funny fleet” needed accommodation. Frequent visits and prolonged stays of Peter I contributed to the town’s prosperity. The river Trubezh was revived as a waterway, numerous ships navigated the lake.
A new Traders’ Inn was added to the old one in the Posad. The Ambassadors’ Inn was restored, an exchange was built. A devout worshipper of Bacchus, Tsar Peter authorized the opening of a multitude of bars and taverns to service the Tsar’s foreign guests and his “comrades-in-arms” from the funny regiments and fleet.
The transfer of the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg had a drastic effect of the well being of Pereslavl. The main trade routes started gradually moving to the western parts of the Russian Empire.
Unfortunately the fire of May 29, 1737 destroyed the old Traders’ Inn and the Ambassadors’ Inn, the exchange, the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin behind the Traders’ Inn, and the Assumption Church opposite the new Traders’ Inn.
The last of the great fires that raged through the whole town in 1847 again wiped out almost all of the Posad.
In the 19th century the Trade Rows occupied the whole riverside area of the Posad. Annual Trade Fairs were organized there that brought in people from the whole district, from nearby and faraway towns.
In 1873 Russian playwright Alexander Nikolayevich Ostrovsky conceived his fairy-tale “The Snowgirl” in the Pereslavl hotel. In a week’s time he completed the draft of the famous play. At that time Pereslavl had another hotel in the Fyodorovsky monastery.
The first holidays under the Soviet power were celebrated, among other places, on the river Trubezh. The Rowing Sports Festival on the sixth Sunday after the Easter replaced the religious procession of boats, an ancient traditional holiday of the Pereslavian fishermen.
After the New Economic Policy was abolished, the Trade Rows were closed and the owners of the numerous shops were subjected to repressions. In the 1920s a rowing sports centre was built there instead complete with a pier and a boat-house.
In the 21st century the town saw rapid transformation. Monasteries and churches returned to the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church. The ancient shrines of Pereslavl-Zalessky glorying in its many centuries of history are rebuilt from ruins. Every day pilgrims, tourists, travelers come to this town decorated with picturesque houses of merchants of the past centuries. Fishermen from many a city dream of coming here to angle for “the herring of the tsars” that used to be served to Grand Dukes and Tsars of Russia on their Coronation Days.
The Lake Plescheevo has agreeably small depth along the shores, which makes it a safe swimming pool for kids and those who are not expert swimmers yet.
Located less than 90 miles away from the Moscow megapolis, Pereslavl-Zalessky is the capital’s closest ecologically safe town. Forests in the vicinity have lilies of the valley, edible mushrooms and berries, springs and brooks, and game-birds.
The construction of a hotel on the territory of the ancient Posad will renew the historical continuity of the traditional use of this land and offer the town’s guests a chance to spend a few days where the former Traders’ Inn used to stand, a witness to vigorous work and joyful leisure of our ancestors.
Prof. Alexander A. Cheremin
President of the “Small Towns of Russia” Association;
Executive Secretary of the Russian Union of Students of Local Lore;
Chairman of the Pereslavl-Zalessky Union of Students of Local Lore;
Member of the Board of Trustees of the Pereslavl-Zalessky branch of the SGU
* Posad – an old settlement outside of fortified walls
** Pereyaslavl – old name of the city of Pereslavl-Zalessky
*** Rus – land where central Russia and Ukraine are now