How the Rostov Kremlin Got its Mojo Back

Здравствуйте! (Hello!)


The great photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii took this photo sometime between his journey through the Russian Federation between 1905-1915. Pictured, is the entry way to a covered gallery in the Rostov kremlin. In my opinion, kremlins are some of the most beautiful buildings in Russia, and I think that this picture demonstrates that beauty. Now, if you don’t know what a kremlin is, or understand the significance of a kremlin, good news! I’m going to explain, because I don’t think that one can truly understand the social and economic implications of this without first understanding what a kremlin is (but don’t worry, I won’t get too deep into it, because that it not what this blog is about!).


A kremlin, or кремль, is basically a fortress within a city – and there are currently twenty of them still remaining in Russia today. The most famous of all of the kremlins is the one located in the heart of Moscow, which is where the President conducts political business. In medieval cases (like this Rostov kremlin), kremlins contained cathedrals, palaces, governmental offices, and munition stores; they were usually strategically located along a river, and were separated from the city by walls, moats, towers, ramparts, and battlements. Kremlins have a rich history, and they’re very beautiful as well!


Now that we’ve discussed what kremlins are, let’s take a deeper look at the photo above. This kremlin’s name is Court of the Metropolitan, and it was built in the 1670s and 1680s by Metropolitan Jonah Sysoevich. The metropolitanate was eventually transferred from Rostov to Yaroslavl in 1787, and the kremlin was basically abandoned and left to decay. What I think is interesting, is that during the 18th century Rostov’s status began to decline, and it was eventually demoted as both a regional and religious centre – which goes hand in hand with the events of this kremlin’s metropolitanate moving. It is almost as if the kremlin is symbolic of what was going on with the people and the area.


The 19th century, however, is much brighter. During the 19th century, Rostov was a very important trade centre, and its market was the third largest in Russia. The soil was very fertile, so it was possible to grow vegetables – and those vegetables supplied Moscow and St. Petersburg. Rostov was also the centre for trade in raw materials, namely the textile industries of Ivanovo, Kostroma, Vladimir, and Yaroslavl. The incredible part of this, is that the local merchants actually gathered their funds to maintain the decayed kremlin.


The kremlin opened back as a museum in 1883, called the White Chamber, as a museum of church antiquities. Two years later, Tsar Nicholas, heir to the throne, became the museum’s official patron. What I think is beautiful about this photo, is that it contains so much history in such a small snapshot. When you think about it, the merchants did not have to use their money to try to keep the kremlin maintained. There are so many different ways that money could have been used: it could have been saved, used to buy food and clothes, used to work on their homes, or so many other things.


I think that this says a lot about both the social and economic status at that time. Socially, the people were willing to come together – it was not a time of strife. Which says a lot because one would assume that the merchants would do whatever they could to make the most money (which is even something that could be true today). These people wanted to do good for something that mattered to them. Economically, Rostov went from lost status to booming; the trade and agriculture opportunities there were phenomenal. I think that there is also a parallel here between social and economic status and the kremlin itself – they followed the same pattern. As status was lost in Rostov, the kremlin decayed, as the industries in Rostov boomed, the kremlin blossomed.


What I think is so cool about this photo, is that it gives us one beautiful snapshot in time. It leaves the viewer wondering if the walls could talk, what would they say. It is a feature that has been around for centuries, I’m sure it has stories it has so many stories it could tell.


До следующего раза, (Until next time,)



Лорин (Lauren)

13 Replies to “How the Rostov Kremlin Got its Mojo Back”

  1. I never realize that there were so many Kremlins in Russia. Were they located most in the European areas of Russia or were some in the Asia areas? I believe that most communities, with long histories, would not just abandon these types of buildings as they
    belong to their cultural heritage which is important for future generations.

  2. Hi Lauren,
    this was very informative and I learned something new about kremlins. You mentioned that they were basically fortresses with munition stores, but what about barracks? Were soldiers able to live in the kremlin or did they do rotations? The kremlin reminds me of the ancient Greeks Polis which was a fortified building or area where people would go to whenever there was an attack on the city. I also like how you pointed out that Tsar Nicholas became a patron of the museum (White Chamber) which allowed merchants to save their money and use it for themselves. Could he have done this to win the support of the people?

  3. Hi Tom!
    From what I can gather, they were scattered all over the empire. I actually read that in medieval Russia there were upwards of 400 kremlins, which is very cool! It’s also kind of sad that out of these 400, only around 20 remain. Of those 20, it appears that they are located more towards the eastern European bloc. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hi!

    The Rostov Kremlin was more about decoration than defense. I don’t believe that this one in particular contained barracks, because it was built as a home for Sysoevich. This may not be the case in all of the kremlins, though. There are barracks for the Presidential regiment in the Moscow kremlin. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tsar Nicholas became the patron of the museum for this reason. It was obvious that the people of Rostov loved this kremlin – they wouldn’t have put so many funds into it if they didn’t – and it would have been a surefire way to win over some of the Rostov merchants. It was a show of caring for what they cared for, and I would say a very strategic move.

  5. Привет Lauren!

    What I love most about this post is the positivity you were able to find in your interpretation of Gorskii’s image. Your explanation of this kremlin and its relation to social and economic status in Rostov is a really excellent way to view the decline and success of both the kremlin and Rostov. As mentioned above, I was also unaware that there were over 400 kremlins in Russia during medieval times, so that is information that I was happy to see! In all, the positivity you were capable of finding was refreshing and beautiful, much like the image you chose.

  6. This is a very interesting post that you have written. There is so much that I didn’t know about kremlins and the picture that you focused on I think was a good representation of how much Russian culture there was in the Imperial times. I also like how you went in depth into the history of this particular kremlin in Rostov.

  7. Hello!
    Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad you liked my post! I had only known of two kremlins in Russia before digging into the history of this one, and I was really interested to learn about the history of Rostov and the Rostov kremlin. In my opinion, the whole story is super optimistic, and I’m glad I was able to convey that!

  8. Thanks for commenting! I think the history of kremlins is super interesting, so I really enjoyed being able to do research on them. I’m glad you liked it and got to learn about kremlins!!

  9. Do you know the status of this particular Kremlin during the Russian civil War and during world world war 2? Like was it occupied by the Red’s or white’s. Also during those wars did it sustain significant damage?

  10. Hello!
    I’m sorry for the delay in response!! From what I can tell on maps, it looks like Rostov was occupied by the Red army. I couldn’t find much other information about what was going on in Rostov during the civil war or WWII, most of the information that comes up is about Rostov-on-Don. I’m sorry!!

  11. What an intriguing discussion of the history of Kremlins and of the Rostov kremlin in particular. I think the tie in to the regime’s modernization efforts of the late 19thc is really important. Beyond the symbolic significance of making this Kremlin a museum, how did Rostov’s affluence as a commercial center connect to the Witte system? Also, I’m not sure I would agree that society was more cohesive in the 1880s — lots of social change and friction unleashed by the emancipation.

  12. Hi Dr. Nelson!

    Thank you for commenting! This commercial center connected to the Witte system because of the Moscow-Yaroslavl Railway, which passed through Rostov. In retrospect, I would agree with your point – I apologize for the misinterpretation. I’m so glad you liked my title though!

    Have a good evening!

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