Kolomna: A City on Three Rivers
Published: June 21, 2013 (Issue # 1764)
Ghosty / Flickr
Not being a part of the famous Golden Ring makes Kolomna an even more inviting destination since it is pleasantly off the beaten path.
KOLOMNA, Moscow Region — A traveler to Kolomna shouldn’t rush to put a checkmark next to this city’s name on his list of places visited, since this ancient town has so much charm he’ll want to return.
The attraction of this settlement of 150,000 citizens 100 kilometers east of the Russian capital is not necessarily tangible. The peace and quiet of the old town, unchanged for a hundred years, with its colorful and ornate wooden two-story houses lined up on neat little streets, all surrounded by the formidable red brick walls of the medieval Kremlin are certainly part of the formula. The sense of tranquility emanating from its many churches and cathedrals is another element. Or it could simply be the breathtaking views of classic Russian scenery in each direction, visible from the high banks of Kolomna’s rivers. One thing is certain: Every visitor with an open mind and an open heart finds something here.
Established in 1177, Kolomna is only 30 years younger than Moscow and was more than once seriously considered to host the capital of medieval Rus. It attained the status of capital of Moscovia during feudal wars for more than 25 years, beginning in 1425.
The historian Karamzin wrote that Kolomna was alternately invaded by Tatar-Mongols or was the front line gathering place of Russian warriors preparing for an attack. At that time the city held an important strategic position. Built on a high hill, at the point where the Moscow and Oka rivers merge and give birth to the tributary Kolomenka, it is protected by water on three sides and dominates the surrounding area. Although quite defensible, its wooden walls and houses within were burned to the ground several times until the 16th century when a red brick Kremlin was built, more humble than but closely resembling its older brother in Moscow. Since then, the city has never been taken by any enemy.
Today, parts of the Kremlin still surround the old town and complete sections stand untouched on its western side. The ancient stone towers of the fortress bore witness to Ivan the Terrible as he gathered his forces here to prepare an assault on Kazan. They also contained torture chambers, and local legend says that in the times of oprichnina, when Ivan the terrible carried out mass repressions across his lands, the waters of the Moscow river turned red with blood.
The Kolomna tower, which now greets visitors coming by road from Moscow, served as the prison for Marina Mnishek in 1611. She was an unlucky bride of the False Dmitry II, who had claimed power as a son of Ivan. As the Time of Troubles was coming to an end, she was imprisoned in the tower by the Home Guard for treason and treachery. Another local legend says that Marina was a witch and would turn into a crow and fly out of the tower at night, leaving her human body behind. The guards sprinkled her chamber with holy water while she was away, and the bird could not return. The body died but the restless spirit still haunts the tower at night.
Beyond the somewhat gloomy walls and towers of the Kremlin stand Kolomna’s magnificent orthodox churches and cathedrals. Medieval gore and glory is balanced by the peace and solemnity brought on by the Christian spirit. In fact, many of the churches and monasteries were founded by rulers coming back from military campaigns to celebrate their victories and to thank God. Kolomna and its surroundings have more than a dozen notable churches and four splendid monasteries.
As separate feudal principalities eventually fused to form the Russian Empire, Kolomna moved farther and farther away from the border. Its importance as a strategic military point was replaced by a role in commerce. The city grew and prospered thanks to trade between Moscow and other large neighbors. Many local merchants became rich and more well-to-do people arrived.
It was very common for each notable merchant to build his own mansion, a number of which were astonishing works of art and architecture, surrounded by parks and gardens designed in French and English styles. Many of these houses, built of stone or wood, stand there till this day and line the streets beyond the walls of the Kremlin in the old town.
In the Soviet era, the city took another painful beating — but this time the enemy was within. Although most of the houses were untouched or merely occupied by government officials, the churches were stripped of icons, their bells frequently destroyed or melted down. Precious holy items disappeared, never to be found. During World War II, one of the churches served as a tank repair facility. Later, the city became a “mailbox,” which in Soviet parlance meant it had top-secret military institutions and was closed to the general public.
Now, most of the former glory of Kolomna has been restored. Buildings have been renovated, churches given back their appearance, and even new historical monuments and museums opened to the public. Kolomna has evolved into one of the most attractive places for tourists from the Moscow region and beyond. And not having the status of being part of the Golden Ring makes it even more inviting since it is pleasantly off the beaten path.
Many famous people made Kolomna their joyous refuge. Besides Ivan the Terrible, before him Dmitry Donskoi gathered his forces here to later fight the Tatars in the great Battle of Kulikovo. It was here that he married and settled down after his campaigns. Writers, poets and painters found peace and inspiration here, including Ivan Lazhechnikov, the Russian version of Sir Walter Scott; the writers Alexander Kuprin and Boris Pilnyak; the poet Anna Akhmatova and many others.
The local Kremlin and its surrounding area is as dear to Kolomentsi, as natives are called, as it was to those who lived in the city a hundred years ago. “The provincial feel of a 19th-century town is still present, despite the passing of time. Each stone in the pavement has its own history,” Kolomna Mayor Valery Shuvalov said.
What to do if you have two hours
The best time to visit Kolomna is late spring, summer or early fall. The weather is usually suitable to enjoy the scenery and walk, walk, walk. Start around the Kremlin at the statue of Dmitry Donskoi, and then enter the old town through the gates behind the legendary prince of Moscow and Vladimir principalities. There are “love locks” on the iron gates that romantic couples leave to symbolize their ever-lasting love for each other.
Behind the 20 meter high walls of the Kremlin is the Brusensky Women’s Monastery founded by Ivan the Terrible in 1552. Cross the square, then walk through the gates and turn left around the five-cupola red-and-white Krestovozdvizhensky cathedral and you will find yourself in the heart of the old town, on Ulitsa Lazhechnikova.
Walk down the street and turn right on Ulitsa Lazareva. Traditional wooden and stone houses surround you. Among them: churches and cathedrals and another monastery known as the Women’s Golutvin Monastery, once a home of Kolomna’s episcopate, established here no later than 1353. Directly across stands The Cathedral of Dormition. It is an example of one of the main types of Russian orthodox cathedrals found in major cities, such as Moscow, Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Kiev and many others. Step inside to see the magnificent interior.
Then follow the street to the end. Go through what’s left of the Kremlin — the Pyatnitskiye Gate — and you are in the merchant’s quarter. Posadskaya Ulitsa, which heads away from the Kremlin, is lined by merchant mansions. Turning right at the end of the street will bring you to the beautiful sky-blue and gold 17th-century Epiphany Church, a unique and precious monument of Kolomna, diminished among the 18th-century residential architecture of the city’s rich.
What to do if you have two days
A more detailed inspection is in order when time allows. If you are staying in one of the hotels on Sovietskaya Ploshchad, walk down to the Kremlin from there following the longest street in town: Ultisa Oktyabrskaya Revolutsia. The architecture here is a mixture of 18th- and 19th-century merchant residences and contemporary buildings. Stop at a shop called Golden Hive (219 A Ultisa Oktyabrskaya Revolutsia, +7 496-615-0626, ulei-kolomna.ru). There you can buy local honey and medovukha, a classic alcoholic drink made from the bee’s beloved product.
Then follow the street down to the Kremlin. It’s best to book a tour in advance for this part, because individual visitors do not have free access to the walls and the marvelous views of the city they provide. Book via Liga Tour agency (+7 496-612-1662, kolomna-kreml.ru). If there was no chance to book in advance, you can go to 5 Ulitsa Lazhechnikova in the old town for an excursion on short notice. The same agency organizes visits to the Svyatogor Center of Russian Warrior Culture, based in the Kremlin. This excursion will allow you to get dressed in real medieval armor, pick up a sword and get a lesson on how to swing it.
Another way to get acquainted with Russian history and culture is to visit one of the oldest museums of local lore in the region (15 Ulitsa Lazhechnikova, +7 496-618-5950). Across the street from the biggest section of the Kremlin wall (192 Ultisa Oktyabrskaya Revolutsia) in front of the statue of Dmitri Donskoi stands the 18th-century house of merchant Lazhechnikov, which now is a museum.
This site has a virtual tour of the mansion, and a guide tells the history of Kolomna. It is in Russian, but the video gives an idea of what the interior of the house and the city itself are like.
When walking around in the merchant’s quarter, take a chance and visit the Museum of Lost Flavor (13 A Posadskaya Ulitsa, +7 985-727-5292). There you will learn how traditional Russian sweets called pastila are made. Kolomna is historically famous for this delight, and today it is still produced here according to the old recipes at a small factory. In the museum, you will not only observe but also will be offered to try the sweets with tea.
Across the Moscow River is the Bobrenev Monastery, founded in 1381 by Dmitri Donskoi, which he built in fulfillment of an oath he made before going to battle the Tatars. You can take the 20 minute walk to the monastery via a pontoon bridge, located at the end of Ulitsa Zaitseva, east of the Kremlin. Cross the river, then go up the hill and turn around. There you will be rewarded with the best view of Kolomna.
Where to eat
The oldest cafe in town, Pogrebok, is located inside the Kremlin (18 Ulitsa Lazhechnikova, +7 496-618-5828). It’s a good place to take a break while strolling through the center. The interior is simple and the food is good and inexpensive: 200 to 300 rubles ($6.50 to $9.70) for a single dish.
Flashy and modern is art cafe Nameki, also located in the old town (5 Ulitsa Lazhechnikova, +7 496-618-5925, nameki.ru). Although decorated like some of the best places in Moscow, dinner without alcohol will costs no more than 1,000 rubles here. The cafe will not only satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst but also feed the mind. There is a big library here open to all.
More upscale restaurants are located inside the hotels. One is at the Kolomna Hotel (2 Sovietskaya Ploshchad, +7 496-612-1299). Here you can get a tasty and inexpensive dinner for two with alcohol for about 2,000 rubles. The atmosphere is nice and the music live, but not too loud in the evening. Another venue, the 40th Meridian Arbat, on the riverfront (12 Vodovozny Pereulok, +7 496-616-5240, 40-meridian.ru/restaurant/) is more serious — a classic restaurant with crisp white table cloths, shiny silverware and monogrammed upholstery. It’s an ideal place to make marriage or business proposals. But even here the price is right, at 1,500 to 2,000 rubles per person depending on alcohol consumption.
And there is McDonalds near the Kolomna Hotel.
Where to stay
Maks Karochkin / Flickr
Bobrenev Monastery, founded in 1381 by Dmitri Donskoi, was built to fulfill of an oath made before going to battle.
Choices are limited in Kolomna. The Kolomna Hotel is clean but not luxurious. The rooms here cost about 3,000 rubles per night for a standard room without breakfast. This is the most popular place to stay for sportsmen going to the Kolomna speed skating center and for foreign guests.
Behind the Kolomna Hotel stands a remnant of the old era, the Sovetskaya Hotel (1 Kirova Prospect, +7 496-612-1329, gost-sov.ru). Rooms are ascetic and relatively cheap. A double room will cost up to 2,000 rubles per night if booked in advance.
The most expensive place to spend a night is the 40th Meridian Arbat Hotel (12 Vodovozny Pereulok, +7 496-616-5240, 40-meridian.ru/hotel/contacts/). The hotel is as classical as its aforementioned restaurant. A double room with breakfast will cost 3,800 rubles for a night.
Having now gained a sense of the town’s history, a visitor can ask a native Kolomenets the right questions. What was it like when Kolomna was closed to visitors? Where exactly is the Devichye field where Dmitri Donskoi gathered his warriors? Answers to questions like these will lead to an interesting discussion and maybe even to a free guided tour.
Another engaging theme is the city’s festivals. There are many of them held during the year when the whole town participates, including the ice house that gets set up in the center in January, Maslenitsa in February and March and, naturally for a town filled with churches, Easter in April and May. There is also Navy Day in July, City Day in September and many more.
A local businessman will be happy to talk about industry and the economy. The city is not only a historical monument. It is also a home to more than 2,000 different enterprises and is quite wealthy. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Kolomna in the summer of 2012 to inspect major factories.
How to get there
From St. Petersburg, Kolomna must be reached via Moscow. Trains from St. Petersburg’s Moscovsky Railway Station to Moscow depart regularly, either overnight (1,300-2,500 rubles, or $41.22-$79.28) or the four-hour fast train, the SapSan (2,800-3,400 rubles, or $88.96-$107.82). You can also catch one of the frequent 1.5 hour flight from Pulkovo, operated by Transaero, Aeroflot, S7, Rossiya and a number of other airlines, with flights from 3,153-9,460 rubles ($100-$300).
From Moscow, the best choice is to travel by car. Depending on the traffic, the trip will take about 2.5 hours from Moscow along the M5 Ural highway. Keep in mind if you have to take a taxi from Moscow, it will cost several thousand rubles one way. A better solution if you don’t have your own car is to go via the reasonably comfortable public bus. No. 460 has air conditioning and goes to Kolomna from Vykhino metro station every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day. It arrives at the Kolomna bus station located right next to the old town and costs 200 rubles one way. Another choice is to take a train from Moscow’s Kazansky Station to Golutvin, the closest station to the old town. The trip will take two hours and 20 minutes. Six times per day, an express train will get you there in less than two hours at a cost of 250 rubles one way.
• Population: 150,000
• Main industries: machinery, metalworking, construction, tourism
• Head of city administration: Valery Shuvalov
• First mentioned in 1177
• Interesting fact 1: A very rare artifact that survived the Soviet era is on display in the Epiphany Church. It is an ark containing 70 holy relics, including a part of the Holy Cross and some of the Blood of Christ.
• Interesting fact 2: There is a Russian saying: “tall as Kolomna’s milestone.” In Kolomna one can buy a miniature milestone as a souvenir. But the saying has nothing to do with the city. Milestones were started to be set to measure distance in the 17th century by the order of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. The tallest was set up along the road to his residence near village Kolomenskoye which is now part of Moscow. But the saying is mistakenly thought to originate in the city of Kolomna, and is still used to describe exceptionally tall and thin people.
• Sister cities: Maladzyechna, Belarus; Bauska, Latvia
• Helpful contacts: Dmitry Nikolayevich Redkin, deputy head of city administration +7 496-612-2081
• Kolomensky Zavod (42 Partizanskaya Ulitsa, +7 496-613-8980, kolomnadiesel.com). A leading Russian producer of diesel and electric locomotives. Part of Transmashholding group.
• Tchurovsky Zement, Holcim group (1 Ulitsa Tsementnikov, +7 496-616-9016, holcim.ru). One of the biggest concrete production plants and the only producer of white concrete in the country. ?
• Kanat (2 Kanatny Proezd, +7 496-612-5549, kanat-kolomna.ru/en/). A producer of twine, braided cords, and twisted and braided ropes of various diameters and nettings.
Peter Acidka / Flickr
Wooden houses with decorative architectural panels in Kolomna.
Head of Kolomna branch of Vozrozhdeniye Bank
Q: How has the business climate changed over the last few years?
A: The business climate in Kolomna is favorable. The city changes, becomes more comfortable to work and live in. I think that here we have one of the best public transportation systems. It includes new buses and trams.
Several years ago one of the biggest sports facilities in Russia, a speed skating center, was built here. It has become a stimulus for city growth. Now major international sports events are held in Kolomna. They attract fans not only from Russia, but also from all over the world. At the same time the locals have an opportunity to skate all year long and to use the gym and the swimming pool, which are also available in the center.
Q: Do you feel support from the local administration?
A: As of late the local authorities are helping businesses solve their various organizational and technical problems. Industrial zones are growing in the city and its surroundings. Schurovo is one example. There is no problem to find land for commercial development.
Q: How strong is the competition in the banking sector and who are your business clients?
A: Our city has representative offices of about 30 different credit organizations. The competition in this business is very high. Our bank serves more than 1,300 corporate entities. Among them are companies that specialize in production, agriculture, transportation, construction and sales. We have international clients too. One of them is Charoen Pokphand Foods from Thailand, a leading livestock feed producer.
— Alexander Panin
Q: What are the major businesses in Kolomna?
A: Industrial production accounts for more than 60 percent of local GDP, and two thirds of that is metalworking and machinery. The main products are diesel engines, locomotives, metalworking equipment, agricultural machinery, pre-built reinforced concrete constructions, ropes, braided cords and high-technology military products. Altogether, there are 2.5 thousand companies of different types registered in the city. In 2012, the total volume of investment of large and medium enterprises into the local economy and social sector amounted to more than 4 billion rubles.
Q: What is the investment policy in the region?
A: We tend to support those investors that have goals to build industrial parks and establish companies that will employ at least 250 to 300 highly skilled specialists.
When a company is only beginning to develop and grow, we will support it in each and every way, but as it starts to produce goods and services, we will demand quality, full tax payments, adequate salaries for the workers and improvement of the surrounding territory.
Q: Why would an investor come to Kolomna?
A: First of all, it has a very good location, well-developed infrastructure and transportation system. Second, it already has a high level of business development. Third, there is a good relationship between the business community and the local authority. And the fact that some zones for industrial development are owned by the municipality guarantees that the local authorities will help those who want to work on our territory.
— Alexander Panin