Kostroma is as old as Moscow.
Located on the left bank of the Volga River, it abounds in magnificent monuments of old
architecture. Its picturesque suburbs have long been a source of inspiration for many
Russian artists. The beauty of the Upper Volga scenery prompted Isaac Levitan to create
some of his most lyrical canvases. Here, in the village of Litvinivo, not far from
Kostroma, Aleksei Savrasov executed studies for his famous picture, The Rooks Have
Returned. Much of Boris Kustodiev’s career was connected with this land.
Born in Kostroma was Fiodor Volkov, the founder of Russia’s first
theatre. The celebrated dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky lived for a long time here while the
writer Alexander Pisemsky, the critic and publicist Nikolai Mikhailovsky and the
philosopher Vasily Rozanov all studied at a local school.
The outstanding role which Kostroma played at certain periods in
Russian history accounts for the art heritage to be found in the city today.
The group of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century monuments in the
territory of Kostroma and its vicinity include the Church of the Manifestation of Christ,
the complex of the Ipatievsky Monastery, the church in the village of Krasnoye, the Church
of the Resurrection-on-the-Debra and the Church of St. John the Baptist. Two ancient
structures - the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin and the Church of the
Transfiguration - are situated on the right bank of the Volga.
At the confluence of the Kostroma and Volga Rivers rise the white stone
walls and golden cupolas of the Ipatievsky Monastery. It was founded in the latter half of
the thirteenth century to protect the approaches to the city from the upper reaches of the
Volga. The monastery experienced especial flourishing in the second half of the fourteenth
century when the local boyar family of Godunov became powerful and donated funds for the
erection of its stone walls and towers. The central structure in the monastery is the
Trinity Cathedral built in 1652 on the site of the older church destroyed in 1649 by an
explosion of gunpowder kept in the cellars. The austere and well-balanced building, with
five golden domes supported by tall drums, dominates the surrounding scenery in the
In the western part of the cathedral was the burial vault of the
Godunov family. The walls, vaults and piers of the cathedral are decorated with frescoes
painted in 1684 by a team of artists headed by Gury Nikitin and Sila Savin. The team
consisted of 18 men whose names are listed on the lower (or ornamental) tier of the north
wall. These painters attained wide fame in the seventeenth century for the decoration of
the churches in Moscow, Suzdal, Pereyaslavl-Zalessky and Yaroslavl. Yet the frescoes of
the Trinity Cathedral are considered to be the peak of their achievement. 84 compositions
extending in continuous horizontal tiers ‘‘enclose’’ the cathedral’s space on
all sides. Thematically the frescoes range from representations of the Old Testament
Trinity to the Gospel story of Christ and the Acts of the Apostles. The lowest fresco band
is essentially an ornament imitating a sumptuous fabric. The five-tier iconostasis, which
effectively completes the cathedral’s decor, was made by the Kostroma wood-carvers Piotr
Zolotariov and Makar Bykov in the 1750s.
Apart from the Trinity Cathedral and its monumental belfry (17th - 19th
centuries), the Ipatievsky Monastery incorpotes the lavishly decorated Bishop’s Building
(17th - 18th centuries) with the Church of St. Chrysanthus and St. Daria (19th century),
the Monks’ Cells Building (dating from the 16th - 18th centuries), the ‘‘cells above
the cellars’’, a candle-manufacturing wing, and other structures. The monastery
ensemble is part of the Kostroma Museum of History and Architecture.
In 1958, a unique open-air museum of wooden architecture was set up at
the walls of the Ipatievsky Monastery. Churches, old houses, barns, water- and windmills,
and small bathhouses were brought from various villages in the Kostroma Region. Among the
exhibits, the Church of the Synaxis of the Virgin (1552) from the village of Kholm and the
Church of the Transfiguration (1713) from the Vezhi pogost command particular attention.
Also on display is a large collection of objects of wood-carving whose traditions were
passed from father to son.
The Ipatievsky Monastery also served as a centre of artistic life. Its
library numbering 338 titles included books of ecclesiastical content, on astronomy,
history, medicine and geography, dictionaries of foreign words and secular literature.
Kept at the library was the Ipatievskaya Chronicle, one of the oldest chronicles of
Russian history which contains the most detailed description of the campaign of Prince
Igor of Novgorod-Seversk. Many of the books were illuminated with magnificent miniatures,
among them, the 1595 Psalter. The 1605 Book of Gospels, the 17th-century obituary book of
the Krestovozdvizhensky Monastery (Monastery of the Exaltation of the Cross). The
icon-painting workshop of the Ipatievsky Monastery produced works distinguished by an
impeccable mastery of execution. A large number of icons in metal mountings richly
decorated with precious and semi-precious stones were donated to the monastery by its
patrons. Thus, the icon of St. Nicholas of Velikoretsk was presented to the monastery by
Ivan the Terrible ‘‘in memory of his elder son Ivan Ivanovich’’.
The Kostroma Museum of History and Architecture owns multitudinous
specimens of embroidery used for the decoration of church vestments. It also possesses a
large collection of silverwork such as censers, chalices and other church plate. Mountings
of icon, covers for the gospels and altar crosses all are adorned with plant ornament
while the niello and engraving techniques predominate in the jeweller’s art.
One of the first stone buildings in the Kostroma territory was the Church of the
Resurrection-on-the-Debra, erected in 1651 on funds given by the merchant Cyril Isakov.
The Holy Gates of this church, the pride of the entire Volga Region, feature the white
stone carved insertions depicting the lion, the unicorn and the alkonost, each one having
a symbolic meaning. The Church of the Resurrection-on-the-Debra is an example of the
patterned style typical of the second half of the seventeenth century. The inner walls of
the parvis preserve the fragments of the seventeenth-century frescoes painted by a team of
artists under Vasily Ilyin Zapokrovsky. The Chapel of the Tree Baptists was decorated
under the supervision of Guri Nikitin.
The extant structures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are
well integrated into the city’s layout, itself a monument of the town-building art of
the classicist period. The city’s straight streets fanning out from the U-shapes central
square are intersected by four semi-rings of streets, forming the basis of the existing
The facades of the commercial and administrative buildings give on to
the central square. The complex of the Kostroma shopping arcades is among the largest
market centres of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries which survive today.
The complex took shape in the course of several decades and incorporates over ten
buildings of various size located in the main square and its descent to the Volga. The key
structures of this complex are the Textiles and Large Meal Stalls, the former - festive
and sumptuous, the latter - truly monumental in appearance. Towering above the Textile
Stalls is the Church of Our Saviour with its bell tower topped by a spire. The church was
put up in 1766; the bell tower was built by S.Vorotilov in 1792 to emphasize the
architectural centre of the complex.
The shopping arcades determined the architectural aspect of the city
from the side of the Volga River. Opposite the arcades, two obelisks (non-extant) were
raised in 1823 on the Volga bank to decorate the entrance to Kostroma. The obelisks were
designed by the architect P.Fursov. The complex of public buildings comprised a
guardhouse, a fire-station and General Borshchov’s House which stand along the perimeter
of the main square. The fire-station and the guardhouse were built to plans by Fursov. The
small guardhouse produces the impression of an attic placed on the earth; in order to
enhance its scale within the general scheme of the square, the architect added to the
structure a fence and iron forged lights on metal posts. The Borshchov House is located in
the depths of the square and its facade features a formal eight-columned portico.
Many residential houses in Kostroma are built in a neo-classical style
but in the provinces this style has none of the clear-cut austerity of the metropolis,
serving to accentuate the unpretentious harmony of the building and to impart to it an air
This combination of the monuments of old architecture and cozy
provintial neo-classicism, the blend of the regular layput and the wooden houses with an
intricate lacy carvings on the facades, creates the unique, unforgettable image of