The History of Yaroslavl

The legend of the city’s foundation has it that the future Grand Prince of Kiev Yaroslav Vladimirovich, being at that time the Prince of Rostov Veliky, was inspecting his lands and met an unknown pagan tribe in the place where the Volga River and its tributary the Kotorosl River flow into each other. The locals were hostile towards the prince and set a ferocious she-bear on him. Yet the prince had no fear and killed the beast with a pole-axe. The pagans submitted themselves to the prince’s control and he decided to found a city with a fortress on this site in order for freight boats to sail freely across the Volga River and trades and crafts to be developed here. The city was named Yaroslavl after its founder.

Yaroslavl was the first Christian city on the Volga River. All this happened in the year 1010. Since then this beautiful city has been sitting on the Volga River and gladdening and astonishing its residents and visitors with its wondrous churches and architectural ensembles, cozy parks and unusual design of new buildings. Additionally, Yaroslavl has never changed its name.

Yaroslav the Wise Monument (sculptor O.K. Komov)

As the city was strategically and geographically in a favorable position, it became the strongpoint of princely power and outpost for spread of Christianity in the Russian North East. By the 12-13th centuries Yaroslavl had already become one of the most highly-developed cities in Rus, a large center for trade and crafts. Metal working, pottery, civil engineering had reached a high point of development. Merchants carried on trade with other Russian lands, particularly with Novgorod and Pskov. Strong business links were established with Eastern and Western countries, particularly Scandinavia, as the city is mentioned in Scandinavian sagas. Yaroslavl became the center of the transit trade; goods from Northern Europe and the East were transported along the Volga-Caspian Route through the region. Eastern merchants frequently visited the Yaroslavl lands.

Dawn over Yaroslavl, 19th century (G.A. Milkov)
Model of Yaroslavl (13th century)

Yaroslavl was not only a developed commercial and crafts center, but also a center of culture. The development of book-learning, spread of education and a high literacy rate in different layers of society, the emergence of local chronicle writing, formation of architectural and art traditions determined the economic and cultural blossom of the city on the Volga.

The Yaroslavl rulers were close associates of the Great Moscow Princes in their internal and external political struggle. Yaroslavl people were among the first to answer the call of Moscow Prince Dmitry Donskoy and took part in the Battle of Kulikovo. The battle against the troops of Mamai Khan marked the beginning of liberation of Rus from the Tartar Mongol Yoke and the reunification of Russian lands. In the middle of the year 1463 the Yaroslavl Principality joined the centralized Moscow state.

In the 15th century, after the incorporation within the Moscow state, the city was given the honored title of the “sovereign’s native land”. In the 17th century the Moscow tsars bequeathed Yaroslavl and nearby volosts (districts) to the direct heirs of the throne. The state treasury was moved here in the event of danger.

In the early 17th century Yaroslavl played a crucial role in the events of the Time of Troubles as it became the center of opposition to foreign invaders. In 1609 the city heroically withstood the siege of Polish-Lithuanian interventionists. In 1612 Yaroslavl served as a temporary capital of Russia: the People’s Militia under the command of Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky was stationed in the city. The highest bodies of state authority were established in Yaroslavl: the Council of all Russia was assembled, prikazes (central bodies of local and economic administration) were established, and the mint was built.
The Council of all Russia consisted of representatives of the nobility, tradespeople, Cossacks, streltsy (marksman troops), gunners. Being the capital of the Militia, Yaroslavl became the center for propagation of the idea of national solidarity within the Russian lands. The Militia increased from 3,000 to 20,000 men while residing in Yaroslavl. After it had gained enough strength and obtained financial support from Yaroslavl merchants, the Militia advanced towards Moscow and freed the capital. Yaroslavl became the pillar of Russian statehood: the ideas of national solidarity, legitimate governance, and defense of the state interests were embodied here. Here the Russian people felt their national unity.

The election of the legitimate monarch Mikhail Romanov laid the foundations for revival of the country after the Time of Troubles. After assuming the throne the tsar did not forget the merits of Yaroslavl people and gave the city his assistance and support.

The defense of Spassky monastery from the Poles in May 1609 (A.P. Nekrasov, 1960)
Minin and Pozharsky’s Militia leaving Yaroslavl in July 1612 (A.P. Nekrasov, 1960)
Stele monument, The Oath of Prince Pozharsky (V.I. Nesterenko)

Within the so-called necklace of Russian cities surrounding Moscow, which has a gorgeous name the Golden Ring of Russia, Yaroslavl is often compared to a pearl of exceptional beauty. It’s not for nothing that the city is part of the global cultural heritage. The boom in Yaroslavl architecture started in the 16-17th centuries; triggered by the explosive development of the city which became the largest trade, industrial and transport center of the country, gained political prestige after overcoming the Time of Troubles.
Yaroslavl was at that time the second biggest Russian city after Moscow. The distinctive features of Yaroslavl architecture such as a plethora of decorative components, the stately appearance of churches, the splendor of mural decoration and the distinctive sonority of icons appeared during this time. The Church of St. Elijah the Profit, fascinating with its frescoes, and the unique fifteen-domed Church of St. John the Precursor are among world architectural highlights.

Church of St. John the Precursor. 17th century
View of Yaroslavl. Engraving by A.I. Rostovtsev

The first city brick residential buildings are the precious monuments of Russian civil architecture. The center of Yaroslavl, which was built according to a regular design developed in 1778, and approved by Catherine the Great, is a fine example of urban planning of Classicism period. Art Nouveau buildings constructed at the turn of the 20th century are the architectural pearls of the city landscape. The radial ring structure of the city, which remains intact until today is a real highlight of not only Yaroslavl, but all-Russia city planning.

Over the course of its history Yaroslavl has been actively involved in the defense of the motherland from a foreign enemy. The services of the people of Yaroslavl rendered to the Fatherland, their heroic feats performed at turning points of the national history are the worthy examples for current generations, instilling in them feeling of pride and patriotism.

Yaroslavl is the center of the Diocese of Yaroslavl and Rostov, which has more than 1000 years of history. The diocese has been always well-known for its men of faith: three archbishops, who were its heads at various times, were consecrated Patriarchs of Moscow and All Russia, eight canonized.
Many names which are sacred to the Russians are linked to the Yaroslavl land: one of the first Christian missionaries in Rus Holy Hierarch Leontios of Rostov, the Blessed Sergius of Radonezh who is highly honored by the Russians, defenders of the Fatherland the Blessed Prince Alexander Nevsky and Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, and many others.

Svyato-Vvedensky (Presentation)Tolga Convent


The 18th century was a critical period in the history of the city. After Saint Petersburg had been built, Yaroslavl started the transition from a trade to an industrial economic model. Yaroslavl was one of the key centers of the emerging Russian industry. Founded in the early 18th century by the order of Peter I, Yaroslavl Big Manufactory became one of the largest fabric production centers in the nation. The industrial growth continued in the 19th century and led to the opening of large enterprises. Textile, tobacco, chemical, and metal working plants formed the basis of the city economy.

Yaroslavl Big Manufactory
Yaroslavl Tobacco Factory, 1850

The economically advantageous location of the city and the flexible policy of local authorities created favorable conditions for business activity. Yaroslavl merchants who had made money on commercial operations, favored by tsars and patriarchs, were at the top of the Russian political elite and influenced political life. The names of the most important representatives of Yaroslavl trade and industrial elite were known nationwide: Skripins (merchants who ordered the construction of the splendid Church of St. Elijah the Prophet), Eliseev brothers (owners of the well-known stores), Petr Smirnov (millionaire and the Russian vodka king), Pastukhovs (kings of the metal market), Dunaevs, Vakhromeevs, and Olovyanishnikovs (well-off entrepreneurs and philanthropists).

In the modern and contemporary period of history the role of the city as a large industrial and cultural center of Russia has risen. The 20th century gave new momentum to the development of industrial production in Yaroslavl. In terms of economy the city gained the position in the lead compared to many other Central Russian cities.

Truck made at Yaroslavl Automobile Plant
Rubber-asbestos industrial complex, 1929

Starting from the years of first industrialization pyatiletkas (five-year plans) the city played an important role in the plans for transformation and revival of the Soviet state economy. Highly-developed infrastructure, transportation lines, qualified labor force, research and production base predetermined the transformation of Yaroslavl into the largest industrial and transport center of the country. By the 1950s the city was among the top 10 industrial cities of the Soviet Union. Yaroslavl became a city of industrial giants.
The Soviet period left its mark on the appearance of Yaroslavl. Rapid development of industry and transport facilitated its transformation into a modern city. During the Soviet period Yaroslavl was “dressed in green”: numerous parks, gardens, and lawns made it one of the greenest and coziest cities of Povolzhye (the Volga basin).

In 1971 Yaroslavl was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. In 1985 the city achieved another award – the Order of the October Revolution – in recognition of Yaroslavl’s 975th anniversary.
The innovative and science-driven Yaroslavl industry gave the country the first dump-truck, trolleybus, diesel engine, the world’s first artificial rubber tyre. Today the city has a highly-developed and diversified production sector with some high-tech industries. Yaroslavl manufacturers of automotive engines, aircraft and automotive tyres, paint, varnish and chemical products hold leading positions in Russia. High potential for economic growth in Yaroslavl attracts Russian and foreign investors to the city.

Men of Talent and Achievements

The city gave Russia the first public national theatre which was founded by a son of a merchant Fedor Volkov in 1750. The most famous monument of Old Russian literature The Lay of Igor’s Campaign, which influenced the development of world art, was found in Yaroslavl. The Yaroslavl land raised Valentina Tereshkova, the first female cosmonaut in the world, who flew in space in 1963. The first Russian animation film to win an Oscar was The Old Man and the Sea made by Yaroslavl animator Aleksandr Petrov.

First spaceman Y.A. Gagarin and first woman cosmonaut V.V. Tereshkova
Animation artist and Oscar winner A.K. Petrov


The unique city planning of Yaroslavl has been recognized by the world cultural community. In 2005, according to the decision of the 29th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the historic center of Yaroslavl was included to the World Heritage List as an architectural monument. Yaroslavl became the third Russian city, after Saint Petersburg and Novgorod, to be included in this honorable list of world architectural monuments. In the so-called UNESCO zone of our city there are 140 monuments of architecture, including unique churches of the 16-18th centuries.

Administrative building of Severnaya Railway (former school for female children of clergy)

The architectural heritage of the city and historical environment are well-preserved, it reflects the continuity in the development of the ancient city until modern times. The cultural heritage objects are actual historical buildings, which have been preserved up to now without substantial reconstruction. The unique thing about Yaroslavl is that within its limits there are buildings of almost all architectural styles from several centuries.


Cosmopolitan city

Yaroslavl is a Russian city historically, but multinational and multi-religious by nature. It is a place where tolerance, peace, and harmony always prevail. There are 19 national communities in the city, an active synagogue, mosque, Lutheran church. Yaroslavl has never experienced religious strife. Here one of the first regional branches of the Assembly of the Peoples of Russia opened. This organization unites Byelorussians and Ukrainians, Tatars and Poles, Georgians and Armenians, Chechens and the Ingush people, Azerbaijanis and Ossetians, Germans and Jews.

The successful cooperation between the Mayor’s Office and national communities, peaceful coexistence and the creative cooperation of people of different nationalities serve an example of solution to ethnic problems in other Russian cities.

Yaroslavl maintains and develops the ties of friendship with cities in other countries, including seven foreign sister cities Jyväskylä (Finland), Poitiers (France), Coimbra (Portugal), Kassel and Hanau (Germany), Burlington (USA), and Exeter (Great Britain). In 2003 and 2007 Yaroslavl has been consistently awarded two high distinctions – the Council of Europe Flag and Plaque of Honor for the contribution to the development of international relations.

People of Yaroslavl have always stood behind all remarkable achievements of the city. Orientation towards leadership and success, energy and entrepreneurial spirit, curiosity and creativity of Yaroslavl citizens became the basement for dynamic development and prosperity of the city.

Millennial city

Yaroslavl witnessed a solemn and massive celebration of its 1000th birthday. The festivities organized on September 10-12, 2010 were devoted to the great jubilee of one of the most ancient cities of our country.

Yaroslavl has created many bright chapters of history, contributed to consolidation of Russian statehood, economy, culture and defense capability of the country. Official delegations, Yaroslavl citizens, numerous visitors from all over Russia and other countries took part in the jubilee festivities. The festivities included opening ceremonies of the 1000 Years of Yaroslavl monument, a Komatsu plant and the second stage of the Yaroslavl Zoo, concerts by Russian pop-stars and on-stage performance groups, sport and youth events, exhibitions, creative actions.