“Yaroslavl is a town of unsurpassed beauty; everywhere is the Volga, and everywhere is history.” The 19th century poet Apollon Grigoryev knew well the grandeur of visiting Yaroslavl, whose foundation seemed the stuff of legend. Yaroslav, son of Russia’s first Christian grand prince Vladimir the Great, landed here to suppress a hostile pagan tribe that raided passing merchants. In defense, the tribe released their secret weapon, a sacred bear with a taste for human warriors. Yaroslav, who later earned the moniker “The Wise,” merely grabbed an axe and dropped it with one blow. As a result, Yaroslavl’s coat of arms today features a bear carrying an axe.
Yaroslavl became Russia’s political, economic, cultural, and technology center. Today visitors will find here the most picturesque monuments to the past: the Church of Ilya (or Elijah) the Prophet, the Church of the Archangel Michael, and the Alexander Nevsky Chapel. Another important cultural treasure is the art gallery, set in the old Governor’s Building. In 1998, it was recognized as the Russian Museum of the Year, and holds a collection of some 60,000 pieces. But the most important treasure is the people you find here. This mid-sized city of 600,000 and surrounding region also takes pride in a fine collection of famous sons and daughters, among the most famous of which is the world’s first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova (born about 10 miles west of the city).