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Goritsy, Russia

Dive into the medieval atmosphere of this extraordinarily picturesque tiny river town of Goritsy, one of the most tranquil places in Russia. Today, cruise ships dock here on their way between St. Petersburg and Moscow, but in times past, this picturesque village near Beloozero was set in the center of one of the largest accumulations of monasteries in Russia.

The famous Russian writer Andrey Muraviov called Goritsy the "Russian Northern Thebais," an analogy for the Egyptian desert where early Christian hermits made their cells. This poetic comparison reflects Goritsy's numerous monasteries and the deep spiritual life of local monks even today. Even on a short visit, Goritsy's atmosphere has a powerful effect.

Two of Goritsy's monasteries are especially famous, the first of them is the Kirillo-Belozerskiy monastery that dates back to 1397. Its founder was a monk named Reverend Kirill who left his privileged life to seek a remote place to become closer to God. His monastery prospered and became a refuge for many nobles during the Time of Troubles. It soon turned into a fortress which resisted the attacks of the Poles and Lithuanians for many years. It could not, however, resist the Bolsheviks. The monks were shot or sent to labor camps, though it was one of the few monasteries not turned into a concentration camp. Despite this, the ornate building has managed to preserve much of its historic grandeur and was recently named one of "The New Seven Wonders of Russia."

Although less grand, the setting of Goritsy Nunnery on the banks of the broad Skeksna River is stunningly beautiful. This ghostly building with pure white walls can be glimpsed through the forest, making it look like a vision out of a fairy tale. It was founded in 1554 by Princess Efrosiniya, the wife of one of Ivan the Terrible's sons. She became one of Ivan's numerous victims when Ivan began to suspect her and her son of treason, and the Tsar had her cruelly drowned in the river Shekna. More horrible still, Ivan then turned the monastery into his own personal harem for wives and abducted Russian beauties. During the Time of Troubles the nunnery fell to foul Lithuanian attacks and was only saved from complete destruction by the rebels Minin and Pozharsky.

With over 100,000 visitors a year, though, this holy riverboat port is certainly becoming better known with each passing year. But the spiritual aura imbued into its beautiful surroundings will probably never dissipate, even under a tidal wave of travelers.

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Goritsy, Russia

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Goritsy, Russia

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