Vladimir (Russian: Владимир; IPA: [vlɐˈdʲimʲɪr]) is a city and the administrative center of Vladimir Oblast, Russia, located on the Klyazma River, 200 kilometers (120 mi) to the east of Moscow along the M7 motorway. Population: 345,373 (2010 Census); 315,954 (2002 Census); 349,702 (1989 Census).
Vladimir was one of the medieval capitals of Russia, and two of its cathedrals are a World Heritage Site. It is served by the Semyazino Airport, and during the Cold War Vladimir was host to Dobrynskoye air base.
Assumption Cathedral was a venerated model for cathedrals all over Russia
The area occupied by the city of Vladimir has been inhabited by humans (at least intermittently) for approximately 25,000 years (see Sungir). Traditionally, the founding date of Vladimir has been acknowledged as 1108, as the first mention of Vladimir in the Primary Chronicle appears under that year. This view attributes the founding of the city, and its name, to Vladimir Monomakh, who inherited the region as part of the Rostov-Suzdal Principality in 1093. In 1958, the 850th anniversary of the city foundation was celebrated, with many monuments from the celebrations adorning the city squares.
In the 1990s, a new opinion developed that the city is older than this. Scholars reinterpreted certain passages in the Hypatian Codex, which mentions that the region was visited by Vladimir the Great, the «father» of Russian Orthodoxy, in 990, so as to move the city foundation date to that year. The defenders of the previously uncontested founding year of 1108 dispute the claims of those who support the new date, arguing that the new theory was fabricated in order to provide a reason to have a celebration in 1995.
The neighboring town of Suzdal, for instance, was mentioned in 1024, and yet its 12th century inhabitants alluded to Vladimir as a young town and treated its rulers with arrogance. In the words of a major chronicle, they said that the people of Vladimir were «their kholops and scions». In the seniority conflicts of the 12th and early 13th centuries, Vladimir was repeatedly described as a «young town» compared to Suzdal and Rostov. The Charter of Vladimir, the basic law of the city passed in 2005, explicitly mentions 990 as the date of the city’s foundation.
Regardless of which founding date is most accurate, the city’s most historically significant events occurred after the turn of the 12th century. Serving its original purpose as a defensive outpost for the Rostov-Suzdal principality, Vladimir had little political or military influence throughout the reign of Vladimir Monomakh (1113–1125), or his son Yury Dolgoruky («long arms») (1154–1157).
It was only under Dolgoruky’s son, Andrei Bogolyubsky (1157–1175), that it became the center of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality. Thus began the city’s Golden Age, which lasted until the Mongol invasion of Russia in 1237. During this time Vladimir enjoyed immense growth and prosperity, and Andrei oversaw the building of the Golden Gates and the Cathedral of the Assumption. In 1164, Andrei even attempted to establish a new metropolitanate in Vladimir, separate from that of Kiev, but was rebuffed by the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Scores of Russian, German, and Georgian masons worked on Vladimir’s white stone cathedrals, towers, and palaces. Unlike any other northern buildings, their exterior was elaborately carved with the high relief stone sculptures. Only three of these edifices stand today: the Assumption Cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius, and the Golden Gate. During Andrei’s reign, a royal palace in Bogolyubovo was built, as well as the world-famous Intercession Church on the Nerl, now considered one of the jewels of ancient Russian architecture. Andrei was assassinated at his palace at Bogolyubovo in 1175.
Vladimir was besieged by the Mongol-Tatar hordes under Batu Khan, and finally overrun on February 8, 1238. A great fire destroyed thirty-two limestone buildings on the first day alone, while the grand prince’s family perished in a church where they sought refuge from the flames. The grand prince himself managed to escape, only to fall at the Battle of the Sit River the following month.
After the Mongols, Vladimir never fully recovered, and even though the most important Rus prince (usually the Prince of Moscow, but sometimes of Tver or another principality) was styled the Grand Prince of Vladimir, the title had become merely an honorific symbol of majesty. From 1299 to 1325, the city was seat of the metropolitans of Kiev and All Rus, until Metropolitan Peter moved the see to Moscow. The Grand Prince of Vladimir were originally crowned in Vladimir’s Assumption Cathedral, but when Moscow superseded Vladimir as the seat of the Grand Prince, the Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin, loosely copied by the Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti from Vladimir’s original, became the site where the grand princes were crowned. Even after the rise of Moscow though, Grand Princes of Moscow built several new churches in Vladimir, notably the Annunciation church at Snovitsy (ca. 1501), three kilometers north-west of the city, and a charming church in the Knyaginin nunnery (ca. 1505), with murals dating to 1648.
Remains of the prince-saint Alexander Nevsky were kept in the ancient Nativity abbey of Vladimir until 1703, when Peter the Great had them transferred to the Monastery (now Lavra) of Aleksandr Nevsky in St. Petersburg. The Nativity church itself (1191–1196) collapsed several years later, when an attempt was made to make more windows in its walls in an effort to brighten the interior.