The 10 oldest cities in Russia

*Editor’s review of the best. About the selection criteria. This material is subjective, is not an advertisement and is not a guide to purchase. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

Russian history is much richer than it seems at first glance. “Officially” it dates back to 862 A.D., so that at present it has long and successfully passed the 1,100-year mark. But even before that date, Russian lands were inhabited by Slavic tribes, though not yet united into a state, but already keeping a large layer of culture.

Nevertheless, the date of the founding of Kievan Rus – the progenitor state of Russia – is considered to be exactly 862 AD. But already at this time there were several major cities. For example, Novgorod, which became the capital of Kievan Rus.

So some Russian cities are older than Russia itself. And this means that they can boast a huge history and a unique, distinctive culture, for the sake of which it is worth traveling around the country. And in this article we have collected 10 of the oldest cities in Russia.

Ranking of the oldest cities in Russia

NominationplaceCityYear of foundation
10 oldest cities in Russia10Ryazan1095 AD
9Suzdal1024 AD
8Yaroslavl1010 YEARS
7Kazan1005 YEARS
6Vladimir990 YEAR
5Smolensk863 YEARS
4Murom862 YEARS AGO
3Veliky Novgorod859 YEARS AGO
2Old Ladoga753 YEARS

Rank 10: Ryazan (founded in 1095)

Rating: 4.1

10th place: Ryazan (founded in 1095)

The capital of the Ryazan Region, Ryazan boasts an impressive history. Despite the fact that it was first mentioned in chronicles only in 1301, the official date of its foundation is 1095.

However, people settled on the territory of this city a very, very long time ago. Archaeological excavations have uncovered artifacts more than 80 thousand years old! In addition, historical studies have shown that the territory of Ryazan was home to the most impressive and amazing prehistoric animals – mammoths, giant deer and woolly rhinoceros.

But officially the history of the city starts in the VI century. It was then that the Slavic tribe of Vyatichi reached the banks of the Oka River and founded a huge number of settlements here. At first they were small, scattered and more like villages than cities. But closer to the eighth century, a major settlement was established, which – surprisingly – actively traded with foreign countries. Excavations near Ryazan uncovered foreign precious coins and ship seals.

Ryazan is interesting not only for its rich history, but also for its impressive culture. An interesting feature of the city is that in the 18th century it was a true center of Russian sugar production. Ryazan lollipops were known throughout the country, and now you can admire them and taste the sweets cooked according to an ancient recipe in the relevant museum.

It is also worth visiting Ryazan to hear “yakan’, a distinctive feature of vowel pronunciation. It is here that it is most vividly manifested. Of course, modern Ryazan inhabitants are gradually getting rid of this “atavism,” but if you go outside the city you can hear all the phonetic diversity of the Russian language.

9th place: Suzdal (founded in 1024)

Rating: 4.2

9th place: Suzdal (founded in 1024)

Suzdal is one of a few old Russian towns that have the status of a nature reserve. It is included in a tourist route the Golden Ring and a part of its architecture is protected by UNESCO. Suzdal is one of the oldest cities, but the exact date of its foundation is unknown.

Suzdal is first mentioned in one of the chronicles. In this city there was a revolt of Magi in 1024. And it is 1024 that is considered the date of Suzdal’s foundation. Although some Russian historians suggest that the city was founded in 982 by Prince Vladimir, when he went to conquer the Polish lands.

Nevertheless, the twelfth century is considered a turning point in the life of the city. At the very beginning of the century, Prince Yury Dolgoruky made it a separate principality, the Rostov-Suzdal Principality. In 1107 Suzdal after a siege passed under the control of Volga Bulgars. In 1157 the city lost its capital status, but not for long. In just a few decades it became a leader of a separate Suzdal principality.

However, the subsequent history of the city was not so good. After industrialization Suzdal found itself far from the railway lines, and that is why it became a remote province without big industrial centers. The Soviet authorities also took little interest in the city – and therefore managed to preserve many white-stone churches.

But at the moment, despite its status as a nature reserve and inclusion in the Golden Ring of Russia, Suzdal remains a province. Population of the city, as of 2018, is less than 10 thousand people. There are still no industrial centers, and locals develop subsistence farming.

Nevertheless, there is much to admire in Suzdal. The city will be especially interesting for lovers of Russian architecture, thanks to the museum of wooden architecture, the Suzdal Kremlin, and a huge number of white-stone churches and temples. The most famous “delicacy” in this city is cucumbers. There’s even a holiday held in their honor! And if you want a new gastronomic experience, you can try cucumber jam and eat it with dishes of traditional Russian cuisine.

8th place: Yaroslavl (founded in 1010)

Rating: 4.3

8th place: Yaroslavl (founded in 1010)

The capital of the Yaroslavl region, the city of Yaroslavl, is part of the Golden Ring – one of the main cultural and tourist routes of the country. And this is not surprising. Officially Yaroslavl was founded in 1010, so in 2010 the city celebrated its millennium anniversary.

But, as in the case of Ryazan, the first people settled in Yaroslavl a long time ago. This is due to the extremely favorable location of the city. It is located on the banks of the Volga, at its confluence with the Kotorosl River, in fertile land. So, one can find here the traces of settlements founded in the V millennium B.C.

But the city of Yaroslavl itself was founded in 1010. The founder of the settlement is Prince Yaroslav the Wise. It was in 1010 that they began to build the Yaroslavl Kremlin. The city was successfully protected from the raids of both Slavic and foreign tribes – on both sides it was closed by the rivers, and on the third was the highlands.

Nevertheless, in the first centuries of its existence Yaroslavl was quite a small town, part of the Rostov-Suzdal land. Only in the 17th century, after the Time of Troubles, did it begin to develop apace, and within a few decades it became Russia’s second-largest city.

During the “new history” Yaroslavl became the center of culture and art. Many poets and artists lived here and regularly dedicated their works to their favorite city. Nekrasov, Kuzmin, Oshanin and many, many other authors wrote about Yaroslavl. And in Soviet times the city became a center of cinema – “Afonya”, “Kin-dza-dza” were filmed here!”, “Big Break” and other beloved by the people movies.

Those who want to visit Yaroslavl should definitely visit Strelka Park – the historical center of the city is situated exactly there. One can also just take a walk down the streets that hold the centuries-old memory of the city. And of course you can’t help tasting the smoked vendace which is caught right here in the Lake Pleshcheyevo, just like thousands of years ago.

Seventh place: Kazan (founded in 1005)

Rating: 4.4

7th place: Kazan (founded in 1005)

The capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, the ancient city of Kazan, was founded in 1005. It carries so many symbols of bygone eras that the international organization UNESCO included it in the list of world heritage.

The main attraction of Kazan is the white-stone Kremlin. Its first settlement was built back in the XII century! Kazan in principle was at the beginning of its existence an outpost on the northern border of Volga Bulgaria, so it was immediately erected a fortified and reliable.

But in the XIII century Kazan turned from a frontier town into a commercial and political center. Of course, in those days it was part of the Golden Horde. But the successful development of Kazan was influenced not by its location in a “nomadic state”, but by its geographical position – the city was at the crossroads of trade routes that connected the East and the West.

In the 16th century, after a huge number of wars – including the Golden Horde – and the end of the Tatar-Mongol Yoke, Kazan became part of Russia. The city was destroyed, but Tsar Ivan the Terrible ordered it rebuilt. That’s when construction of the white-stone Kremlin, a symbol of Kazan up to this day, started.

Such an ancient and rich history made Kazan one of Russia’s great cultural centers. But the main feature of the city is its “multiculturalism”. So, it combines Russian and Tatar cultural traits.

It is worth coming to Kazan for a touch of Tatar culture. Here you can see Tatar village and Old Tatar freedom. And, of course, the white stone Kazan Kremlin. And, of course, to try echpochmak and kystybiy – unsweetened, but very tasty pastry.

6th place: Vladimir (founded in 990)

Rating: 4.5

6th place: Vladimir (founded in 990)

Capital of Vladimir region, part of the Golden Ring of Russia, museum city Vladimir is one of the oldest Russian settlements. Extremely popular among tourists who want to touch history. In the historic center of the city there are practically no modern buildings – many buildings, even those in which drugstores and Pyatyeorochki are located, can boast of being 300 years old.

Vladimir is also the most beautiful city. Here you can admire a huge number of white-stone buildings, which embody the Russian history. Dormition and Dmitrievsky Cathedrals, Golden Gates – these are the most famous buildings of the city.

The ancient city of Vladimir was founded in 990 by Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavovich. However, for the first century it was only a small settlement. In 1108 Prince Vladimir Monomakh began to build a fortress, which, however, never became the Kremlin. But from 1243 to 1389 the city was the capital of Northeast Russia.

After the metropolitan of Northeastern Russia settled in Vladimir in 1299, the city also became the capital of Russian Orthodoxy. It began to actively build churches and temples, some of which survived to this day. Of course, the city’s Orthodox heritage was lost during the Soviet era, when religion was persecuted and even destroyed.

You can go to Vladimir to admire examples of ancient Russian white stone architecture. The most famous of them are Dmitrievsky Cathedral, Assumption Cathedral and the Golden Gate. All of them are on the UNESCO list of world heritage. Vladimir cuisine offers no special delicacies, but you can try porridge. It is made of peas, implies very long stewing and is included in the list of intangible cultural heritage. The recipe for porridge has not changed since the 18th century.

5th place: Smolensk (founded in 863)

Rating: 4.6

5th place: Smolensk (founded in 863)

The hero-city of Smolensk is one of the oldest in Russia. But the exact date of its foundation is unknown. It was first mentioned in 863, the starting point in the city’s history.

Smolensk has always been a “shield of Russia. It defended Moscow from attacks from the west. It was here that the Second People’s Militia led by Minin and Pozharsky, which resulted in the expulsion of the Polish-Lithuanian invaders from Moscow, broke out. It was here in times of Troubles that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth troops were delayed and the rest of the country prepared for invasion.

But Smolensk is known not only as the “shield of Russia. This city is advantageously situated at the crossroads of trade routes. From here it is convenient to bring goods to Belarus, the Baltics and Europe. Therefore, Smolensk was also a major trading city.

Now Smolensk is one of the biggest industrial centers in Russia. But it also retained its historical heritage. Here you can admire the Smolensk Fortress, which is a classic Kremlin, many towers and white-stone churches. Besides, tourists are attracted by Blonier garden, founded in 1830. And for those who love gastronomic trips we can recommend Smolensk borsch – here it is cooked with lemon and port. Also a classic dish of this town are carnitas – buns with crispy sugar glaze and fresh fruit.

4th place: Murom (founded in 862)

Rating: 4.7

4th place: Murom (founded in 862)

Located in Vladimir region, the ancient town of Murom is known to every Russian, at least by ear. It is first mentioned in the largest historical document, the Tale of Bygone Years. Moreover, the hero of Russian epics, hero Ilya Muromets lived here.

The date of Murom foundation is considered 862. In fact, this date is marked by the first mention of the city in the Tale of Bygone Years. Even before those times, the Finno-Ugric people of Murom inhabited the territory of modern Murom. That is why it is impossible to establish the exact date of the city foundation.

During the Old Russian period, Murom went from one “state” to another. Originally, it was under the control of Chernigov Principality during the reign of Prince Rurik. Then it split off as the Murom-Ryazan. But eventually separated from it as well – into the Murom principality. And as a result, in 1293, the Mongols burned Murom to the ground.

However, it soon began to restore. Already in 1351 it is mentioned again in chronicles. And in 1392 it became a part of the Moscow principality.

Under the control of tsar Ivan the Terrible Murom began to change. Here they built stone temples and opened artisan centers. It was in Murom that the Tsar gathered his troops for his further campaign to Kazan. So there is nothing surprising that the city has become a center of armory craftsmanship. Exactly in Murom was born Andrey Chekhov, who in 1586 cast the Tsar Cannon.

Murom has preserved the examples of Old Russian white-stone architecture. The Holy Trinity Convent and Savior Transfiguration Monastery were built in this style. While admiring the city, you can’t miss the Epic Stone and the monument to Ilya Muromets, which is dedicated to the well-known hero. And of unique products one should try, of course, Murom kalach. There’s even a monument to it on one of the main streets!

3rd place: Veliky Novgorod (founded in 859)

Rating: 4.8

3rd place: Veliky Novgorod (founded in 859)

Novgorod the Great (aka simply Novgorod) is not simply one of the country’s oldest cities. This is where Russian statehood was born. It was here that Rurik, the summoned prince, ruled, uniting the disparate possessions into the country, which became the ancestor of Russia.

Novgorod is repeatedly mentioned in the most important events of Russian history. It was not destroyed during the Tatar-Mongol Yoke. It has long maintained its independence as part of the Novgorod Republic. And it was the capital city in the pre-Christian period, during the reign of Rurik, creating the so-called Novgorod Rus.

The official date of foundation of Veliky Novgorod is 859. But in fact, the city was founded much earlier. The fact is that 859 is the date of death of one of the Novgorod headmen, that is, the settlement existed for several decades before that period.

Thanks to the fact that Novgorod was not destroyed during the Tatar-Mongol Yoke, unique monuments of Old Russian architecture of the pre-Mongol period have survived in the city. Such are, for example, St. Sophia Cathedral, which was founded in 1045, and the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, built since 1117. It even boasted twelfth-century frescoes. Of course, Novgorod architecture is protected by UNESCO.

Tourists who want to visit Novgorod, architectural monuments of different times await. There are sights, preserved both from the most ancient period and from the Middle Ages.

Veliky Novgorod will be interesting for the lovers of gastronomic tourism. The city stands on the shore of Lake Ilmen, so the local cuisine is full of fish dishes with recipes that have not changed for centuries. For example, ilmen pikeperch. Besides, in Veliky Novgorod you should taste gingerbread – in this city the tradition of making it dates back to ancient times.

2nd place: Staraya Ladoga (founded in 753)

Rating: 4.9

2nd place: the Old Ladoga (founded in 753)

To be fair, Staraya Ladoga is not a city. Its population is only 1,950 as of 2017. Therefore, Staraya Ladoga is a village. But this does not prevent it from being one of the oldest and most ancient settlements of the country.

The official history of the Old Ladoga begins in 750s. It was at this time the Vikings settled on the Volkhov River. Then, just a few years later, they were forced out by Slavic tribes – and since then the Ladoga lands became Russian.

Despite its “decadent” modern status, formerly Staraya Ladoga (then it was simply called Ladoga) was a major trade center. It was via this river that goods were exported to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Baltic countries. And, accordingly, values were also brought from there.

Ladoga also became the first Russian money center. Immediately after its founding, it began to produce “glazok” – glass beads, which acted as currency. They bought furs which they sold to Arabian countries for silver.

After the unification of the principalities in Novgorod Rus Ladoga became an important point on the route “from the Varangians to the Greeks. But it did not exist for a long time. In 997 it was destroyed and temporarily disappeared from chronicles – till 1116, when a new fortress was founded. By the way, it has survived to the present day. Later Ladoga was constantly attacked by Sweden and other European states.

In 1704 Ladoga was deprived of its city status by the order of Peter the Great. He founded Novaya Ladoga, and renamed the settlement into Stary Ladoga. Many residents of Ladoga moved to the city built by Peter I. Since then, the Old Ladoga and became just a small village on the Volkhov River.

There are now many architectural and archaeological monuments preserved in Old Ladoga, including the Old Ladoga Fortress and the Dormition Cathedral, built in the 1160s. Nevertheless, the village is not a special tourist center. You can visit the village in one day and see all the sights at once.

1st place: Derbent (founded in the 8th century B.C.)

Rating: 5.0

1 place: Derbent (founded in 8th century B.C.)

Derbent is the oldest city in modern Russia. The exact date of its foundation is unknown, but the first mention of this Dagestan fortress dates back to the 8th century B.C. That is, in fact, now it is about 10 thousand years old!

Derbent was originally founded as a “Caspian fortress”. It protected the western part of the continent from the raids of a huge number of nomadic Asian tribes, including the Scythians, Khazars, Huns and many others. Derbent, located on a convenient passage of the Caucasus, for a long time belonged to Rome and Parthia, but then passed to Byzantium and Iran. After that it became controlled by Albania. In VII century Arabs invaded the territory of Derbent.

In 1668, Derbent was recaptured from the Persians by Stepan Razin. And since then the city has belonged to Russia.

And finally, Derbent finally gained the status of a Russian town in 1813. It became part of the Dagestan region in 1846. As a part of Russia, Derbent achieved an economic boom associated with gardening and horticulture. On the territory of the city grew marjoram, a plant that was a raw material for an inexpensive but colorful red dye – krapp. Beyond Derbent in 1865 counted 1500 orchards. Grapes (including for wine and vodka), peaches, apricots and other fruits were grown. Also Derbent had a thriving Jewish Diaspora, which kept tobacco plantations.

At the end of the 19th century Derbent experienced another boom. The railroad from Makhachkala to Baku went through Derbent.

History lovers can admire the Naryn-Kala Citadel and other ancient architectural structures in Derbent, which are indeed very numerous – and each of them bears the traces of thousands of battles. To take back from there as a souvenir is possible not only cognac (which immediately comes to mind due to the centuries-old production), but also carpets, apricots, urbech and nut grass. You can try lavengi, shah plov with meat, dried fruits and chestnuts, as well as lepyoshkas chudu.

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