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District of Veliky Ustyug

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Veliky Ustyug is located 457 km from the city of Vologda at the confluence of two large rivers the Sukhona and the Yug which merge into a third - the Northern Dvina.

The city of Veliky Ustyug has preserved intact its uniqueness and has been awarded the status of a reserve city.

It is a contemporary of Moscow and Vologda. It seems in some ways miraculously untouched by time. In some areas one gets a sense of what the city might have looked like in the 18th century. The town of Veliky Ustyug is a sort of an open-air museum. The unique cathedrals, churches and monasteries of Veliky Ustyug attract ever-increasing number of tourists.

Like most northern towns, Ustyug was built almost entirely of wood, and fire was a constant menace. As a result, there are no surviving churches from before the middle of the 17th century.

Spirit of the times can be heard in the city name up to now. The white stone cathedrals, belfries and mansions located on the Sukhona River and reflected in it seem to be sprung up from a fairy-tale. This magnificent view opens up for visitors to the city. On the left bank of the river there is the Church of the Ascension (1648), which is the oldest structure in the city to survive in its original form, Cathedral of St. Procopius (1668), Church of the Epiphany (1689), the Monastery of Transfiguration of our Lord with hipped-roof belfry (1696), Church of the Transfiguration and Purification (1739), and a stately structure of the main city temple - the Assumption Cathedral with a double belfry (18th century). The Church of St. Demetrius of Salonae (1708) and the Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh (1739-1747) stand on the other side of the river at the site of the earliest settlement of Ustyug. Further down the river is the Trinity-Gleden Monastery. One gets an impression that it hovers above the earth. The iconostasis of the Monastery is considered to be a world masterpiece.

In the panorama of its historical centre the dominant feature is presented by the Dormition Cathedral. Surrounded by other churches, it forms an ensemble known as Cathedral Court and the adjacent Archbishop's Court. Cathedral Court is the appropriate place to begin a walking tour of Ustyug and its delightful riverfront, which offers some of the most picturesque views.

The Veliky Ustyug State Historical Art and Architecture Museum is another place of interest historically. It comprises 26 magnificent buildings, the Dormition Cathedral (17-19th centuries), the church dedicated to Procopius of Ustyug (17th century), Church of the Ascension, the baroque Church of St. Simeon the Stylite (18th century), the Trinity Cathedral of the Trinity-Gleden Monastery (17th century), the Cathedral of Archangel Michael (17th century) among them. The visitors to the churches can admire their interior with iconostasis.

The museum's most important mission is to preserve the precious legacy of its historic art and architecture - an ensemble that is irreplaceable.

Its collection presents paintings, drawings, decorative and applied art. Here one can observe an exposition of the town's specialities - niello work on silver, work of local weavers and embroiderers, enamel objects, carving on birch bark and others. It testifies to the fact that the town prospered as a mercantile center and became renowned as a center of crafts such as leather and metal working, as well as the making of fine enamel objects.

The Mikhailo-Arkhangelsky and Trinity-Gleden monasteries complete Veliky Ustyug's religious heritage, and the 19th-century mansions of Alaskan explorer Mikhail Buldakov and merchant Grigory Usov add a sense of grandeur and history to the town center.

The city also enjoys a special cachet among tourists after being designated the "hometown" of Ded Moroz in 1998. Ded Moroz, Russia’s equivalent of Santa Claus lives at his official residence called Votchina, a few miles outside Veliky Ustyug. There are cottages and hotel rooms, winter attractions, a sauna, a swimming-pool, a fireplace hall, a throne hall, a museum, a workshop, a mail post and a souvenir shop for those who wish to get along with Ded Moroz in person.

Arriving to the residence, tourists will see a wooden palace of Ded Moroz and will feel themselves in a kind Russian fairly tale. In front of carved gates a magic path starts which leads to a magic house. One can walk along magic paths and encounter fairy characters. Visiting the house of Ded Moroz is the main and most festive event. One will get acquainted with Ded Moroz and his suite and will have an opportunity to make a wish when a crystal bell rings. The kids can enjoy New Year’s activities and games all around the territory of the residence. This is also where Russian kids address their letters when they write to share their New Year’s wishes with Ded Moroz.

Just before Christmas holidays Ded Moroz, sets out from his Votchina to visit Russian regions, CIS states and foreign countries on New Year's Eve and brings presents to children. Festive performances and concerts are held in all cities, where Ded Moroz is headed. Though Ded Moroz entertains all year round, New Year and Christmas holidays are the main tourist time.

Aside from the town's architectural monuments and residence of Ded Moroz, Veliky Ustyug stands out for its folk traditions and local craftsmen, who practice techniques pioneered by their fathers and grandfathers before them. Historically, the town is known for its leather and enamel work — but it is the town's silversmiths who really made a name for themselves.

In this way, whether visiting in search of an authentic Christmas experience, to marvel at the town's religious architecture or to enjoy a spot of peace and quiet, Veliky Ustyug makes for a great destination all year round.