Sergiev Posad by Night

UNESCO World heritage site review: Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad

The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is a still working Orthodox monastery and a popular site of pilgrimage and tourism. The monastery is the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is situated in the town of Sergiev Posad, about 75 km north from Moscow and part of Russia’s Golden Ring. The monastery is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site under the name ‘Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad’. We reviewed this site to let you know if it’s also an interesting site to visit as a tourist.

History

Sergiev Posad Trinity Lavra
Main square

Russia’s patron saint Sergius of Radonezh founded the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in 1337. Sergius developed the monastery according to his own charter, that specified which supporting buildings were necessary for the development of a monastery. This charter would be used by his followers to found hundreds of monasteries across Russia.

Serbian monks build the first stone cathedral, the Trinity Cathedral in 1422. In 1476 the church of the Holy Spirit was added to the complex. Several other buildings would be added in the 16th century which also saw the wooden palisade replaced by a stone towered wall. This was finished just in time to help the monastery survive the 16-month long Polish-Lithuanian siege in 1608.

In 1559 the building of the Assumption Cathedral started which would take 26 years to finish. It’s the only place where a Russian Tsar is buried, besides the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg and the Moscow Kremlin. The monastery would become one of the wealthiest landowners in Russia and would continue to be that until the end of the 19th century.

In the 17th century churches and buildings continued to be added. This expansion included several palaces and the giant refectory of St. Sergius, the largest hall in Russia at that time. The last major shrine was added in the 18th century by Empress Elizabeth who also commissioned the 88-meter-high bell tower.

Many patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox church are buried in the monastery. It functioned as their headquarter until 1983 when it was moved to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

Review

Beauty 4/5

Sergiev Posad Assumption Cathedral
Assumption Cathedral

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is the embodiment of stereotypical Russian Orthodox architecture. It is colourful with soft salmon pink contrasted by hard dark blues and a range of other colours. The insides are filled with fresco’s leaving no spot untouched. Golden icons stare at you from all directions. The site is extravagant and in good condition. Although the site is over the top, we rate this site a 4 mainly for being so photogenic and pleasing to the eye.

Uniqueness 3.5/5

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius has an important place in the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s almost on the same level as the Vatican is for the Roman Catholic Church. Apart from this important place in history, the site feels a bit generic. This generic feeling is caused by the fact that most buildings are 18th-20th century restorations aimed to conform to the stereotypes of Orthodox architecture. If you travel the Golden Ring you will see more stunning examples of Orthodox architecture. This results in a score of 3.5 on uniqueness.

Experience 3/5

Sergiev Posad Bell tower


The site is an active monastery and a pilgrimage site. So, catering to tourists, especially international ones, is not the most important function. There are just some signs with the names of the different buildings in Russian and English. The rest of the information you will have to find in a guidebook or on the internet.

Disability:

The complex is accessible by wheelchair. There are smooth brick walkways to make getting around easier for everyone. Sadly, most churches have high stone stairs without ramps. There is a lack of overall signages and there are none for the visually impaired.

Value for money:

Access to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius monastery is free, so the value for money is great.
This all results in a 3 for the experience.

Location 4/5

Sergiev Posad by Night
Sergiev Posad by Night

Sergiev Posad lies 75km north of Moscow, an hour and a half drive if the traffic isn’t too busy. There are several train connections which also take around 1.5 hours. Sergiev Posad is part of the Golden Ring and as such is on many tourist itineraries. So, chances are high that you’ll visit it when you’re on an organised tour of Russia. This results in a score of 4 for location.

Overall rating 3.5/5

The site is photogenic and beautiful, but so are a lot of the other sites of the Golden Ring. The tourist experience isn’t that great because of the lack of information, as is the accessibility of this site. But it’s not that far from Moscow and fairly easy to include in your itinerary especially if you’re doing Russia’s Golden Ring. This all results in an overall score of 3.5

Kizhi Pogost

UNESCO World heritage site review: Kizhi Pogost

Kizhi Pogost is the most important tourist destination in Russian Karelia. But is it worth the visit? Globazine reviews this UNESCO World Heritage Site, exploring its history, beauty, uniqueness, and experience. Continue reading to learn more!

Kizhi Pogost is not a single building but three different ones. The pogost is the area within the wooden enclosure. Within this enclosure are two churches and one bell tower which together form Kizhi Pogost.

History

Kizhi Pogost Church
Kizhi Pogost Church

The religious significance of the island goes back further than the present-day churches. Before Christianity came to this area, pagan rituals were performed here. The earliest reference of churches on the island is 1496, then there were also two churches and one bell tower within the pogost. Lightning hit these buildings in 1693 and as a result they burned down.

The main building is the ‘church of the Transfiguration’. This church has 22 domes and is 37 meters high. It was the second church rebuild in the pogost and was finished in 1714. This church is the summer (Preobrazhenskaya) church for services during the summer since it’s not heated.

The winter (Pokrovskaya) church, the Church of the Intercession was the first church to be rebuilt and was finished in 1694. It would be rebuilt several times until it got its final present-day 9-dome shape in 1764.

The belfry, or bell tower, was only rebuilt in 1862 but deteriorated so fast that it needed to be rebuilt once again twelve years later. The surrounding fence serves no defensive purpose but only marks the area of the pogost.

The area started to function as an open-air museum from 1951 when monumental wooden buildings started to be transported to Kizhi.
Review

Beauty 4.5/5

Kizhi house
House near the water

Situated on a green island in Lake Onega in Russian Karelia, Kizhi Pogost is a perfect sight. It naturally fits in with its surroundings. Whatever the angle, this wooden church looks the part. The design is simple but beautiful. This results in a 4.5 out of 5.

Uniqueness 4.5/5

Wooden churches once were a common sight in northern Russia. But fire, destruction and neglect has destroyed most of them. Of the remaining wooden churches, none look so typical Russian Orthodox as Kizhi Pogost. But at the same time, its strangely different because of the wooden building material. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit Kizhi, try to visit the wooden churches of Suzdal, so you at least get an impression of Russian wooden churches. On uniqueness, Kizhi scores a 4.5 out of 5.

Experience 4.5/5

Kizhi farmers
Farmers working the field

Most people will get to Kizhi by boat, probably by hydrofoil. This is an exhilarating ride across a remote part of Russia. Apart from Kizhi Pogost, the island houses many other wooden structures kept here for preservation. This gives a good insight into how life used to be in this part of the world. During the summer season, people will exhibit typical professions, while traditionally dressed. There are a lot of signs in both English and Russian to explain the function of the different buildings and its origins. The staff usually is willing to tell more about the buildings, although language can be a barrier. There are audio guides available in English, Finnish, French and Chinese.

Disability:

The biggest hurdle for people in a wheelchair is getting to the island. The hydrofoils are cramped with limited facilities and extra space. There are alternatives, such as helicopter rides, but these are far more expensive. Contact the operators to get more information about the possibilities.
The island itself has hardened walkways between the different buildings. But most buildings have wooden stairs without ramps as an entrance. The audio guide can be used by the visually impaired to get information about the site.

Value for money:

Going to Kizhi is relatively expensive as you need both transport to the island and an entry ticket. Altogether this is around 50-euro pp. This is reasonable value for money as you get an exciting boat ride and a visit to a unique museum-reserve.

Location 2.5/5

Kizhi-hydrofoil
Hydrofoil

The best place to explore Kizhi from is Petrozavodsk which is 5 hours away by train from St. Petersburg. There are a limited number of trains per day and the train schedule makes it impossible to go here as a day trip. There are night trains to St. Petersburg and Murmansk. From Petrozavodsk, it’s another 1.5 hours by boat to get to Kizhi. So, it takes at least 1.5 days to visit this place. There are some organised tours from St. Petersburg, but most stick to the city and the surrounding palaces. The difficult reachability results in a 2.5 for the location.

Overall rating 4/5

Kizhi Pogost is a beautiful place that is a unique experience in Russia. Compared to other Russian tourist sites it’s well developed and friendly to tourists, providing a pleasant experience. The only downside is the relative remoteness of the site. This leads to an overall score of 4.

Kizhi Pogost
Choirokoitia

Choirokoitia: an UNESCO WHS Review

History

Choirokoitia (Khirokitia) is an archaeological site on Cyprus dating from the Neolithic aceramic age. On Cyprus this age started somewhere around 8,200 B.C. Choirokoitia was inhabited until around 6,000 B.C. It is one of the most important and best preserved prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean area and has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1998.

Review of Choirokoitia

Read more about how we rated Choirokoitia and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review. Also read our other article about archaeology on Cyprus if this interest you.

Beauty: 2.5

There is not much to see at the site. The archaeological remains are not more than some restored foundations. So what beauty this site has comes from its location and the surrounding area. The site lies on top of a hill which gives good views as far as the distant sea.

Choirokoitia

Uniqueness: 5

The site dates back to the 7th millennia B.C. and is therefore more than 9,000 years old. It is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean. The site still provides key insights into the spreading of civilization in the Mediterranean world. There is nothing else like this with similar scale and preservation on Cyprus. Other sites from the period are Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, Aleppo in Syria and Jericho in Palestine.

Experience: 3

The site isn’t developed for tourism. Nonetheless a couple of efforts have been made to facilitate the general public to understand the site. At the bottom of the hill a couple of the houses have been reconstructed to give an idea of the original look of the site. There are bilingual signs along the route in Greek and English. They explain the site, the functions of the different buildings, the people and the environment they were living in at the time. As stated earlier, there isn’t much to see. The foundations of some 20 houses have been excavated, that’s all there is to see.

Choirokoitia

Disability:

Some parts of the site are wheelchair accessible mainly the reconstructed village below. From here you can see the site on the hill but you can’t get up close.

Value for money:

The entrance fee is €2.50; the visit will keep you occupied for 30-60 minutes. This gives you good value for money.

Location: 3.5

The site lies just off the exit off the main highway between Limassol, Larnaca and Nicosia. This makes the site easily accessible by car. Buses are infrequent especially out of season. The site is within daytrip distance of those staying in or around the above-mentioned cities. It’s a bit far away when staying in Paphos or Aya Napa and very difficult to get to if staying in the northern part of the island.

Overall rating: 3.5

This site is not the best looking archaeological site on Cyprus. But it provides a unique insight into the dawn of civilization. More could be done to help visitors to engage with the site and understand its importance. The location and accessibility of the site is okay, but access by public transport could be improved. All this leads to an overall rating of 3.5. This site is not for everyone, but when you’re interested in the history of mankind, be sure to visit.

Should you visit Choirokoitia?
Bourges Cathedral

Bourges Cathedral: an UNESCO WHS Review

History

The site of the cathedral served as the city’s main church all the way back to Carolingian times (714-1124) and maybe even further back to the founding of the bishopric, proposedly by saint Ursin in the 3th century.

It is not known when the construction of the current cathedral began, but documents suggest somewhere around 1194. The building was completed in different steps and finally consecrated in 1324. Due to structural problems with the South tower, an adjoining buttress tower was built in the 14th century. Probably due to similar problems the North tower collapsed in 1506, afterwards it was rebuilt in a more contemporary style.

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Review of Bourges Cathedral

Read more about how we rated Bourges Cathedral and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review.

Bourges Cathedral
Bourges Cathedral

Beauty: 4

The cathedral of Bourges is a highpoint of Gothic architecture. The stone work on the front façade is especially beautiful and intricate. When the light hits the original stained-glass windows, they come to live and add to the spiritual atmosphere of the place. The rest of the interior is restrained and simple with a 37m high nave that inspires awe.

Uniqueness: 3.5

Bourges cathedral is an excellent example of Western-European Gothic architecture. What makes it especially unique is the fact that the building survived through all the ages relatively undamaged. Therefor all but one of the stained-glass windows date back to 1215. But similar buildings can be found in France, not that far from this one. Four other great examples are the cathedrals of Chartres, Amiens, Reims and the Notre-Dame in Paris.

Stained glass

Experience: 3.5

The cathedral gets its fair share of visitors, but its far less crowded than similar Gothic cathedrals elsewhere. This leaves more room for silent contemplation and admiration here. Guided tours are available, but only in French. You can visit the tower which provides magnificent views of the town and the surrounding area.

Disability:

The site is wheelchair accessible except for the tower with its 396 steps. Tours for the visual impaired are available by appointment.

Value for money:

The entrance fee is €8.00; the visit will take you between 30-60 minutes. This gives you reasonably good value for money.

Location: 3.5

Bourges lies along the A-71 highway and has a train station with trains to Paris and other cities. There are also various bus connections available. The cathedral is 15 minutes by bus from the station or 25 minutes on foot which takes you through the old town. It’s an easy daytrip from the popular Loire Valley. But it is further afield from Paris than the cathedrals of Reims, Amiens and Chartres.

Bourges

Overall rating: 3.5

Bourges cathedral is a beautiful building which provides a decent visitors experience. There are other comparable cathedrals in the country and this one is a bit further away from the main tourist itineraries. Definitely worth the visit when you are in the area or are interested in gothic architecture. This all results in an overall score of 3.5 out of 5.

Also read our review of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Himeji Castle.

Should you visit Bourges Cathedral?
Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle: an UNESCO WHS Review

History of the Himeji castle

First, a fort was built on the site of the current castle in 1333. This fort was demolished in 1346 and a castle was built to replace it. In the 16th century this castle was remodelled into Himeji castle. Some more extensive remodelling followed in the early 17th century. Apart from some demolished corridors and outer defensive, the castle has remained unaltered since then.

Luckily the castle was spared demolition in the Meiji period, a time when many Japanese castles were demolished because they were considered to be obsolete. And although it was hit by a firebomb in World War II, that bomb didn’t explode, so the castle also escaped destruction then. As a result, Himeji is one of the few remaining original castles in Japan.

Review of Himeji castle

Read more about how we rated Himeji castle and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review.

Beauty: 4

Himeji castle is the picture-perfect Japanese castle. Recently renovated and restored, it once again shines in the sun and honours its name of ‘White Egret Castle’. Although the outside is beautiful, the inside is more bland. This results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for beauty.

Himeiji castle

Uniqueness: 4

Considered as one of the 12 remaining original Japanese castles, Himeji castle is quite unique. Especially since much of the different defence systems are still intact. This gives the opportunity to gain full insight into the defensive workings of a Japanese castle. Many other castles, either original or rebuilt, are just a Donjon or main tower with a gate and some outer defences.

A possible alternative would be Matsumoto castle, where the Donjon is also still in its original form, but that castle has far less outer defence systems. Japanese castles are quite unique and different from other castles. A big difference is the fact that they are mainly built from wood. This makes original castles like Himeji rare because of the dangers of fire, lightning and attack. All of this results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for uniqueness.

Experience: 5

At Himeji castle, there are different options available to enhance your experience:
– Free English language tours are provided by volunteers.
– An interactive augmented reality app which provides insights into the function and workings of different rooms and objects.
– Signs and explanations in Japanese and English
– Most of the grounds and buildings are accessible to the public.

Himeji city

Disability:

The main keep is not accessible for people in a wheelchair. But other areas are open for visitation. Guide dogs are allowed in the main keep but they can have trouble with the very steep stairs, especially when descending. So please keep this in mind when you plan your visit.

Value for money:

The cost of an entry ticket is in line with what you pay for other castles and historic sites in Japan. An average visit will take around 1,5 hours, which can be easily extended if you go for a walk through the castle grounds and take in all the information provided. So, a visit to Himeji castle is definitely good value for money.

Location: 5

Himeji lies a 45-minute train-ride away from Kyoto and makes for an easy half-day trip. The Shinkansen train station lies 15 minutes from the castle by foot, but there are also very frequent buses between the station and the castle, halving this journey in time.

The castle also lies on the route to Okayama, Hiroshima and the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, which makes Himeji castle an ideal stop on your journey to other places in Japan. At the same time Himeji offers a wide selection of accommodations, so you can also stay for the night. This all leads to a score of 5 out of 5 for location.

Overall rating: 4.5

If you’re in Japan, you should definitely visit Himeji castle. It’s beautiful and quite a unique site. This world heritage site provides its visitors with a great and insightful experience for a price that is average compared to other castles and monuments. The location is easily accessible and should be able to fit into most travellers’ itinerary of Japan.

Curious about other Japanese castles? Read our article about original and restored Japanese castles to get some other suggestions.

Should you visit Himeji?