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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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