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Serpukhov is an ancient town which is situated 99 kilometers south of Moscow at the junction of the Nara and Oka Rivers. In 2006 Serpukhov celebrated its 667th anniversary. Its total area is about 3260 hectares.

In 1781 the Serpukhov flag was accepted. There is a peacock with a spreading tail standing on a red field on it. Why did the peacock suddenly appear on the flag of the old town near Moscow? People have been lost in conjecture. The rich tail of the bird was compared with the colourful Serpukhov printed cotton. Its alert eye was compared to the guard service of Serpukhov. But the citizens of Serpukhov gave another answer about the particularities of their town: Serpukhov differed from other towns because peacocks were bred in a monastery. That’s why this beautiful bird appeared on the Serpukhov’s flag.

Some Glimpses of Serpukhov History

Serpukhov was first mentioned in the will of Ivan Kalita in 1339 as a property inherited by his youngest son Andrew. The town was born during the long period of fighting against the Tatars as an important strategic point on the Oka River. The ancient part of Serpukhov is situated on Cathedral Mountain.

Serpukhov’s history is rich in important events: the training manoeuvres of Dmitriy Donskoy’s army took place in Serpukhov before he went to meet the Tatar Horde on Kulikovo Field. In Serpukhov, Ivan the Terrible surveyed his military forces. Boris Godunov camped here. In 1812 the people’s volunteer corps gathered in the town. Serpukhov played a very important part during the years of the Civil War and the Great Patriotic War.

The old part of the town is represented by one-or-two-storeyed wooden or stone houses. Every house is like a man with his own character, his own face. Some have been carefully restored; some are waiting for their turn. You can take quiet walks along the hidden side-streets and nooks of the town and the charm of provincial life will open to you.

You should visit the Serpukhov Museum of History and Art which contains the collections of exhibits dealing with the city’s and region’s history. There are also paintings of such famous painters as A. N. Savrasov, I. I. Aivazovsky, I. E. Repin, I. I. Levitan, V. D. Polenov, K. A. Korovin, I. I. Shishkin and others; canvases of soviet painters; and a valuable collection of the West-European art. The museum was inaugurated on the 25th of December 1920. Its displays are housed in the former mansion of the local merchant A. Marayeva, whose collection provided the basis for the museum. The early Russian icons and books she possessed were supplemented in 1896 with a valuable collection of Western European and Russian paintings, sculpture, furniture, glassware and porcelain. The collection of Russian art gives the visitor the impression of almost all stages in its development. Not far from the museum there is the Pokrovskaya Church – a monument of Old Believers.

Vysotskiy Monastery was founded more than 600 years ago and one of the main treasures of the monastery is the wonder-working icon “The Virgin of the Undrunk Cup” which is believed to cure people of hard drinking. The Kremlin of Serpukhov had oak walls in the second part of the 14th century. The remnants of the white-stone fortress walls, the Troitsky Cathedral in the Kremlin, the Sretenskaya, Pokrovskaya Churches on the right bank of the Nara River are of interest. The Cathedral Mountain is the holy place for each citizen of Serpukhov. You can see half of the town from it and it is especially beautiful in May buried in verdure and flowers. And at last you can visit Vladichniy Convent. Now it is being restored by Serpukhov nuns and parishioners.

On the banks of the Oka there is the Prioksko-Terrasny National Park, famous for its wonderful fauna and flora. It is also famous for its Bison Breeding Center which played an important part in the rescue of European bison. At present about 50 animals live in conditions close to the nature.

Serpukhov is proud of its sportsmen: parachutists, wrestlers, motor-racers, and glider-pilots. There are champions of the world, prizewinners of international competitions, Honoured Masters of Sports among them. In 2005 the world championship in aerobatics took place in Drakino.

Serpukhov was famous for its linen manufactories. Now cotton production is developed in the town. Since the Revolution of 1917, numerous industries have been founded in Serpukhov. In addition to textile manufacturing, motorcycles, manmade fibers, petroleum products, furniture, prefabricating housing, electric machines and leather goods are produced. The region is also very active in nuclear research.

The landscape of Serpukhov is very picturesque. You can enjoy the beauty and calm of Russian nature glorified by poets and painters. Life here is not so fast paced, but it is simple and traditional. The citizens of Serpukhov are well-wishing and hospitable. In Serpukhov the air is fresh and full of oxygen thanks to “the lungs” of the town – pine forests and light deciduous woods, wide fields and abundant valleys which surround our town.

The motto of Serpukhov is “Amalgamation. Revival. Creation.”

Vysotskiy Monastery

Russian people have always loved monasteries; there they find repose from everyday troubles, peace and tranquility for soul. One of these holy cloisters is Vysotskiy Monastery. It came into being in 1374. Prince Vladimir Andreevich (whose nickname was “the Brave”) decided to beatify the town with a new monastery and he went to Saint Sergei Radonezhskiy with a request to come to Serpukhov for advice and benediction. In spite of his declining years and the cold winter, Sergei with his favourite disciple Afanasiy came to Serpukhov from Radonezh on foot. Then the place for the future monastery was chosen: it was on the bank of the Nara River, on one of the hills which was called “High” (“Visokiy” in Russian). St. Sergiy entrusted the leadership of the cloister to his disciple Afanasiy. Thus in December, 1374, the Monastery was founded and was called Vysotskiy after its place of foundation. Vladimir helped to build and organize it.

The history of the Monastery is closely connected with the history of Serpukhov. The town was an ancient strategic point of the Muscovite State and it ran the danger of attacks by the Tatars and other Russian enemies. Serpukhov was often visited by grand princes and even the Tsar himself. The nobility and the Tsar went to see the cloister being and made valuable contributions to it. In 1571 the Tatars captured Serpukhov, destroying everything in their way. The town was burnt, many citizens killed, temples profaned. Vysotskiy Monastery was also plundered and burnt.

During the Time of Troubles, Vysotskiy Monastery was without defence. It was constantly ravaged by the Poles and other robbers. But when Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov became Tsar, it was a time of prosperity for the whole country and a revival for the Monastery. By the end of the 18th century it began thriving.
At the beginning of the 20th century Vysotskiy Monastery was regarded as one of the most famous cloisters in Russia. But when the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, the Orthodox Church was terribly persecuted. Temples were destroyed, priests – deported and shot; objects of worship – crushed. In the 20’s the neighbouring Convent was turned to a military school and all the elderly nuns were transferred to Vysotskiy Monastery; but in 1931 the nuns went away and the Monastery became a prison where mass shootings were often held. In post-war years the Monastery was used as a dwelling and storage facility. The Monastery was being destroyed little by little; only restoration began to prevent it from complete destruction. On the 25th of March, 1991 the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church made a decision to revive Vysotskiy Monastery.

The History of the Icon

Vysotskiy Monastery is famous for the wonder-working icon “The Virgin of the Undrunk Cup”. It was in 1878 when a peasant from Tulskaya province, a retired soldier, was possessed by hard drinking. He sold all the things in his house to get money for drink and led a beggarly life. His legs were paralyzed but he didn’t stop drinking. And one day that degraded person saw a wonderful dream: an old man appeared in front of him and told him to go to Serpukhov and to hold a service to the icon “The Virgin of the Undrunk Cup” and then he would become sound. The peasant didn’t want to take the risk of making a long journey without money and somebody’s help. But the old man appeared again, and then for the third time, and sternly bade him to obey the order. And the miserable drunkard left on all fours. He stayed overnight in a settlement and an elderly hostess rubbed his legs to ease his pain. At night the traveller had a pleasant feeling in his legs and tried to get up. So he managed to reach Serpukhov leaning on two sticks.

Having come to Vladichniy Convent the man told people about his dreams but nobody knew about that icon. But then somebody remembered one which hung in the passage from the church. Everybody was surprised when they saw an inscription on the reverse side of the icon: “The Virgin of the Undrunk Cup”. The icon was taken to the temple and a service was held. The former drunkard returned from Serpukhov absolutely sound: his legs were all right and he stopped drinking. Soon a lot of people began to come to the icon and they asked to heal their ailments and some of them arrived to render thanks for mercy.

At present we know a lot of cases of healing and help from the icon “The Virgin of the Undrunk Cup”. These cases are written down in a special book which is kept in the cloister. Some people write about them in their letters, confiding their joy. Not only Orthodox believers but also people of other religions get the help of the icon. Numerous pilgrims visit the holy cloister. A lot of precious gifts decorating the wonder-working icon are the evidence of its help. Those people who can’t come to the icon send their letters and telegrams with their requests to hold a service for their relatives.

Prioksko-Terassny National Park

In modern life there have arisen problems of conservation of the environment. At present attention to the renewal of natural resources is increasing. Man is a part of nature and he can’t exist beyond it. Green plants play an important part in the renewal of atmospheric oxygen, but they are also very important in maintaining the moral health of man.

At the end of the 19th century there were some ideas of creating a network of reserves that would be subjected to unique aims and problems. Nowadays there are more than 150 nature reserves in Russia, 22 of which are biospheric and belong to the UNESCO network. Though the area of the nature reserve is only 50 square kilometers, there are 130 species of birds, over 50 species of mammals, more than 900 species of plants there.

The climate here is moderately continental. January is the coldest month, July is the warmest one. On the territory of the Reserve you can find pine, birch, deciduous and linden-tree forests. The flora of the Reserve is rich. From early spring till late autumn grass and bushes are in blossom, replacing one another. In early spring, the stretches of the Reserve are covered with sky-blue forget-me-nots. In the very midst of the summer, the air is filled with linden aroma. In August, heather with its gentle clusters of pale lilac flowers appears under pines. When fall comes the clusters of viburnum turn red. A lot of rare plants are protected here. They are under protection for different reasons. Some plants are distant from their main area or they are on the boundary of it. Others have been picked for bunches or as medicinal herbs. The latter have been reduced by felling, ploughing up of the soil, water and air pollution.

The rivers of the nature reserve are rather short, shallow and narrow, so that they could even be called brooks. The longest ones are several meters in width and they stretch for a few kilometers.

The reserve is famous for its Bison Breeding Center. The European Bison Breeding Center, which was set up in 1948, takes an independent place in the activities of the Reserve. The European bison is the biggest European mammal. This strong and beautiful beast can reach 1200 kilograms in weight. It practically has no enemies. Even a wolf or a bear seldom risk attacking it. Bison used to live in broad-leaved forests from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in the west, to the Volga in the east. Small family-herds led by cows wandered in small chosen areas. Oxen preferred to live separately and joined herds during the rut. These animals of quiet and peaceful character turned out to be defenseless in the face of man. Hunting and destruction of their natural habitats gradually led to their disappearance. By the beginning of the 20th century only 1.5 thousand bisons survived in the specially protected areas of the tsar’s forests (Belovezskaya Puscha, in the North-West Caucasus). In 1927 only 48 animals remained in different European zoos. The European bison was completely absent in the wild.

The Bison Breeding Center of the Reserve played an important part in the rescue of the European Bison. At present, about 50 animals live in conditions close to natural ones. All the calves grown there are practically unfamiliar with man. They, like their wild relatives, are raised by cows. Since the foundation of Breeding Center, over 250 purebred animals have been sent into wild forests. The world bison herd of today that was bred from 12 ancestors is about 3.5 thousand animals. Some of them, about 1700 bisons, live in wild places of their former population (Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia). The whole herd consists of a multitude of small isolated captive and wild herds. Such isolation among bisons can lead to a loss of genetic diversity and finally to their extinction.

That’s why it is not enough to carry out only traditional work. At present, scientists of many countries work at the international project concerning the exchange of some genetically important European Bisons among European Breeding Centers. That can allow them to establish a wild herd of European Bison big enough for long-term survival.

Here is no place for those who are fond of hunting or picking berries. But the Nature Reserve is available for scientists all the year, as their data on different subjects are extremely valuable. The current interest that pollution is getting, from precipitation and air to the Reserve, is under observation. A complex monitoring station was created in 1984 to provide it. All the specialists carry out their observations here. The data collected are thoroughly analyzed and included in the “Chronicals of Nature” – a yearly report on the state of the environment.

By Svetlana Yunyova ,
Moscow Regional Pedagogical College, Serpukhov