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Murom (founded 862, population 145,000) - one of oldest Russian cites stretched along left bank of Oka river. The town's name originates from "muroma", one of Finno-Ugric tribes lived here 15 centuries ago. Every Russian knows name Ilya Muromets. He was a mythical epic hero defending people of Russia and later became a synonym of superior physical and spiritual power and integrity, dedicated to protection of Homeland. There is a monument to Ilya Muromets built on a river bank of Oka river in Murom. The town survived three Mongol invasions. In 17th century Murom became an important centre of various crafts - building, painting, sawing. There are three working monasteries in Murom.
Palekh (founded 1600, population 6,000) - village is situated about 400km (250 miles) from Moscow in Ivanovo region. In 15th century it was one of first centers of icon drawing trade. After 1917 communist coup, when icon business went down, Palekh masters tried to decorate wooden toys, dishes, porcelain and glass. But most interesting way turned out to be painting black-lacquered boxes made of papier-mache. These days name of Palekh is nearly synonymous with art of Russian lacquer. Palekh artists are generally regarded as most highly trained of Russian miniature painters. Famous for highly detailed miniatures with elaborate ornamentation, village of Palekh has a long artistic tradition. Like their icon painting forebears, today's Palekh artists use egg tempera paints and paint in Byzantine style. Favored themes are Russian fairy tales, famous Russian troika (three horse sleigh), and scenes of life in countryside. The art of Palekh miniatures expresses true national character. Many examples of Palekh art have received recognition at international exhibitions and have become world-known.
Pereslavl-Zalesskiy (founded in 1152, population 45,000) - one of oldest Russian towns, birthplace of famous Russian prince Alexander Nevsky, who defeated an army of German knights in 1242. Zalessky means "behind woods". That is where, behind dense forests, ancient Slavic tribes retreated seeking refuge from hostile nomads coming from South-East. The town is situated on shores of huge Pleshcheyevo lake. The town is also connected with name of famed Russian tsar-reformer Peter Great who in 1680-s practiced his skills in ship-building making over 100 boats and sail vessels, who entertained himself with first Russian navy exercises on Pleshcheyevo lake.
Ples (founded in 1410, population 4,000) - this quet little historical town is located on bank of mighty and beautiful Volga river. During reign of Ivan Terrible Ples was one of largest river firsh suppliers to kings' court. In 18-19th centuries town became known as a popular resort and was often called "Russian Switzerland" for beauty of its scenery. Numerous Russian artists including famous master of landscapes Levitan used to come here to work.
Rostov Veliky (Rostov Great, founded in 862, population 40,000) - another pearl of ancient Russian culture. In old Russia only two towns were called veliky (great). One was Novgorod, famous trade centre of Russia's north, other Rostov. The Principality of Rostov-Suzdal-Vladimir was one of strongest political divisions of Kievan Rus. It controlled all major rivers in northeast Rus including Moskva, Oka, Kliazma, and Volga. In 12th century Rostov grew to equal Kiev and Novgorod in size and importance. It was made seat of an Orthodox Metropolitan (Head of Russian Church) in 1587, and served as an important commercial center in 16-19th centuries, one of wealthiest in country, so it could afford to hire very best builders, decorators and stone-cutters. Modern Rostov is a sleepy old town with some magnificent buildings next to shallow Nero lake.
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