Bell Towers of the Assumption Cathedral in Yaroslavl

Since 2004 the expedition of the Institute has been conducting excavations in the historical part of Yaroslavl at Strelka where the earliest occupation layers, structures and city fortifications were documented for the first time confirming the date of the city foundation, which is the 11th century. Finds of nine collective graves of city residents whose skeletons bore numerous marks of chopped wounds confirmed chronicles accounts mentioning that Yaroslavl had been ransacked by the army of Batu Khan in 1238.

The new focus of excavations is to recreate the bell tower of the earliest stone church, which is the Assumption Cathedral (1215). The excavations of 2013 identified remains of the foundation pits of ancient constructions such as Assumption Cathedral bell towers built in the 17th and the 19th centuries. The 17th century bell tower was in a decrepit condition; in 1832 it was demolished and replaced by a new bell tower, which was substantially larger and taller. During the construction of a new bell tower in the 19th century, the construction material of the demolished bell tower was partially used. For example, several oversized bricks were used in the wall core at the south corner of the construction. They were placed on lime and sand screed over boulder masonry. The foundation of masonry is made from large (up to 1 by 1 m) and medium-size (0.4 by 0.4 m) boulders with dry rubblework.

The foundation pit was heavily ruined. The intact boulder stonework was preserved only along the edges and on the bottom of the foundation pit; the pit itself was filled with mixed crushed bricks, scraped mason’s mortar, and single stones. The section adjoining the north-eastern corner of the excavation pit where only a small (2 by 2 m) fragment of the masonry was preserved is the most ruined. The 19th century bell tower was substantially damaged by shelling in 1918 when a White Guard rebellion was suppressed and was demolished in 1929.

The 19th century cathedral bell tower was an octagon crowned with a tent. Remains of the masonry made from boulders of various sizes from 50 by 70 cm to 15 by 15 cm were identified within the boundaries of the excavation pit. The excavation pit revealed only a part of the foundation that extends further beyond the north east and south east walls of the pit.

The excavations explored occupation layers dating to the 11th–19th centuries revealing residential and household buildings; a large collection of individual finds, ceramics and osteological materials was put together. Samples for laboratory scientific research, such as dendrochronological analysis and chemical analyses of soil were selected.

In total the 2013 excavation examined 93 archaeological structures sunk into soil dating to the medieval times and the modern age. These finds include traces of household pits and postholes, domestic and residential buildings. Of interest are two cellars of the 18th century with timber walls and board floors. A substantial amount of ceramic materials, i.e. more than 5,000 fragments, and intact water jugs, dishes, pans, ladles, pots and sources were found in the filling of the cellars. It is to be recalled that these cellars are located in close proximity to the Assumption Cathedral and its bell tower and, most likely, are remains of the church domestic buildings.

Archaeological assemblage includes 448 individual finds. The numismatic collection is represented by coins dating to the end of the 15th–19th centuries. Finds of lead seals are worth mentioning, they include seals attributed to the end of the 11th–12th centuries (a seal depicting a head-and-shoulder figure of an archangel and a bloomed cross; a 17th century Western European seal connected with trade and commerce. Another interesting find is a white stone pendent adorning the arch of the Assumption Cathedral porch in the form of a downward facing pyramid dating to 1600–1663. The main archaeological assemblage dates to the 11th–19th centuries.

In the context of the studies at Yaroslavl Strelka conducted since 2004 (Assumption Cathedral I: 2004–2006; Assumption Cathedral II: 2006; Chopped City: 2007–2008; Volga Embankment 1: 2007–2011) the significance of the 2013 excavation is immense for clarifying historical topography of medieval city.

A.V. Engovatova

Digital Version of the Booklet