Bolkhov is the city where Tsars Ivan the Terrible and Alexei Romanov found their love, the city of the oldest temples in the region and the highest bell towers, which has preserved the buildings and flavor of a rich pre-revolutionary merchant city. The city claims to be the bell capital of Russia. Bolkhov is often called the "younger brother" of Suzdal.
You can hear about the town of Bolkhov or even be there, for instance during the festival of bell ringing and music “Biruza”. Today in Bolkhov there are almost no modern buildings, most of the historic buildings date back to 18th – mid 19th centuries. Streets are keeping an appearance and spirit of a pre-revolutionary Russian province. Bolkhov was cut off new trade routes during the period of railways construction, and this fact helped the town to conserve its provincial identity with old wooden and stone houses, gold domes of churches and bell ringing.
In the ancient times Bolkhov was a fortress, which aim was to protect the state frontier from the invasions by nomads. The earliest records of Bolkhov relate to 1196. Later with the increasing of sate’s territory, Bolkhov turned into the center of trade and handcraft, it was situated on the first mail path from Moscow to Kiev, constructed in 1672. There located an estate of Ilya Miloslavsky (1595-1668), a famous boyar and ambassador in Constantinople. He spent high amounts of money for the construction of churches and monasteries. His daughters married the most prominent persons of that time — Maria became the wife of Russian tsar Alexei Romanov, Anna married Boris Morozov, tsar’s tutor and the most influential person on the Russian court.
With the raise of Miloslavsky family’s status, their donations had a truly royal scope and Bolkhov started turning into the town of churches and cathedrals. In 1681 tsar Feodor III Alexeyevich had ordered to establish in an eparchy with Bolkhov joining nearby towns Mtsensk, Novosil’, Karakhev, Kromy, and Orel, but his fast death and lack of money made it fail.
The main treasure of Bolkhov are churches and monasteries. According to the legend, Trinity Optin monastery was the birth of a Virgin and was founded in the 14th – 15th centuries by repentant robber Opta. In the first decades of existence there was a lack of money and it had only two bells. Legend says that during the siege, monks hided bells in the lake located near, on place that is a meadow nowadays. After enemies left, monks were able to get only one of the hided bells. Since then, the rescued bell rang in the monastery, and another echoed from the ground.
Trinity Cathedral of Optin monastery is the oldest of the survived stone churches in the Oryol region. It was built thanks to efforts of tsarist family in 1688. In memory of this, all crosses are topped by crowns. Building duplicate Cathedral of the Assumption in Kremlin.
Trinity church is one of the most spectacular churches in Bolkhov. According to folk stories, tsar Ivan the Terrible got married there. After the ceremony and feast, he was standing at the bank of Bolkhovka river throwing gold and laughed at guests who tried to pull it out the water. After tsar leaving, local craftsmen made a gold mold of his footprint left in mud and placed it in Trinity Church as a relic.
Majestic transfiguration cathedral rises at the central square of Bolkhov and it has the possibility to accommodate up to 4500 people. Among the church antiques there is a carved image of Saint Nicholas, moved there from Novgorod during Ivan the Terrible reign, as well as gifts from the founders of the church Ivan Rzhevsky and tsarina Sofia. In the lower level of the Church there are kept relics of Saint Georgy Kossov, one of the most esteemed priests.
The bell tower of Saint George church attract attention as the highest on the territory of the Oryol region. They say, it was built by merchant Gubarev as a memorial candle in honor of his beloved woman.
By 1917, there were 28 churches, Trinity Optin monastery for men and Virgin-All Saints monastery for women in Bolkhov. Most of the churches were demolished during the Soviet period, 12 of them survived, 7 are reconstructed and functioning.
Come visit Bolkhov to enjoy the atmosphere of its old streets, to taste local bread, to see its churches related to Russian tsars, and listen to the ringing bells of the Transfiguration Cathedral performed by one of the best bell-ringers of Russia.