History of Plyos

There are plenteous facts about the Golden Ring in Russia, a key tourist route of small-town Russian destinations north of Moscow that include Vladimir and Suzdal, Russia. Yet the history of Plyos, one of the lesser-known towns of this famed golden road, is a story familiar to very few people.

In 2010, this small provincial town celebrated its 600th anniversary, yet the history of Plyos of Russia’s Golden Ring is at least 250 years older. The first mention of a settlement on the site of Plyos was made in 1141 in the “Novgorod Chronicle”, which mentioned a small fortress at the site while describing the capture of the governor Yakun Miroslavich, who angered the inhabitants of Novgorod. Thanks to the research of historians and archaeologists, we know that this first settlement was founded by Vsevolod the Big Nest, long-reigning prince of Vladimir. In those days, the town stretched for two miles along the banks of the Volga and included a necropolis and a bustling trade center. In 1238 the original fortress was burned down during the invasion of the Mongol conqueror Batu Khan, but the settlement itself was preserved, an event described in the narrative "The Tale of the Ruin of Ryazan Batu."

A new era in the history of Plyos began in 1408 when the Moscow prince Vasily I escaped from the Tatar khan in Kostroma, a town just upstream from Plyos. The prince hid in Kostroma until the summer of 1410 and, upon leaving, ordered a fortified watchtower be built on the river. Plyos turned out to be the ideal place for such a lookout - the Volga contains few twists and turns here, and from the high hills of Plyos one could easily spot enemy ships in the distance.

The newly built fortress at Plyos also put an end to the bands of pillagers who navigated through the Volga attacking settlements along its banks and selling the inhabitants into slavery. The men of Plyos grew in fame around this time for their unique ability to guide ships through dangerous stretches of the Volga, a service for which seamen gladly paid them and a practice which continued for many decades.

By 1609 Russia’s borders had greatly expanded and while almost nothing remained of the second fortress at Plyos, there was no need to restore it. Plyos was thus transformed into a trading port along the Volga River: cargo ships hauled up grain to Plyos, where it was ground and sold to the nearest major cities. Linen fabrics and other goods were shipped back downstream to Ivanovo, Suzdal, Russia and other cities in the region. This simple way of life continued in Plyos for almost three centuries.

In 1778, Plyos became a county town and a leading trading port on the upper Volga. Linen factories and warehouses were built, the fish trade rapidly developed and the quality services of local jewelers and blacksmiths grew in popularity. Every spring, when the Volga was freed from winter’s icy grip, a large fair was organized in Plyos at which merchants bought goods to resell in towns farther downstream.

Everything changed in 1871 when the Ivanovo-Kineshma Railway was built. The city of Kineshma, standing just downstream of the Volga, began to receive all cargo, which was then distributed by train to the surrounding regions. Plyos had lost its commercial significance - with trade ground to a halt, its population began to abandon the town en masse and Plyos was transformed into an ordinary provincial town.

Fortunately for the residents who chose to remain, summer cottages began growing in popularity among city dwellers at that time. Wealthy Muscovites found Plyos to be the perfect getaway and began vacationing in the city and its outskirts. Isaac Levitan, a famous Russian landscape painter, played a key role in the popularization of the city when he visited in 1888 and captured the region’s natural beauty and quaint church steeples through several acclaimed paintings.

After spending an additional two summers here, Levitan created almost 200 works of art that are associated with Plyos and its environs. The artist’s works helped to attract even more tourists to this serene locale. The city was dubbed “Russian Switzerland” and Plyos grew in significance on the Golden Ring of Russia map.

Throughout the 20th century Plyos remained a sleepy resort town, with its only significant event being the construction of dams and hydroelectric power stations along the Volga, causing the city’s river level to rise by 8 meters. As a result, many buildings along the water's edge had to be protected from flooding. Although recreation areas, sanatoriums and other tourist facilities were being built in Plyos, the city managed to preserve its early 20th-century image.

Today, ongoing restoration work continues to preserve the atmospheric history of Plyos of Russia’s Golden Ring, the acclaimed city on the Volga.