Of the major western approaches to Moscow, the road to Smolensk is the most direct route from Central Europe, and that most associated with Russia's turbulent history. Situated midway between the two cities, the little town of Vyazma (pop. 60,000) has seen more than its fair share of war, occupation and general suffering at the hands of Lithuanian, Polish, French and German armies.
Founded in the 9th or 10th century on the river of the same name, a tributary of the Volga, Vyazma became a center for trading in the 1300s, developing flax and bee-keeping industries. From the latter sprang the local tradition of baking honey-cakes, believed to be the tastiest in Russia.
Vyazma even purports to having once, briefly been the capital of Russia. It is said that Tsar Alexei (father of Peter the Great) stopped here in the 17th century. Having left a plague-ridden Moscow, he was heading for Smolensk, but discovered that the disease had reached that city too. Vyazma briefly became the center of his state.
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