Zalesye (Russian: Зале́сье, IPA: [zɐˈlʲesʲjə], lit. area beyond the forest) or Opolye (Russian: Опо́лье, IPA: [ɐˈpolʲjə], lit. area in the fields) is a historical region of Russia, comprising the north and west parts of Vladimir Oblast, the north-east of Moscow Oblast and the south of Yaroslavl Oblast. As the kernel of the medieval state of Vladimir-Suzdal, this area played a vital part in the development of Russian statehood.
The name Zalesye alludes to the deep woods that used to separate the medieval Principality of Rostov from the Republic of Novgorod and from the Dnieper principalities. Slavic tribes already existed in today's European Russia in 1500 BC. Merians, Muroma, and other Volga Finnic tribes inhabited also the area. There was a strong interaction between the Slavs and Finnic peoples in these territories.
Suzdal was the oldest and most senior town of Opolye. Yuri established other important urban centres in Pereslavl-Zalessky (founded 1152), Yuriev-Polsky (1152), Dmitrov (1154), Starodub-on-the-Klyazma (1152), Vladimir-Zalessky (1108), Ksnyatin (1136), and Yaropolch-Zalessky (1136). The descriptors Zalessky ("beyond the woods") and Polsky ("in the fields") served to distinguish new cities from their eponymous towns in the south - now in modern-day Ukraine.
Perpetually at odds with the powerful Suzdalian boyardom, Yuri even contemplated moving his capital from Suzdal to the new town of Pereslavl-Zalessky. His unexpected death (1157) forestalled this plan, but Yuri's son Andrew the Pious finally moved the princely seat to another young town, Vladimir, in 1157. The old nobility of Rostov and Suzdal, however, arranged Andrew's assassination (1174) and a brief civil war for supremacy in Zalesye followed.
During the Mongol invasion of the Kieven Rus' (1223-1240), when the woods were gradually being cleared and new centres developed in Moscow, Tver, and elsewhere, the strategic importance of Zalesye declined. New urban centres developed around famous monasteries (e.g., Sergiev Posad, Kirzhach) or near royal residences (e.g., Alexandrov, Radonezh).
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