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Novgorod the Great

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Novgorod is one of the most ancient cities in Russia, located in its North-West, near the site where the Volkhov River takes its waters from Lake Ilmen.

The history of Novgorod is closely linked with all the major stages in the life of the Russian state. At a time when the statehood of Rus was in its infancy, the Novgorodians invited a Scandinavian prince, Rurik, to keep law and order, thus giving birth to the Prince Rurik dynasty that ruled over all Russian lands for more than 750 years.

In the early 10th century, the military campaigns of the Novgorodians against Constantinopol to secure equal trade with Bizantine resulted in the integration of East Slavic tribes into the ancient Kievan Russian state.

The adoption of Christianity at the close of the tenth century turned Novgorod into a powerful ecclesiastical centre. The efforts of Novgorod Bishops in spreading and promoting the Orthodoxy were given high credit in the mid-12th century, when they were elevated to the ranks of Archbishops, making the Bishops Chair of Novgorod the most powerful in Russian Orthodoxy.

Novgorod is the cradle of Russian republican and democratic traditions. In the course of over 600 years, up until 1478, all vital decisions on its domestic and foreign policy were taken by the "veche" — the ancient parliament comprising representatives of the town’s aristocratic families. At crucial times in Novgorod’s history, all people took part in the veche.

Novgorod was one of Russia's major centres of literacy and book production. As far back as the 1030s, by the will of the great Prince Yaroslav the Wise, Novgorod housed the first school to train three hundred children at a time.

Medieval Novgorod was one of Europe’s greatest art centres. Its architectural traditions, school of icon-painting, jewellers and decorative applied art became famous all over the world.

The town's military power, its remoteness from dangerous southern borders and successful campaigns against clergical reforms and heresies enabled it to preserve a unique complex of architectural monuments with frescoes of the 11th — 17th centuries, the oldest Russian manuscripts, chronicles, acts and icons. The only time in its history when Novgorod suffered military damage was in the course of World War II: for over two years the city, finding itself on the front line, was bombed and shelled by the armies of both sides. Reduced to ruins, this city on the Volkhov River was brought to life again by the restorers, who managed to bring the old architecture back to life.

Architectural sights of Novgorod. Many Russian art experts justly believe Novgorod to be Russia’s Florence. No other historic Russian city has managed to preserve so many ancient architectural monuments with their awe-inspiring murals.

The Cathedral of St Sophia, the Holy Wisdom of God, is the oldest surviving Russian stone monument. Built in 1045, this powerfully massive monolithic structure still dominates not only the Kremlin, but the whole historic downtown area of Novgorod. Inside this palladium, your attention is drawn by the unique historically formed iconostases, ancient mural paintings, icons — national relics of Russia (including the famous icon of the 12th century, the Virgin of the Sign, which was returned back to the cathedral in 1991, when divine services were resumed here), and other relics of Bizantine, Western European and Russian art.

The monuments of twelfth-century Novgorod architecture — the Cathedral of St Nicholas in Yaroslav's Court and the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady in St Anthony's Monastery – contain old fresco paintings, carved iconostases, and the necropolis of the 17th — 18th centuries. In the old cloister — the St George (Yuriev) Monastery, founded as early as the 12th century by Prince Yaroslav the Wise, as a legend goes – one cannot help but be amazed by the striking beauty of another masterpiece of ancient Russian architecture — the Cathedral of St George, built by a certain master mason Peter in 1119.

Novgorod’s Kremlin is the oldest in Russia. This fortress was mentioned in chronicles as early as 1044, while the walls and towers we see today were constructed at the close of the 15th century. In addition to the above-mentioned St Sophia's Cathedral, the Kremlin also features such other striking monuments as the Faceted (Archbishop’s) Palace, a rare specimen of Gothic architecture, built in 1433 in collaboration with German masters, as well as the impressive and beautiful St Sophia’s Belfry of 1439, with a set of bells dating back to the 16th — 18th centuries.

In the central square of the Kremlin, you will find the « Millennium of Russia» monument, designed by Mikhail Mikeshin and erected in 1862. It is a unique document in bronze immortalising, alongside Russia’s outstanding politicians, all those who contributed so much to the development of the country: its culture, science, art, literacy and literature. Leaving the Kremlin and St Sophia quarter of the city, you can get to the opposite bank of the Volkhov by a footbridge, and then on to the territory of another architectural open-air museum, Yaroslav’s Court and the ancient trade-yard containing many surviving monuments of the 12th — 16th centuries: the churches of St John the Baptist, Paraskeva-Pyatnitsa, the Myrrh-Bearing Women and others — all reminding us of the busy trading life of Novgorod in bygone days, as Yaroslav Court with its former wooden palace of Great Prince Yaroslav the Wise was widely known since the middle of the 8th century as the site of the international trade-yard, the oldest in northern Europe.