Shlisselburg (originally Schlüsselburg or Nöteborg) was one of the most important medieval fortresses in the northwest Russia. It is located to the head of the Neva River on Lake Ladoga. Today the fortress and the city center are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The first fortification was built by Swedes in 1299 but was lost to the Novgorodians in 1301. A wooden fortress named Oreshek was built by Grand Prince Yury of Moscow (in his capacity as Prince of Novgorod) on behalf of the Novgorod Republic in 1323. It guarded the northern approaches to Novgorod and access to the Baltic Sea.
After a series of conflicts, a peace treaty, was signed at Oreshek on August 12, 1323, between Sweden and Grand Prince Yury and the Novgorod Republic which was the first agreement on the border between Eastern and Western Christianity running through present-day Finland. A modern stone monument to the north of the Church of St. John in the fortress commemorates the treaty. Twenty-five years later, King Magnus Eriksson attacked and briefly took the fortress during his crusade in the region (1348–1352). It was largely ruined by the time the Novgorodians retook the fortress in 1351. The fortress was rebuilt in stone in 1352 by Archbishop Vasilii Kalika of Novgorod (1330–1352), who, according to the Novgorod First Chronicle, was sent by the Novgorodians after several Russian and Lithuanian princes ignored the city's pleas to help them rebuild and defend the fort. The remnants of the walls of 1352 were excavated in 1969 and can be seen just north of the Church of St. John in the center of the present fortress.
The fort was captured by Sweden in 1611 during the Ingrian War. As part of the Swedish Empire, the fortress was known as Nöteborg and became the center of the north-Ingrian Nöteborg county. In 1702, during the Great Northern War, the fortress was taken by Russians under Peter the Great in an amphibious assault: 250 Swedish soldiers defended the fort for 10 days before they surrendered. The Russian losses were 6000 men against 110 Swedish losses. It was then given its current name, Shlisselburg, a transcription of Schlüsselburg. The name, meaning "Key-fortress" in German, refers to Peter's perception of the fortress as the "key to Ingria".
During the times of Imperial Russia, the fortress was used as a notorious political prison; among its famous prisoners were Wilhelm Küchelbecker, Mikhail Bakunin and, for 38 years, Walerian Łukasiński. Ivan VI of Russia was murdered in the fortress in 1764, and Lenin's brother, Aleksandr Ulyanov, was hanged there as well.
Out of ten towers, the fortress retains only six (five Russian and one Swedish). The remains of a church inside the fortress were transformed into a memorial to the fortress's defenders. The fortress has been the site of an annual rock concert since 2003. There is also a museum of political prisoners of the Russian Empire, and a small collection of World War II artillery.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.