In the Middle Ages, the island of Konevets (Konevitsa or Kononsaari in Finnish) was considered holy by the Finnish tribes who particularly revered a huge boulder in the shape of a horse's skull, weighing more than 750 tons. This boulder is known as Kon’-Kamen’ (literally, "Steed-Stone") and gives its name to the island.
The Konevsky monastery was founded around 1393 by St. Arseny Konevsky, who wished to convert pagan Karelians to Christianity. The location of the monastery was changed several times, in order to avert floods. The church of the Nativity of the Theotokos was founded by St. Arseny in 1428; it was at this church that the monastery's main shrine was placed. It was a miraculous image of Mother of God, brought by St. Arseny from Mount Athos and representing Christ playing with a dove nestling, symbolizing spiritual purity.
Like the Valaam Monastery, the abbey at Konevets was known for its missionary activities. The Swedes captured the island during the Ingrian War, forcing the monks to retreat to Novgorod. Only after Russia retook the territory in the course of the Great Northern War they were allowed to reclaim their ancient possessions in Konevets. The revived cloister depended upon Novgorod until 1760, when it was officially recognized as a separate monastic establishment.
In 1812, after the Finnish War the monastery administratively became part of the newly formed Grand Duchy of Finland, along with the rest of "Old Finland". The golden age of the monastery came with the 19th century, when its fame spread to the imperial capital and the island was visited by eminent visitors from Saint Petersburg, including Alexandre Dumas and Fyodor Tyutchev. A 1873 essay by Nikolai Leskov describes his impressions from the monastery.
As a consequence of its high profile, the monastic community could fund extensive building projects, starting with the construction of a new cathedral in 1800–09. This huge two-storey eight-pillared building was designed by a local starets. It is surmounted by five octagonal drums bearing five blue bud-shaped domes. The same style is applied to the three-storey belltower (1810–12), rising to the height of 35 meters. Several other churches, a quay and an inn were added in the course of the century. Two sketae were set up to mark the ancient locations of the monastery.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the monastery passed to the newly independent Finland, and came under the jurisdiction of the autonomous Finnish Orthodox Church under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The island was fortified by the Finnish military, and the inn was expropriated to house a regiment staff. During the Winter War and Continuation War the monastery buildings were damaged. On 13 March 1940 the Winter War ended. The previous day the monks had been evacuated to the interior of Finland, taking the holy icon with them, but leaving the iconostasis, church bells, and the library. Another personal possession of St. Arseny, the Konevsky Psalter, dated to the 14th century, was sent to the Russian National Library. In 1940, the monks bought an estate named Hiekka (‘Sands’) from the Saastamoinen company in Keitele, and the monastery continued to function there until 1956.
The monks returned for a brief period during the Continuation War, but withdrew on 19 June 1944, ten days after the Soviet Union began the Offensive on the Karelian Isthmus, even though the Soviet troops never conquered the island or the adjacent shoreline on the isthmus. These areas were ceded to the Soviet Union after the 1994 Moscow Armistice of September 19, 1944. In 1956 the monks joined the New Valamo Monastery in Heinävesi.
During the Soviet period, the monastery housed a military unit. In 1990 it became one of the first monasteries in the region to be revived by the Russian Orthodox Church. In November 1991, the brethren announced the discovery of St. Arseny's relics, that apparently had been hidden from the Swedes in 1573. By 2004, the Konevsky Monastery, which hosts a large number of tourists and pilgrims, had been mostly restored.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.