Solovetsky Monastery was the greatest citadel of Christianity in the Russian North before being turned into a special Soviet prison and labor camp (1926–1939), which served as a prototype for the GULag system. Situated on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, the monastery braved many changes of fortune and military sieges. Its most important structures date from the 16th century, when Filip Kolychev was its hegumen.
Solovetsky Monastery was founded in 1436 by the monk Zosima, however, monks German (Herman) and Savvatiy (Sabbatius) from Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery lived on the island from 1429 to 1436, and are considered as founders of the monastery as well. Zosima also became the first hegumen of the monastery. After NovgorodianMarfa Boretskaya donated her lands at Kem and Summa to the monastery in 1450, the monastery quickly enlarged its estate, which was situated on the shores of the White Sea and the rivers falling into it. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Solovetsky Monastery extended its producing and commercial activity, becoming an economic and political center of the White Sea region. Its business activities includedsaltworks (in the 1660s, it owned 54 of them), seafood production, trapping, fishery,mica works, ironworks, pearl works etc., which engaged a large population in the area. Archmandrites of the monastery were appointed by the tsar himself and thepatriarch. Peter the Great visited the Solovetsky Island in 1694.
By the 17th century, Solovetsky Monastery had already had some 350 monks, 600-700 servants, artisans and peasants. In the 1650s and 1660s, the monastery was one of the strongholds of the Raskol. The Solovetsky Monastery Uprising of 1668–1676 was aimed at Nikon's ecclesiastic reform and took on an anti-feudal nature. In 1765, Solovetsky Monastery became stauropegic, i.e. it subordinated directly to the Synod.
Together with the Sumskoy and Kemsky stockades, Solovetsky Monastery represented an important frontier fortress with dozens of cannons and a strong garrison. In the 16th to 17th centuries, the monastery succeeded a number of times in repelling the attacks of the Livonian Order and the Swedes (in 1571, 1582 and 1611). During the Crimean War, Solovetsky Monastery was attacked by three British ships. Between the 16th and the early 20th centuries, the monastery was also a place of exile for the opponents of autocracy and official Orthodoxy and a center of Christianization in the north of Russia. The monastery also had a huge library of manuscripts and old books.
The pride of the monks was the monastery's garden which had many exotic flora, such as the Tibetan wild roses presented to the monks by Agvan Dorzhiev, a famous lama.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet authorities closed down the monastery and incorporated many of the buildings into Solovki prison camp, one of the earliest forced-labor camps of the GULAG during the 1920s and 1930s. The camp was mainly used for cutting trees, and when the trees were gone, the camp was closed. Before the Second World War, a naval cadet school was opened on the island.
The territory of the Solovetsky Monastery is surrounded by massive walls (height 8 to 11 m, thickness 4 to 6 m) with 7 gates and 8 towers (built in 1584–1594 by an architect named Trifon), made mainly of huge boulders up to 5 m in length. There are also religious buildings on the monastery's grounds (the principal ones are interconnected with roofed and arched passages), surrounded by multiple household buildings and living quarters, including a refectory (a 500 m² chamber) with the Uspensky Cathedral (built in 1552-1557), Preobrazhensky Cathedral (1556–1564), Church of Annunciation (1596–1601), stone chambers (1615), watermill (early 17th century), bell tower (1777), and Church of Nicholas (1834).
Today, the Solovetsky Monastery is a historical and architectural museum. It was one of the first Russian sites to have been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. A small brotherhood of monks has appeared in the monastery again and it currently houses about ten monks. The monastery has recently been extensively repaired, but remains under reconstruction.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.