Behind the small Asva village on a low-lying hayfield is located one of the most archaeologically important bronze-age sites in Northern Europe. This site, Asva, has given its name to an entire culture. Asva culture was the westernmost reach of the Finno-Ugrian late Bronze Age culture. This culture was based on herding, seal hunting, the beginnings of agriculture and, bronze casting.
During the Bronze Age, the ridge on which the settlement was located was an islet or peninsula in a shallow bay. Today, the sea has retreated many miles, and the settlement reminds us of its old seashore location only during spring flooding. The area was first excavated in 1930-1931 by a local resident, O. Reis, then a student at Tartu University.
Later excavations verified the existence of the oldest (at that time) and the longest habited fortified settlement on Saaremaa. The entire settlement covers a 3,500 square meter area. Approximately one sixth of that area has been excavated, a total of 5,800 finds has been collected. The oldest dated settlement was destroyed by fire sometime during 685 to 585 B.C. Soon, rebuilding started. The natural rise of the bluff was refortified with a mixture of soil and clay. Unfortunately, that one also fell to fire.
There are signs of a continuing settlement from the beginning of the first millenium. More tensive building took place during the middle of the first millenium. The edges of the bluff were sharpened, walls were rebuilt and heightened. The site as we see it today dates to those years. Apparently, the site maintained its name, Hill Fort Field, in popular oral tradition, from those years dating back to the years around 500 A.D.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.