Alexander-Svirsky Monastery is a Russian Orthodox monastery situated deep in the woods of the Leningrad Oblast, just south from its border with the Republic of Karelia. The golden age of this cloister was in the 17th century.
It was founded in 1487, when a monk of the Valaam Monastery, named Alexander, settled between Roschinsky and Holy lakes, 20 km to the east from Lake Ladoga and 6 km from the Svir River. During his life in the woods, he had a vision of theHoly Trinity who ordered him to build two oaken chapels dedicated to the Trinity and the Saviour's Transfiguration. These churches gave birth to the twin Trinity and the Transfiguration cloisters, collectively known as the Alexander Svirsky Monastery.
The monastery's founder, Alexander Svirsky, died on August 30, 1533 and was buried at the Transfiguration cloister, which still serves as a burial place for the local monks. 12 years later, his disciples recounted his life in a biography. The church synod of 1547 canonized Alexander Svirsky, and the new saint became venerated throughout Russian lands. One of the chapels of the famous Saint Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, for instance, was consecrated to him.
The Russian tsars bestowed many important privileges on Alexander's cloister, including the right to appropriate taxes from the Svirsky Fair, which was held annually under the cloister walls. During the Time of Troubles, the Swedes sacked and burnt both hermitages on three occasions, and yet the monastery continued to prosper. After the Russian-Swedish border was delineated west of the Svir River, much of the trade between two nations had to pass through the Svirsky Fair, further augmenting the monastery's importance.
This renewed prosperity was reflected in the monastic structures erected in the 1640s. In 1644, when the five-domed Transfiguration Cathedral was finished, Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich presented to the monks a golden arc for keeping St Alexander's relics there. A belfry of the Trinity cloister was built in three tiers and crowned with three tents in 1649. Most of the monastic cells date back to the 1670s. The roomy Trinity Cathedral was completed by 1695. The last structure to be erected within monastery walls was the hospital chapel of St John of Damascus (1718).
The vast lands of the Alexander Svirsky Monastery were secularized during Catherine the Great's ecclesiastical reform in 1764. The Transfiguration cloister continued as a seat of the local seminary and a residence of the Olonets archbishops, who rebuilt much of the monastery structures for their own needs.
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the brethren were executed or deported, while the relics of St Alexander were desecrated and put on a public display in Leningrad. The medieval monastery buildings housed an infamous gulag known as Svirlag. They were further damaged during World War II. Restoration did not commence until the 1970s.
Currently, the Transfiguration Cloister is the home to the local monastic community, while the Trinity Cloister still houses a mental asylum instituted in 1953. The monastery has a subsidiary chapel in St Petersburg, situated some 260 km to the west.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.