The St. George's (Yuriev) Monastery is usually cited as Russia's oldest monastery. It was used to be the most important in the medieval Novgorod Republic. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site named Historic Monuments of Novgorod and Surroundings.
According to legend, the monastery was founded in the 11th century by Yaroslav the Wise (whose Christian name was George), but the first historically-reliable reference to it is from the early 12th century when the main church the Church of St. George (Georgieveskii Church) was founded (in 1119) by Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich of Novgorod and Pskov and Hegumen (roughly equivalent to a western prior) Kyuriak (Kirik) and built by the master Peter.
By the first third of the 13th century the hegumen had been raised to the status of an archimandrite (roughly equivalent to an abbot, i.e., the head of an important monastery, although the comparison with western abbots is imprecise).
The monastery was an important source for historical information on medieval Novgorod, as part of the Novgorod First Chronicle (the Synodal text) was compiled in the monastery.
The Church of St. George is one of the largest in Novgorod and its immediate environs. It is a tall white-stone church with three silver domes, which is unusual for Russian churches which usually have five domes (the main dome representing Christ, the four smaller ones representing the evangelists). Some remnants of the medieval frescoes remain, but most of the church was repainted in 1902. Among the frescoes is a large Christ Pantokrator in the main dome, a full-length portrait of Novgorodian Archbishop Feoktist, and another full-length (although smaller) portrait of Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich on the southwestern pier.
The monastery also has the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross in the northeastern corner of the monastery, with five blue domes and gold stars on it, built in the 18th century. The gateway into the monastery is crowned by a tall gold-domed tower which is visible from the city centre, including the Novgorod Kremlin two miles to the north.
The monastery was ravaged during the Soviet rule. Five of its six churches were destroyed by 1928; the monastery was closed in 1929. During the World War II, the buildings were occupied by the German and Spanish armed forces, and were seriously damaged. In 1991 the monastery was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, and parts of it have been renovated since then. However the western part, including a church there, are still in ruins.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.