The Abbey of Echternach is a Benedictine monastery founded by St Willibrord, the patron saint of Luxembourg, in the 7th century. Lying on the River Sauer, Echternach had been the site of a 1st-century Roman villa. By the 6th century, the estate at Echternach had passed into the hands of the see of Trier, which had constructed a small monastery on the estate. In 698, Irmina of Oeren granted the Northumbrian missionary Willibrord, Bishop of Utrecht, land at Echternach to build a larger monastery, appointing Willibrord as abbot. In part, the choice was due to Willibrord's reputation as a talented proselytiser (he is known as the Apostle to the Frisians), and, in part, due to the danger posed to his see of Utrecht by pagan Frisian raiders. Echternach would be the first Anglo-Saxon monastery in continental Europe.
Willibrord opened the first church at Echternach in 700 with financial backing from Pepin of Herstal. Continuing this connection, Pepin's son, Charles Martel, founder of the Carolingian dynasty, had his son Pepin the Short baptised at Echternach in 714. In addition to Carolingian support, Willibrord's abbey at Echternach had the backing of Wilfrid, with whom he had served at Ripon. Furthermore, Willibrord successfully overcame the stridently anti-Irish bias of Wilfrid, and secured the backing of many Irish monks, who would become the backbone for the first settlement at Echternach.
Willibrord spent much time at Echternach, especially after the sacking of Utrecht in 716, and died there in 739. Willibrord was interred in the oratory, which soon became a place of pilgrimage, particularly after he was canonised. In 751, Pepin raised the Abbey of Echternach to status of 'royal abbey', and granted it immunity. Around the walls of the abbey, a town grew up that would soon become one of the largest and most prosperous in Luxembourg.
Beornrad, the third abbot of Echternach, was a great favourite of Charlemagne, and was promoted to Archbishop of Sens in 785. When Beornrad died, in 797, Charlemagne took direct control of the abbey for a year.
The work of the monks at the abbey was heavily influenced by Willibrord's roots in Northumbria and Ireland, where a great emphasis was put on codices, and Echternach developed one of the most important scriptoria in the Frankish Empire.
Manuscripts produced at Echternach are known to have been in both insular and Roman half uncial script. As Echternach was so prolific, and enjoyed the patronage of, and aggrandisement by, Pepin the Short and Charlemagne, it played a crucial role in the development of the early Carolingian Renaissance. Seeing the work of the abbey at Echternach at taming the native German script, and eager to further the reform, Charlemagne sent for Alcuin, to establish a scriptorium at the court in Aachen. Alcuin synthesised the two styles into the standard Carolingian minuscule, which predominated for the next four centuries.
The early 9th century was the heyday of the abbey, as it enjoyed power, both spiritual and temporal. However, this was all guaranteed only by the Carolingians. When the authority of the centralised Frankish state collapsed during the civil wars under Louis the Pious, so too did the power of the abbey. In 847, the Benedictine monks were ejected and replaced by lay-abbots.
The fortunes of the abbey continued to vary with the fortunes of the Holy Roman Empire. When Otto the Great reunited the Empire, he sought to rejuvenate the intellectual and religious life of his dominions, including Echternach. In 971, he restored the Benedictines to Echternach with forty monks of that order from Trier. The abbey entered a second Golden Age, as it once again became one of northern Europe's most influential abbeys. The Codex Aureus of Echternach, an important surviving codex written entirely in gold ink was produced here in the 11th century.
There have been six churches built on the site at Echternach. The current modern basilica dates from the 1862, although it was reconstructed in 1944 and 1953.
Despite the long history of the abbey and the city, Echternach is best known today for its traditional dancing procession, held around the town of Echternach. It is held every Whit Tuesday in honour of Saint Willibrord, and is the last such traditional dancing procession in Europe. The event draws to Echternach tens of thousands of visitors a year, be they pilgrims or tourists, who either participate or observe the quaint and distinctive procession.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.