The cathedral church of St. James the Elder is situated within the old quarter next to the city walls and in the past it could fulfil a defensive function. It was built in stages from 1380 until 1445 and finally completed in its present shape during the early 17th c. The building was erected on the rectangular plan of ceramic bricks, with nave and two aisles, hall type, without separate presbytery. Late Gothic vaulting is late 16th c. During the same time (1562-1596) the tower was added. Piotr Olszewski designed chapels flanking the tower in 1721.
The interior décor is mainly new gothic. The older elements are: in the left aisle a late Gothic triptych from early 16th c., in the right aisle the painted triptych – “Crucifixion” of 1553 in new-gothic framing. The main altar and pulpits in new-gothic style. In the baptistery chapel a Baroque 18th c. painting of the Virgin of the Rosary surrounded by St, Catherine of Siena and St. Dominique. Initially the church was a parish church of St. James the Elder, patron of the town later raised to the distinction of a joint cathedral.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.