Saint Martin's Church of Valjala is the oldest church in Estonia. Immediately after the conquest of 1227, a stone chapel was erected by Teutonic knights in Valjala not far from the ancient stronghold. Its walls form the lower part of the present church choir. On the southern side of the chapel, there was a vestry.
Soon after completion, the chapel was decorated with murals, the remaining fragments of which may be seen on the northern wall of the church (six seated apostles in a Romanesque framing). In 1240 construction of the single-nave church was started. The original chapel was transformed into a choir.
Valjala Church was robbed and partially destroyed during the St. George's Night Uprising in 1343 later reconstructed. In the second half of the 14th century, a new polygonal apse was added to the church. The tower, which is curiously located above the vestry on the southern side of the church, was probably not completed until the 17th century. In the walls of the tower, fragments of archaic trapezoidtombstones can be seen. Archaic tombstones of this type have previously only been found in western Estonia. They might originate from the pre-Conquest period.
The Kuressaare master, Nommen Lorenzen, made the altarpiece in 1820. Besides a medieval baptismal font, other noteworthy antiques inside the church are two Baroque epitaphs (of Andreas Fregius, 1664 and Gaspar Berg, 1667).
In 1888 Gustav Normann built the church's organ. The lightning struck and burned part of the roof in 1922. Dolores Hoffman, who began work on them in the 1970s, made the stained glass windows. They mark the beginning of a new tradition in Estonian stained glass art.
The most impressive elements in the interior design of the church are the high domed vaults with Westphalian ribs and bosses. A ridge in the wall and the remains of girders are evidence of a defense gallery that once ran beneath the windows of the nave. The doorway in the intrados of the chancel arch led to the loft, which served as a refuge.
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.