The Basilica of St. James was built in the 13th century for the Franciscans presbytery. It was built in the Gothic architecture style. The foundation of this church is related to the acquisition of the relics of Ottokar I of Bohemia. The exact location of this original church and it appearance are not known. The church was destroyed in a fire in 1689. The fire is believed to have been started by people working for Louis XIV of France.
The basilica was rebuilt in Baroque architecture style. The rebuilding included the addition of over 20 altars. Artists such as Jan Jiří Heinsch, Václav Vavřinec Reiner, and Petr Brandl created paintings for the altars. In 1702, an organ was installed. In 1974 the church was granted the honorary title of Minor basilica by Pope Paul VI.
The church is the final resting place for Count Vratislav of Mitrovice. He was accidentally buried alive in the tomb. The tomb was created by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. There is also a mummified forearm to the right of the tomb entrance, dating back over 400 years. The arm is the arm of a jewel thief who tried to steal from the high altar, which has a statue of the Virgin Mary. It is believed that when the thief tried to steal the jewels, Mary grabbed his arm and would not let go, therefore his arm was cut off by monks.
The original organ, dating from 1705, is the work of famous Czech organist Abraham Starka of Loket. Over the centuries the organ underwent changes. In 1754 the first reconstruction took place by František Katzer. Again this took place in 1906 by Josef Černý and Josef Rejna. Another intervention took place in 1941. The organ then was adapted for modern composition. The last major reconstruction was carried between 1981-82 where Starka's original sounds were restored, for the most part with the original pipes, and preserved many interesting romantic colours.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.