Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines Benedictine abbey is recorded for the first time in 819, in a document mentioning its abbot, Sentimir. Plundered and destroyed, it was rebuilt by order of King Lothair of France in 981. Later it came under the protection of the Counts of Roussillon and later of the Kings of Aragon. The abbey church was enlarged and re-consecrated in 1153. In the 13th century it gained a marble cloister on the north-eastern side. Subsequently the abbey declined, and in 1507 was united with Montserrat Abbey.
During the French Revolution, the monks were expelled and the complex divided between several owners. The church was reopened to worship in 1846, as the village's parish church dedicated to Saint Michael. The cloister, which had been dismantled and sold, was bought back and re-installed in its original location in the 1980s.
The abbey church was most likely built at the same time as the original monastery, in the 8th century. Of the original church there remain some of the foundation structures, which show its plan to have included a main apse and two deep side apses, with a long transept.
The 1153 enlargement, with the addition of the vaulted ceiling over the transept and nave, led to the reconstruction of the walls in order to support the additional weight of the roof vaults. The ceilings of the apses were also modified and decorated with frescoes, of which only a few traces remain today. The church kept the Latin Cross plan typical of Romanesque architecture, with a nave, transept and three apses. In the 17th century the church was enriched with Baroque altars.
The exterior has two bell towers from different ages. The larger one is located next to the transept and nave. The façade has several Romanesque sculptures and tombstones of monks and local notables. The main portal has an architrave with bas-reliefs commissioned by abbot Guillaume and realized in 1019-1020 in white marble from Céret. In the middle is portrayed Christ in majesty in a mandorla, supported by two archangels and flanked by two groups of three figures under the arcades.
The cloister was built in the 13th century, and was already completed in 1271. It has been supposed that a cloister existed here before, which would be the one depicted near the figures in the portal architrave, but no traces of it remain. The capitals supporting the 13th century cloister are in late Romanesque style. It has been suggested that they could originally have been painted.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.