Mentioned for the first time in 1018, the St. Mary's Church, owned by the bishops of Elne, was acquired by count Wilfred II of Cerdanya, who made their capital in the town, in 1025. In 1094 count William I ordered the construction of a monastery here, which was founded in 1097 and entrusted to the Augustinians.
Until 1167, the priory acquired numerous privileges and possessions, including castles and villages. In 1356 King Peter III of Aragon ceded to the monks the old palace of the counts.
In the 14th century the church was fortified with a line of walls featuring pyramidal merlons. The priory continued to increase in importance until its secularization in 1592. After the French Revolution in 1789 it was repeatedly modified.
The church, in Romanesque style, has a façade in pink marble, surmounted by a tympanum decorated by a Madonna enthroned with Child and Angels. The columns supporting the archivolts have capitals with rampaging lions, palms and sheep. The circular apse features exteriorly Lombard bands and a sawtooth-shaped frieze, as well as three windows with archivolts over small columns.
The interior is on a nave and two aisles. It houses a retablo by Jaume Cascalls (1345). The bell tower is in Lombard Romanesque style; it has Lombard bands decorating each of the three storey, the middle one having two windows and the upper one a large arch.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.