Valmagne Abbey was founded in 1138 by Raymond Trencavel, Vicomte de Béziers. Valmagne then experienced a time of rapid growth as local landowners bestowed both land and money on the monastery. The buildings were extended and a vineyard of 5 hectares was established by the monks. From the 12th century to the beginning of the 14th century, Valmagne was one of the richest monasteries in southern France and at its peak was home to nearly 300 monks. As the monastery expanded the original Romanesque chapel became cramped so in 1257 permission was granted to build a new church. The new church was constructed over the next forty years in the Gothic style and aside from the removal of the stained glass has changed little since completion.
The Black Death devastated the region in 1348, causing many monks to die and others to flee the abbey. The decline was compounded during the Hundred Years' War when Valmagne suffered attacks and looting by passing mercenaries. As successive abbots were unable to balance the books, many of the abbey's lands and possessions were sold. From 1477 the abbots were appointed from outside the community and this led to a relaxation of the laws of religious life and a decline in the loyalty of the abbot for his abbey. During the French Wars of Religion of the 16th century, the abbey was almost abandoned and in 1575, an attack by Huguenots broke all the windows of the church and caused considerable damage to other buildings, particularly the cloister.
Preservation work was undertaken in the 17th century, and parts of the church were sealed to prevent falls. At the same time the cloister was repaired, but the abbey had fallen into debt and lacked the finance to restore the structures properly, hence many windows in the church were bricked up instead of being re-glazed. By the 18th century, the community was very small and during the French Revolution the abbey was sacked again and furniture, paintings and archives were burned. In 1790, the last three monks left Valmagne taking the few remaining valuable items and the abbey was confiscated. It was sold in 1791 to Monsieur Granier-Joyeuse who converted the church into a wine cave, installing large barrels in the apse and side chapels of the church. On Granier-Joyeuse's death in 1838 Valmagne was acquired by Count Henri-Amédée-Mercure de Turenne and has remained in the same family ever since.
The present Gothic church was rebuilt in 1257 on the foundations of a smaller Romanesque chapel to a traditional plan with a nave and transept, and nine radiating chapels off the semi-circular ambulatory. The nave is preceded by a narthex flanked by two defensive towers.
The groin vaulted cloister of Valmagne surrounds a large garden courtyard, with five large arches on each of the four sides. The chapter house is on the east side of the cloister and is one of the oldest parts of the abbey. It is unusual in that it has a single-span vaulted roof and therefore does not need the internal columns which are typical of chapter houses in other monasteries.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.