French monks of the influential Cistercian order founded Alvastra Monastery in 1143. From Clairvaux in France, the monks brought modern methods of administration, technology and architecture to the province of Östergötland in Sweden. Alvastra Monastery is a distinct part of Östergötland's cultural landscape, and is open for visitors to follow the monks' medieval trail.
The district around Alvastra played an important role in the development of the Swedish Kingdom during the Middle Ages. The powerful dynasty of Sverker resided here. In fact, Sverker the Older has been described as the king of Sweden's East Geats as well as the ruler of the Swedes. It appears as if the Sverker dynasty brought about the establishment of the Alvastra Monastery and gave the original donation of land to the Cistercian monks.
The church is the heart of the vast monastery establishment. The western section and the southern transept gable with its sacristy are well preserved. The building material is limestone from Omberg, and its architecture is simple, in accordance with the order's decree against extravagancies. French masters, with the assistance of people from nearby, erected the structure. The local inhabitants adopted the new techniques, in particular stone-masonry, which was used in building parish churches.
Alvastra was Sweden's largest monastery in its heyday, and it flourished for nearly 400 years. But along with the reformation it was dissolved and the Crown retracted the monastery's land possessions. The Alvastra property was made into the Alvastra royal estate. The construction materials interested several building proprietors and were used in the making of Vadstena Castle and Per Brahe's buildings along Lake Vättern.
The ruins have been restored and preserved in several phases. An interdisciplinary research project was initiated during the summer of 1992, which investigated the monastery's role in the development of medieval statehood.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.