The Monasterio de Santa María de El Paular is a former Carthusian monastery. Construction is believed to have begun in 1390 by orders of Henry II of Castile, and construction proceeded for fifty years under his son, John I of Castile. It was sited where an old chapel stood. Supposedly he was spurred to this project due to his plundering of a chartreuse during a campaign in France. This was the first chartreuse in Castille and Leon. In 1403, a small adjacent palace was built under Rodrigo Alonso. Multiple architects contributed to the complex, including Juan Guas, Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, Francisco Hurtado and Vicente Acero. The refectory was designed in a Moorish style.
The monastery was dissolved in 1835, and not till 1876 was some state protection afforded to the site. Since 1954, part of the monastery is occupied by the Benedictine order; while part was a private luxury hotel, operating as the Sheraton Santa Maria de El Paular, for many years, until it closed in 2014.
The spectacular late-Baroque decorations of the chapel of the sacristy and its Transparente (mid-18th century) by Francisco Hurtado Izquierdo and containing polychromatic marbles, solomonic columns, and gilded leafwork, contrast with the rocky serene simpleness of the cloisters. The silver decoration of the church included a silver “custodia” weighing some 24 arrobas (approximately 15 kilogram per arroba), which among with many other items, was probably looted by Napoleon's troops. There is a large 15th century carved wood reredos in excellent condition, and a fine ironwork screen segregating the monastic choir from the nave.
While it still has an interesting library, its once famous collection of books and maps has been dispersed. In 1755, an earthquake damaged the tower and nave roof. Missing from the site are 52 paintings by Vincenzo Carducci on the life of St. Bruno and other devotional incidents. The paintings are in local museums, including the Prado in Madrid. The paintings were returned to the monastery after restoration in 2011.
Parts of both monastery and hotel are open for visits by the public.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.