Formerly the date of the foundation of Disentis Abbey, attributed to the local saints Placidus and Sigisbert, was held to be 614. The tradition further states that this monastery was destroyed by the Avars in 670, when the abbot and thirty monks were martyred. The abbey, dedicated to Saint Martin, was then supposedly rebuilt by Charles Martel and Saint Pirmin in about 711.
The second and current view, based on more substantial research, is however that the foundation did not take place until the early 8th century. This is corroborated by archaeological investigation showing that the first traceable structure on the site was built in or about 700 and was destroyed in about 940, which is attributed to raiding Saracens.
The account of Sigisbert, as dramatised in the 12th century work, the 'Passio Placidi', is that he was a wandering Frankish monk, inspired by the ideals of Columbanus and Luxeuil, who set up a cell here, under the protection of Saint Martin. Placidus was a local magnate and landowner, who supported Sigisbert, and who was murdered by Victor, the praeses ('president') of Chur, in an attempt to prevent the loss of independence involved in the transfer of a large amount of land to the church.
One of the earliest surviving documents relating to Disentis is the so-called 'Testament of Tello', Bishop of Chur, which is dated 765 and records the already very extensive properties owned by the monastery. The story of the 'Passio Placidi' makes Tello the son of Viktor, and the properties a guilt offering for the murder of Placidus. Whether or not this is so, the abbey had certainly acquired a very large estate by this date.
Charlemagne visited the re-built abbey on his return journey from Rome in 800 and made many benefactions to it. It was a 'Reichskloster' (directly answerable to the Emperor and thus free from the claims of other territorial lords) from very early in its existence. Disentis' claim to imperial interest was its strategic position on a vulnerable mountain pass, and successive abbots were able to capitalise on this to the advantage of the abbey.
Udalric I (1031–55) was the first abbot to be made a prince of the empire, as were several others later; many of them also became bishops of the neighbouring sees.
In 1581 the abbey was honoured by a visit from Saint Charles Borromeo. In 1617 it became a member of the newly formed Swiss Congregation (now part of the Benedictine Confederation).
The buildings were refurbished in the Baroque style around the end of the 17th century.
In 1799 the abbey was burned and plundered by the soldiers of Napoleon's army, and many valuable items, books and archives were destroyed, including a 7th-century manuscript chronicle. The printing press that had been set up in 1729 was also destroyed at the same time, but much of the melted type and other metal was saved and from it were made the pipes of the organ of the church of St. Martin's in Disentis, which is still in use. Most of what was not destroyed was confiscated to fund the war effort. The abbey also lost half of its estates. It was nevertheless rebuilt by Abbot Anselm Huonder, the last of the abbots to enjoy the rank and title of Prince of the Empire.
Although Disentis managed to escape the dissolution which was the fate of most religious houses at that time, the 19th century was nevertheless a difficult and precarious period, with dangerously diminished material resources coupled with a loss of morale and spiritual discipline so severe that the abbey was not expected to survive. In desperation, Abbot Paul Birker of St. Boniface's Abbey, Munich, was sent in to attempt to turn the situation around, but with so little success that in 1861 he left Disentis and returned to Munich as a simple monk. Nevertheless, despite all the signs to the contrary, the abbey did survive. In 1880, with the restoration of religious houses in Switzerland, Disentis opened a secondary school, which continues to this day, and by the end of the 19th century had entirely regained its spiritual and material health.
The abbey continues as a religious community and as the home of a highly regarded secondary school.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.