Built by Byzantine Emperor, Andronikos II Palaiologos in 1282 after the victory against the Angevins in the Siege of Berat, the Ardenica Monastery is famous as the place where, in 1451, was celebrated the marriage of Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albania, with Andronika Arianiti. In 1780 the Monastery started a theological school to prepare clerics in Greek Orthodoxy. It had an important library with 32,000 volumes that got completely burned by a fire in 1932. The Church of Saint Mary within the monastery contains frescos from brothers Kostandin and Athanas Zografi, notably one of saint John Kukuzelis, born in Durrës, Albania.
The monastery was closed for the public and for clerical duties in 1969 as the communist regime declared Albania an atheist state. The buildings and its surroundings were left in a state of decay for many years until 1988 when a partial reconstruction took place for tourism purposes. The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania retook possession of the monastery in 1992 after the fall of the communist regime in Albania.
The monastery has a Byzantine-orthodox architecture but with many romanesque features. It is composed of the Saint Mary Church, the chapel of the Saint Trinity, a mill, and a barn.
The iconostasis is wooden and polychromed in gold. It was realized in 1744, with the help of the Moscopole masters. The icons are the work of the 18th century painter Kostandin Shpataraku.
All the watermarks are in Greek, with the exception of the prayer written in 1731 from Nektarios Terpos in Albanian. The oldest watermark dates from 1477 and can be found in the principal entry of the monastir. A second watermark dates 1743 - 44 and pertains to the painting period from the Zografi brothers. In the monastery can also be found two plates pertaining to the 17th century. One of them, dated 1754, can be found in the western side of the church, the other, dated 1770 is found in the arches of the stove. Dates can be found also on the church's bells.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.