The Basilica of San Michele Maggiore is one of the most striking example of Lombard-Romanesque style. It dates from the 11th and 12th centuries.
A first church devoted to St. Michael Archangel was built on the location of the Lombard Palace chapel (to this period belongs the lower section of the bell tower), but it was destroyed by a fire in 1004. The current construction was begun in the late 11th century (crypt, choir and transept) and was completed by 1155. The vaults of the nave, originally with two grossly squared groin-vaulted spans, were replaced in 1489 by the design of master architect Agostino de Candia in four rectangular spans, and the structure was created by his father the renown Pavia master mason Iacopo da Candia.
The basilica was the seat of numerous important events, including the coronations of Louis III (900) and Frederick Barbarossa (1155), among the others.
San Michele Maggiore can be considered the prototype of other important medieval churches in Pavia such as San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro and San Teodoro. However, it differentiates from latter in the use of sandstone instead of bricks, and for the Latin cross plan with a nave and two aisles and a much extended transept. San Michele's transept, provided with a true façade, a false apse and a barrel vault different from the rest of the church, constitutes a nearly independent section of the edifice. Also its length (38 m, compared to the 55 m of the whole basilica), contributes to this impression.
At the crossing of nave and transept is the octagonal dome, a 30 m-high asymmetrical structure supported on squinches, in the Lombard-Romanesque style. It is reportedly the earliest example of this form in Lombardy. The façade is decorated by numerous sandstone sculptures, of religious or profane themes; they are however now much deteriorated. The façade has five double and two single mullioned windows and a cross, which are a 19th-century reconstruction of what was thought be the original scheme. Bas reliefs in horizontal bands portray human, animal and fantastic figures. Over the minor portals are portrayed St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, and St. Eleucadius, archbishop of Ravenna. In the lunettes are angels which, according to a caption sculpted there, have the role of ambassadors of the faithful's words into heaven.
The nave has four spans. The aisles have matronaea with statical function. The four chapels in correspondence of the second and four spans of the aisles are a later addition. under the apse, which has a large 16th-century fresco, is the high altar (1383) housing the remains of Sts. Ennodius and Eleucadius. The presbytery has fragments of a notable pavement mosaic with the Labours of the Months and mythological themes.
The crypt, with a nave and two aisles, is located immediately under the altar: it houses beautifully decorated capitals and the monument of the Blessed Martino Salimbene (1491).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.