Novgorod region: the origins of the Russian state

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Main facts:

  • Administrative center: Veliky Novgorod

  • Federal District: Northwestern

  • Language(s): Russian

  • Population: 600,296

  • Timezone: UTC+3

  • Main religion: Orthodoxy

Top 10 attractions:

Sights map of Novgorod region

Travel around Novgorod region

Imagine life in the 8th century AD ... In ancient Egypt, the pyramids of Cheops were already covered with sand, the heyday star had risen and sunk over Greek Athens, Time of Troubles and devastation reigned in Western Europe, and Eastern Europe was practically not populated yet. Colonies of Greeks, Phoenicians and Persians, remote for hundreds of kilometers from each other, on the shores of the Black and Mediterranean Seas remain small islands of civilization, at a short distance from which endless darkness and impassability begins. The farther north, the more wilderness and desert places surround travelers. There is no electricity, heating, shops with goods, mechanical engineering, steel technology and stone buildings. Asphalt and gravel have not yet covered the road, and the roads themselves do not yet exist. Along narrow country paths, among dense forests full of wild animals and robbers, lonely carts and rare caravans of merchants wander along their own routes. Maps of the area are practically absent, typography has not yet been invented, and writing on birch bark was short-lived and jerky, which did not allow for long-term information storage. History is passed from mouth to mouth, from one generation to another, and gun ownership and terrain orientation are vital skills. In these harsh and cruel conditions, thousands of kilometers from the nearest centers of civilization, the history of the Russian state begins.

In the VIII century, a tribe of Slovenes came to the East European Plain and found the first settlements here. Together with several Finno-Ugric tribes, they built a number of villages and fortifications, which later became the foundation of the Russian state. However, Slovenes paid tribute to the Varangians, tribes from the Baltic Sea, who were stronger in terms of weapons, wealth, and wisdom of government. In the middle of the 8th century, Slovenes expelled the Varangians and stopped paying tribute to them, but could not agree with each other on how to rule their lands, and again went to the Varangians with a request. Its essence was to put on the reign a representative of the Varangians, who would control them with a wise hand. This was the calling of the Varangians, when Prince Rurik settled in the Rurikovo Gorodische, and the Slovenes get their first ruler. The Varangians called themselves "Ruses", and therefore, after the advent of Rurik in 862, the new state began to be called "Russian".

The ancient epic “The legend of Slovene and Ruse” says that the ancestors of the Russian people were princes Slovene and Ruse, who went to the shores of Lake Ilmen and founded two cities here - Slovensk (Veliky Novgorod) and Rusa (Staraya Russa). This legend says that Novgorod became one of the centers of Ruses along with Kiev at the beginning of the 8th century AD, and at that time was one of the richest cities in this region. The legend of Sadko, who sailed on Lake Ilmen with his flotilla and bought Novgorod goods, echoes this information. However, not all Slovenes agreed to begin to call themselves as "Ruses" and to obey to the Varangian tribes. In subsequent years, there were several major uprisings, which in the end did not succeed. Slovenes who disagree with the rule of the Varangians were forced to leave to Eastern Europe (see Slovenia), and the remaining population finally became "Russian". Over the next centuries, Novgorod established ties with neighboring northern states, repeatedly rebuilt after fires and wars with neighbors Livonians and Swedes. In 1240, the Novgorodians defeated the Swedes in the Battle of the Neva, and in 1242 they defeated the Teutonic Order in the Battle on the Ice, which finally strengthened the status of Novgorod as a great Russian city. In the next two centuries, the Novgorod Republic repeatedly won victories in battles, was built up by rich Christian monasteries, conducted trade with the Hanseatic League, and conquered more and more new lands.

However, the bright star of Novgorod was destined to fade away. In the 15th century, many adversities fell on the city in the form of fires, famines and natural disasters, followed by military operations with the united coalition of Scandinavian and European countries, as well as several wars with the gaining power of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The military trick of the Moscow princes, who were the first to agree with the Tatar-Mongols on softening tribute, and then completely defeated the Tatar-Mongol troops and freed their lands from the yoke, led to a strong strengthening of Moscow and the growth of its political ambitions. As a result, at first it annexed the lands of the principalities in the territories of the Tver, Yaroslavl and Vladimir regions, and then entered into a military conflict with Novgorod. In 1478, Moscow finally defeated the Novgorod forces, as a result, the Novgorod lands were annexed to the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The trade union with the Hansa was broken, most merchants and boyars were relocated to Moscow, and many buildings were destroyed.

Subsequently, Novgorod experienced many more troubles: pestilence and fires, the Massacre of Novgorod by Ivan the Terrible and the Swedish occupation. Due to frequent hunger and the lack of the opportunity to establish trade relations with neighbors, very few merchants, craftsmen and artisans remained in the city. In 1700, military operations began near Novgorod: the Northern War was victorious for Russia, but also brought heavy losses of the population. And then an event occurred that finally put an end to Novgorod as the rich center of the Russian state. In honor of the victory over the Swedes in the Northern War, as well as for permanent access to the Baltic Sea, Peter the Great founded the new capital of the Russian Empire - the city of St. Petersburg. It began to be erected directly in the swamps, immediately in stone and in the rich style of classicism that adorns it to this day. Following were paved roads from St. Petersburg to Moscow, which passed far from Novgorod, which, just 160 km south, became a vague shadow of ancient Russian history, which from today began to happen outside of it.

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But, perhaps, it was the remoteness from the then political life that allowed Novgorod to preserve its charm and architectural monuments, which it is famous for today. Novgorod almost did not suffer during the October Revolution and managed to preserve much of its heritage during the time of the Bolshevik terror. Although it was badly damaged during the Great Patriotic War, today you can find ancient buildings and Orthodox churches throughout the old town, the construction of which dates back to the 15th, 14th and even 13th centuries. Many of them are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site as unique monuments of Russian history! The magnificent Novgorod Detinets towers on the banks of the Volkhov River from the beginning of the 11th century and acquired its current appearance in the late 15th century. Its rich decoration, ambassadorial gifts in the Chamber of Facets, as well as the oldest Orthodox Cathedral in Russia are amazing. Directly opposite the Kremlin is the restored complex of the Yaroslav's Court, which since ancient times was the place of trade between local and foreign merchants. Many archaeological sites have been preserved here, as well as a whole scattering of ancient Orthodox churches, each of which is at least 600 years old!

Wherever you go in Novgorod, you can find ancient monuments of Russian history everywhere. Novgorod bishops met in the Anthoniev Monastery, the first tsars of the Romanov dynasty patronized the Vyazhishchsky Monastery with unique tiles, and many Russian tsars and emperors repeatedly visited the Khutyn Monastery. The skeletons of the Rurikovo Gorodische tell about the calling of the Varangians and the rule of the Novgorod princes, the Peryn Chapel traces its history from the ancient temple of the pagan god Perun, and the nearby Yuriev Monastery is a historical monument about 1000 years old. Next to the Yuriev Monastery, in 1964, the Vitoslavlitsy Open-Air Museum of Russian Wooden Architecture was created, which presents preserved samples of residential and religious buildings. Some of them are over 500 years old!