Novgorod - Origins of the Russian State
Since ancient times the lands around Lake Ilmen lay along international trade routes leading from the Baltic Sea to the Volga River, a fact which contributed to the formation of a center of political interaction between the local Finnish tribes and some Slavic tribes, settled here since the 6th-8th centuries. In 862 the Scandinavian prince Rurik was invited with his armed forces to carry out all legal and law-enforcement functions. He was the founder of a dynasty whose members would rule the Russian lands for over seven and a half centuries. In the beginning of the 10th century, the successful military campaigns of Prince Igor and his voevoda (military commander) Oleg to the South of Novgorod helped to establish the famous trade route known as the route "from the Varangians to the Greeks". This sped up the unification of the Eastern Slavic tribes into a unified state known as Kievan Rus.
The name of the River Veriage still retains the memory of those days, and the birthplace of the Russian state -- the Rurik Gorodische -- is now one of Novgorod's most memorable sights.
Novgorod - the Oldest Russian Center of Christianity
In 988-989 the famous Russian prince Vladimir Svyatoslavovitch baptized Rus in accordance with the rules of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Pagan idols were thrown into rivers and lakes and ancient temples were replaced with Christian churches, which were also being constructed in larger administrative centers.
Novgorod played an important role in converting the Northwestern and Northern lands to Christianity. The contribution of the Novgorodian higher clergy in protecting and promoting Christianity in Russia was rewarded by their appointment to an archbishopric (12th century). These achievements made the Novgorodian Holy See one of the most important religious establishments within the Russian Orthodox Church.
Victories of Alexander Nevsky's troops in 1240 and 1242 over the Swedes and the Teutonic knights shielded Rus, weakened by the Tatar-Mongol invasion, from Catholic aggression. A tight circle of monasteries was gradually formed around Novgorod, their monks often holding high positions in other parishes of Rus, including Moscow; pious deeds of monastery founders -- such as Anthony the Roman, Varlaamy of Khutyn and others-served as good grounds for canonization of these "reverend" religious figures.
In the 15th century the power of the higher Novgorodian clergy grew even stronger, penetrating into practically all aspects of the city's life. At that time the Archbishop was virtually the head of the boyar oligarchic republic. Novgorod of those days resembled the Vatican, where secular power is completely subordinate to religious power. But here the resemblance stops. Unlike the Vatican, the Novgorodian archbishops had under their control a vast territory equal to the combined territories of modern France, Belgium and Holland, or to the territory of the state of Texas. Only the victory of Moscow and Novgorod's joining the centralized state put an end to this extraordinary republic.
Novgorod - the Cradle of Russian democracy
In the days of Yaroslav the Wise (978-1054), descendants of those tribal leaders who had settled in Novgorod long ago received special rights and tax benefits; at the end of the 11th century they were granted even the right to autonomy. Thus the tradition of the ancient veche - a mass assembly of Novgorod citizens - was revived. The fact that the posadnik (city mayor) was not appointed but elected from the ranks of boyars contributed to the further development of republican traditions. In 1136 citizens of Novgorod for the first time implemented the principle of "free election of princes", announced by them earlier on. In this case the veche dismissed Prince Vsevolod Mstislavovitch and ran him out of town. The city was dominated by numerous parties and groups, which were incessantly battling between each other to elect "their" princes.
In 1169 Great Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky from the city of Vladimir made an attempt to restore Novgorod to its old traditions but failed. According to legend, one of the reasons for the destruction and capture of his troops was the holy icon "Virgin Oranta", which after that became the city's sacred relic. Republican rule was solidified by the 14th century. By that time power had been seized by a few boyar families and was controlled by the veche. After the reform of 1416 - 1423 a new body of boyar power - the Masters' Council (Sovet Gospod) was established and Novgorod was renamed Great Novgorod. Historians often compare its political system to that of Venice, where the Dodge Council controlled all aspects of the city's life.
The Novgorod oligarchic republic, which stood in the way of the formation of a unified Russian state with Moscow as its center suffered a resounding defeat in 1471. In 1478 the Great Prince of Moscow Ivan III made it a point to come to Novgorod and announce his newly formulated principles of autocratic power here, in the Vladychnaya Palata of the Novgorod Kremlin.
Novgorod - a major medieval international trade center
The establishment of the constantly operating route "from the Varangians to the Greeks" encouraged development of Novgorod as an important crossroads for transit trade. This is proven by finds of buried treasures containing coins of Western-European and Eastern origin and a multitude of objects of European and Byzantine origin -- non-ferrous metals, bolts of precious fabrics, vessels for wine and olive oil. At the same time Novgorodian furs, honey, wax, flax and hemp were well-known in Europe, including England.
At the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries private merchant corporations ("Ivanskoye sto") as well as foreign trade operations -- the Gothic yard (Gutaborg), which belonged to inhabitants of Gotland Island, and the German yard (Peterhoff)"-- were at work in the city. The Novgorodians, in their turn, operated a similar trade center in Visbue (Gotland Island). The powerful Hanseatic League traced its roots back to trade operations conducted between Novgorod and Gotland.
Novgorod reached the peak of its prosperity in the 13th-15th centuries. According to standards of those days it was a large city with a population of between twenty-five and thirty thousand people, comparable to Lubeck, Vienna and Prague. The wax trade helped to make Novgorod merchants rich. Wax was important for candles, and a tiny profit was left behind in Novgorod everytime a candle was burned in many churches.
After Novgorod was annexed to Muscovite Rus all foreign merchant yards were closed down. Only in the beginning of the 16th century were the Hanseatic League activities revived, followed by opening of other foreign trade delegations.
Novgorod - a center of literacy and education
Written language is the foundation of education. In 1951 archeologists found the first 10 birch-bark letters in the cultural layer of Novgorod. Today these artifacts number approximately 1000. These scraps of bark present us with convincing proof of the mass literacy of the Novgorod population, their readiness to perceive not only the oral, but the written word as well. It was Yaroslav the Wise who laid the foundation for teaching of reading and writing, having established a school at the archbishop's court. The St. Sophia Cathedral as well as the largest monasteries such as the Yuriev Monastery, St. Anthony Monastery and the Khutyn Monastery became centers for chronicle writing and book collecting. One of the largest libraries of medieval Rus, totaling over 1,500 books, had been carefully collected and preserved in the St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod. The year 1706 marked the establishment of the first permanently operating educational institution in town, founded by the prominent Likhuda brothers (who hailed from Greece) in the Vladychny Dvor. In 1740, the Novgorodian Theological Seminary, created on the basis of this library, occupied premises in the St. Anthony Monastery.
Novgorod - a Prominent Center of Medieval Culture
The well-developed connections of Novgorod, its central position in a vast territory and the unique combination of princely and democratic traditions in its social life- all these features contributed to the creation of a unique phenomenon we now call "the artistic culture of medieval Novgorod". All attributes of medieval Christian culture -- stone architecture, monumental and easel painting, applied arts and jewelry -- were developed to demonstrate magnificent results. Moreover, Novgorod is one of the few cities where various styles exist side-by-side: Byzantium-oriented Kievan architecture (the St. Sophia Cathedral, the Nikola-Dvorischinsky Cathedral, St.-George's Cathedral) and monuments of Roman and German styles. One of these, the magnificent Magdeburg Gates (12th century) have adorned the western entrance to the main city's cathedral since the 15th century while the residence of the archbishop featured a reception hall (palata) adorned with ribbed vaults designed by a German architect.
Novgorod, having managed to avoid devastation during the days of the Mongol invasion, preserved the greatest spiritual and artistic values claimed by Russian culture during the period of its new rise in 14th -15th centuries. The most ancient Russian icons date back to these days, including such icons as "Apostles Peter and Paul" (11th century), "Our Savior on the Throne" (11th century), "St. George the Warrior" (11th century), silver zions and craters from St. Sophia Cathedral, as well as rare samples of gold needlework and embroidery. The golden age of Novgorod's cultural life, when the city ran its own building associations, icon-painting guilds, gold needlework and jewelry workshops reached its pinnacle during the 14th-15th centuries.
Novgorod during the Second World War
One glimpse at the picture by the three Soviet artists known as the "Koukryniksy artists" (Michael Kupriyanov, Porfiry Krylov, and Nikolay Sokolov) entitled "Flight of Fascist Troops from Novgorod" should be enough for any viewer to see what the city had to endure during the period from August 1941 to January 1944, while it remained on the front line. The city was left in ruins, with carcasses of buildings and immense burnt holes in the place of magnificent cathedrals. It seemed that the end of the ancient city's history had finally come, and that its former inhabitants could only leave the ruins to settle anew in some other place
But fate gave Novgorod one more chance: immediately after the war people began restoring and reconstructing their city as both the citizens and the monuments slowly came back to life. Novgorod was included in the list of the most valuable historical places of Russia. On recommendation of the State Committee, which consisted of prominent scientists and architects, specialized restoration workshops were created in order to revive the ancient city from its modern ashes. On November 7, 1944, while the war was still going on, the monument "Millennium of Russia", dismantled by the fascists, was re-assembled and unveiled within the walls of the Kremlin.
Modern Novgorod is a stunning combination of old and new. After the Second World War the historical part of the city was built up in such a way as to avoid confining ancient temples within the narrow well-like yards of high-rise apartment buildings. Nowadays Novgorod, lying on the highway connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg, enjoys stable economic and cultural links with both capitals, the Karelia region and the Baltic states, and also attracts foreign investors. Novgorod is also on the list of those Russian cities that have joined the New Hanseatic League. The city uses modern communication facilities, has art galleries, one art school, two theaters, a philharmonic society, a ballet troupe, music and dance ensembles, casinos and discotheques. Several newspapers function in the city which also has its own television and radio stations
Novgorod is a university town. The University named after Yaroslav the Wise is one of the largest scientific centers in Northwest Russia. The city trains professional athletes in such sports as gymnastics, rowing, swimming and boxing. Modern Novgorod is a center of Russian domestic and international tourism.