Novgorod the Great (before 1999 was named simply Novgorod) is one of the most ancient cities of Russia located in its North-West, near the site where the Volkhov river takes its waters from Lake Ilmen, emerged as a political center of Slavic and Fino-Ugric tribes in the mid-9th century, while as a town it was formed in the middle of the 10th century.
The history of Novgorod is closely linked with all major stages in the life of Russian state. In the times, when the statehood of Rus was just in the making, the Novgorodians invited Scandinavian prince Rurik to keep law and order, thus giving birth to the prince Rurik dynasty that ruled over all Russian lands throughout more than 750 years.
In the early 10th century, war campaigns of the Novgorodians against Constantinopol to secure equal trade with Bizantine resulted in the integration of East Slavic tribes into the ancient Kievan Russian state.
The adoption of Christianity at the close of the tenth century turned Novgorod into a powerful ecclesiastical center. The efforts of Novgorod Bishops in spreading and promoting the Orthodoxy were given high credit in the mid-12th century when they were elevated to the ranks of Archbishops which made the Bishops Chair of Novgorod most powerful in the Russian Orthodoxy.
The right of Novgorod to select its own princes, that was granted in the middle of the twelfth century, attracted princes to the Novgorod throne, and that provided favorable conditions to maintain the unity of Russian lands tending to be feudally divided, while the annexation of Novgorod republic to Moscow Principality at the end of the 15th century resulted in the united Russian State with Moscow as a capital.
Throughout many centuries, Novgorod was a political center of vast territories stretching up from Baltic lands and Finland in the West to northern Urals in the East. It was also one of the greatest international trade centers on theBaltic-Volga commercial route that tied northern Europe with Asia as early as in the mid - 8th century.
Novgorod is the cradle of Russian republican and democratic traditions. In the course of over 600 years, up till 1478, all vital decisions on its life and foreign policy were taken by the "veche" - ancient parliament comprising the representatives of the town aristocratic. families. At crucial times of Novgorod history, all people took part in the veche.
The republic's special political structure, spiritual freedom and territorial independence were highly favorable to evolve culture and art.
Novgorod was one of Russia's major centers of literacy and book production. As far back as in the 30-s of the 11th century, by the will of the great Prince Yaroslav The Wise, Novgorod saw the first school to train three hundred children at a time.
Medieval Novgorod was one of the greatest art centers of Europe. Its architectural traditions, school of icon-painting, jeweler's and decorative applied art became famous all over the world.
Many experts of Russian art justly believe Novgorod to be Russian Florence; no other old Russian cities have managed to preserve so many ancient architectural monuments adorned with wall murals. You will see that with your own eyes visiting the churches of Our Saviour on Nereditsa Hill and Annunciation of Our Lady on Miachino Lake (12th century), appreciating at its true worth the 14th century frescoes of world-famous Theophanes the Greek in the church of the Transfiguration of Our Saviour on Iliah Street, singularly graceful murals in the churches of the Nativity of Our Lady on Krasnoye Field, St. Theodore Stratilates on the Brook, admiring the beautiful clergical wall calendar of the 15th - 17th centuries in the Church of St. Simeon The Godreceiver, studying wonderful mural compositions of the late 17th - early 18th centuries in The Virgin of The Sign Cathedral.
You will, no doubt, be happy with a visit to the Kremlin of Novgorod - the oldest in Russia, this fortress was mentioned in chronicles as early as in 1044, while its
Icon "St. Nicolas" today's walls and towers were constructed at the close of 15th century. The Detinets (that was the original name of the citadel ) was closely related to all most important events in the life of ancient Novgorod: hosting foreign embassies, seeing-off warriors to fight the enemy, convening people veche meetings. In addition to the above-mentioned St. Sophia's Cathedral, the Kremlin also features such other striking monuments as the Faceted (Archbishop's) Palace - a rare specimen of Gothic architecture, built in 1433 in team with German masters, as well as the impressive and beautiful St. Sophia's Bellfry of 1439 with a set of bells dating back to the 16th - 18th cc.
A visit to Novgorod usually leaves guests with unforgettable impressions of the inimitable and majestic Novgorod landscape which can be appreciated by making a boat tour of and Lake Ilmen, by seeing Peryn - the site of the pre-Christian heathen- temple, by going to Lipno island with one of the few preserved architectural specimens of the 13th century - the Church of St. Nicholas decorated with frescoes of the same age.
It is also only in Novgorod that visitors can admire a unique collection of facial and ornamental embroidery of the 16th - 17th centuries. Exhibited in the Kremlin's St. Ioann building, it features such wonderful works of ancient Russian embroideries as maniples of St. Varlaam of Khutyn (12th c.), shroud, commissioned by Dmitry Shemyaka (15th c.), omophorion of Nicon (17th c.), etc.