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Novgorod is the cradle of the Russian state, home of the Russian democratic and republican traditions, and a spiritual and military stronghold of Orthodox Russia. Medieval Novgorod was one of the largest European centers of enlightenment and culture. Nowadays it is a modern town with a well-developed economy, social services and infrastructure.

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. Novgorod was first mentioned in chronicles in the middle of the 9th century. In 862 the Scandinavian prince Rurik was invited with his armed forces to Rus 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.

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. Novgorodian furs, honey, wax, flax and hemp were well-known in Europe, including England.

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.

Novgorod - a Prominent Center of Medieval Culture

Numerous birch-bark letters found in Novgorod represent a convincing proof of the mass literacy of the local population. 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.

Novgorod in the XX Century

Novgorod survived through a severe test of the Second World War and despite the fact that the city was left in ruins it came back to life and a large part of its rich cultural heritage was restored and preserved. Novgorod was included in the list of the most valuable historical places of Russia and todays city represents 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. Todays 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. Novgorod 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.

All attributes of medieval Christian culture stone architecture, monumental and easel painting, applied arts and jewelry are widely represented in Novgorod. Moreover, it 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. Among old cathedrals of Novgorod there are those included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Architectural Ensemble of the Yaroslav Courtyard (Dvorishche) and the Marketplace Medieval Novgorod was divided into the Sophia and the Marketplace sides, which have been preserved to the present day. The Kremlin is the historical center of the Sophia side, while the Marketplace and the residence of Novgorodian princes, transferred here from the Rurik Gorodishche by Yaroslav the Wise in the 11th century, have become the main point of the Marketplace side.

At present, this historical city center is one of the most beautiful places in Novgorod. Shady avenues, lilac bushes, lawns full of flower beds, a magnificent panorama of the River Volkhov, the Kremlin and, first of all, the ancient architectural monuments produce unforgettable views.


The first monastery was founded as early as the beginning of the 11th century under the rule of Yaroslav the Wise. By the 12th century, according to surviving documents, Novgorod was already surrounded by a tight circle of larger and smaller cloisters. Many remarkable objects of iconography, artistic jewelry and gold embroidery, as well as numerous books were made within the walls of the Novgorod monasteries and nunneries

At present, there are three operating monasteries in the vicinity of Novgorod (the Vyazhishche Monastery, the Khutyn Monastery, the Yuriev Monastery with a hermitage) as well as monks' dwellings, and the fourth working monastery (the Iversky monastery) closer to Valdai Hills.


Impressive cultural heritage of Novgorod has been carefully preserved in numerous citys museums. The Vitoslavlitsy Museum of Wooden Architecture has several permanent exhibitions devoted to the local folk art and culture.

Holidays and Folk Culture

Novgorod has a rich tradition of holidays celebration. In addition to such popular Russian holidays as Christmas, Sviatky, Easter, The Ivan Kupala Night, Novgorod enjoys merry local holidays, which are deeply rooted in the citys history. Every year the Museum of Wooden Architecture "Vitoslavlitsy" hold celebrations that allow its guests not only see ancient traditions in all their colorful details but even take part in them.

Christmas celebration in Vitoslavlitsy includes fancy-dress party in the streets, singing the kolyadki (carols), dancing in the ring, Christmas storytelling, fortunetelling in the street; Winter horsesleigh rides, traditional Russian fun and games, stilt-walking performances; young men's exploits: boxing, round, volunteer, wall-against-wall fighting, belt wrestling.

Winter Folklore Festival Sviatky carried out in the Museum "Vitoslavlitsy" on January 17th consists in carols sinning, craft fairground, winter games, horse riding.

Maslenitsa attracts by a big fair with singing and eating bliny (pancakes), theatrical show with harmoniums, cavorting fools, groups of performers, the Maslenitsa competitions, folk games and fun: fetch the rooster off a 15-17 meter pole, Petrushka performances, snowball shooting, winter swimming. Easter. Traditional celebration of the major and the most important Russian Orthodox Church holiday can also be seen in "Vitoslavlitsy". Roll-furthest and knock-it-out games played with painted eggs, Easter week surprises, bell music these are some entertainments of the holiday.

International Children's Rachmaninov Festival (June 2000, April 2003) is one of the most notable international piano competitions held in Novgorod. Under the aegis of the UNESCO.

First Sunday of June holiday is the International folklore and handicraft holiday. Folk song and dance groups of the region and those of visitors demonstrate their crafts. The celebration is accompanied by handicraft sale and traditional fun and games of Novgorod.

The Day of Novgorod (June 12-14)

Theatrical celebration in the central squares of the ancient city and the Volkhov Embankment. Solemn ceremony of conferring the title of "Honorary citizen of Novgorod city"; Address by Hanseatic representatives, visitors to the city; show-programs on the beauty and giftedness of the women of Novgorod; A ball in the Sophia square with many ballroom dance ensembles; Concert programs of different groups; Ushkuynik contests - tests for real men; Novgorod sportsmen performing; fair the market-square.

The Festivities of the Ivan Kupala Night (July 6 to 7) include lightening up of Kupala bonfires and leaping over the flames. Water of is the lake Ilmen supposed to have healing properties on this night. The festivities are accompanied by ring-dances, games, and fun; it ends in a feast.

Tags: Veliky Novgorod Novgorod Region    



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