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Novgorod: Okolny Gorod
July 19, 2016 15:43


Earth walls of the Okolny Gorod of the city of Novgorod can be seen by everyone who walks from the station to the center. Shapeless mound covered with grass in the summer, winding paths and household waste, does not produce the most vivid impression. However, this semicircle of earthworks, sometimes added by the remains of the moat is the oldest fortification of Novgorod; even the Kremlin is younger than it by the whole century.

Earthworks have surrounded the city at the end of the XIV centur, for example; in Moscow since that time nothing was left (the basement of the Kremlin Church of the Nativity of the Virgin is not taken into account. There still no one is allowed). And in Novgorod it is quite possible to walk by ancient fortifications an hour or two, looking down on the city and the church dome. Getting lost is impossible: all streets intersecting the earthworks lead to the Kremlin.

Stone towers - a tempting novelty for the rest of Russia of that time – was called by the Novgorod chroniclers habitually as "stone fires", from the Latin castrum (fortress, castle). Still now the bases of the towers are hidden in the earthworks, here and there leaning out. They are well studied by the archeologists. They are the rectangular structures of pink sandstone: from the bottom there are passage gates with lifting guards and from the top there are martial chambers with loopholes and with gable roof like a conventional house.

All this was very similar to the medieval fortress of the neighboring Baltic countries. A ditch, laid down on the surrounding city creeks and ravines, is now overgrown and littered become not only an obstacle to the enemy, but it also drained the area around the walls and served as a convenient waterway - just like a Venetian canal. The towers stood at each street to the earthworks - more than two dozen - and were kept at the expense of the residents of these streets. 


The foundation of the White Tower is a platform of boulders with the width of 2.5 meters. The Tower has a round shape. Its outer diameter is 17 m and its internal diameter is from 8 to 8.4 meters. The thickness of the walls in the first tier is 4.5 m. The height of brick part is more than 15 m.

The length of earth walls area preserved at the Sofia side is 4943 meters. The earth walls on the Trade side survived worse, but they are there. This line of defense structures was simply called as a prison till the XV century and later it was called as Big or Wood City as well as a Big Okolny Gorod. Now it is called as Okolny Gorod or even easier as earth walls. Till the middle of last century or certainly to the XI century they were referred to the time that is almost the time of foundation of Novgorod. In 1680s the city authorities tired of incessant repair of defense system wanted to build stone walls instead of wooden ones. Novgorod citizens unanimously voted for that decision of the authorities.

However in the government order the boring clerks calculated all and found that the city funds was still not enough and it would be required much more transfers from the sovereign's treasury. Therefore they decided to reject such large-scale project, and once again they built a wooden prison along the earth walls of Okolny Gorord. In 1696 it burned again. During the further years the earth walls and moat were left to themselves. Only passages there were gradually expanded with the development of traffic. A very interesting classic guardhouse of the XIX century was preserved near one of these passages in Novgorod.

Alekseevskaya Tower of Okolny Gorod

Besides the earth walls, only one building remained from the Okolny Gorord´s defense system of the city. But it is impressive. Where the earth walls approach to Volkhov the powerful stone tower stands. Its name is Alekseevskaya tower – by the name of former church situated nearby, or Belaya - though now it has its original brick color.

There is not any exact information about the time when it was constructed. Most likely, it appeared during last years of reign of Ivan the Terrible, when as a result of the defeat in the Livonian War under the threat of enemy attack the ruined Novgorod city was turned out in the behind lines. In the years 1582-1584 some Roman architect was engaged in the urgent strengthening of Russian Novgorod. Antonio Possevino the legate writes about this architect.

It is possible that the tower was also built by this Roman architect. There is Alekseevskay Tower on one bank of the Volkhov River and there is a Petrovskaya Tower on the opposite side that is not preserved but the similar on the Trade place side. It was possible to defend the city's river from both towers by fire of canons. They were a reliable protection for the earthworks of Okolny Gorord adjacent to the river banks. By  the war with Sweden in 1657 both towers were whited  (in the charters they were already called as «old") and since that time the name "White Tower" appeared. Then a spell of bad luck began for the White Tower - in 1675 its tented roof “was broken by the divine will” and in 1700 it was burned. However, repairs are also occasionally occurred.

Therefore the tower, in general, has carried more than its neighbor – Petrovskaya Tower that was dismantled. Status of the White Tower in 1910 was described by Novgorod local historian: "big elder bushes grow on its top crest, its foundation is watered by spring floods, and the neighboring residents steal its stones and bricks." Battle chambers of several embrasures were made during last war, when the White Tower briefly recalled its war past. After the war, Novgorod fire victims lived even for a time in the tower’s fighting chambers. In 1990 the tower was restored, but actually the tower has no roof and it is not functioned.  But anyway the view of the tower itself and its surrounding with the Volkhov River and earth walls is quite impressive.



Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: Novgorod Okolny Gorod    

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