Libmonster ID: BY-1541
Author(s) of the publication: Olga BAZANOVA

by Olga BAZANOVA, journalist

As shown by archeological evidence collected in the 20th century, people settled in this area at the confluence of the Pskova and the Velikaya as early as the first centuries A.D. By the mid-millennium a settlement of the Slav tribe Krivichi was there, and towards the 10th century Krom, or a kremlin citadel, was built. Protected by a wooden fence, it became the core of a major industrial and trading center.

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This city, one of our country's oldest, was first mentioned in the Tale of Bygone Years, the chronicles dated from the early 12th century. It is said to be founded anno 903 A.D. as the Kievan Prince Igor Ryurikovich took a maid "of Pskov named Olga".* Upon her husband's death (he was slain by local tribesmen) this wise and resolute woman headed Kievan Rus (ruled in 945 to 960) and implemented sweeping reforms, namely in tax collection, administrative division (with each district headed by an official called tiun), town building and, what is most important, she was the first Russian ruler to embrace Orthodox Christianity, thus heralding the adoption of Christianity by Kievan Rus in 988.

Local folks revere Princess Olga as the founder of Pskov, formerly known as Olgin grad ("Olga's town"), or the St. Trinity House. As legend has it, she saw three dazzling rays pointing at the site where a magnificent church was to rise, with a glorious and rich town around it, everlasting and immovable. The first wooden church of the Life-Giving St. Trinity must indeed have been built in the 10th century, still during Olga's lifetime. A stone church replaced it in the late 1130s.

The 72-meter-high cathedral of five domes that we see today is still the tallest structure in Pskov. Built of well-finished limestone slabs (limestone is the staple building material in the locality) and fitted with three apses**, two side-chapels and galleries, the church was put up between 1682 and 1699 on the old foundation according to con-struction plans sent in from Moscow. This monumental structure has simple and rigorous décor: the bleached walls of the façade are livened up with just one ornament of bright tiles ornate with characteristic frills, the "cornflowers" and "rosettes" (incidentally, these elegant ceramic decorations were uncovered in the 1960s during repairs).

A grandiose iconostasis of seven tiers is certainly the centerpiece of the cathedral–only a few grand iconostases like that have survived to the present day. Five of its tiers were created at the same time as the church in the 17th century, while the two upper ones crowned by a crucifix, in the mid-18th century. Little columns enframing the holy images are decorated with a wonderful gilded carving in the form of an exquisite lush vine twining about the icons. There are many holies within the church like the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God (16th century); a shrine with the relics of saints; tombs of great Pskovian men... Another holy, the Olga Cross, wrought in 1623–a copy of one ruined by a fire; that cross stood on the same spot where Princess Olga had the vision of three rays.

The square belfry of the St. Trinity church is thought to be standing on the site of an old kremlin tower facing wschod (east), it looks like a powerful bastion. Its first story was built of roughly hewn slabs, probably at the same time as the church, i.e. at the end of the 17th century. The second story of four vaulted bays was added in the following century. The structure is crowned by a decorative tier for the clock (the present chimes made in Germany were mounted in 1884) and a tall spire-and-cross (early 19th century). Today the belfry has seven bells dating from the 16th century, with the oldest one cast by Timothy Ondreyev Kotelnikov and Mikula Ovda


See: A. Bogdanov, "The Architect of Rus", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2004.–Ed.

** Apse-in a building, a semicircular recess with a domed or arched ceiling, especially one at the east end of a church.–Ed.

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in 1526. The Pskovian masters wrought chimes both for local churches and for large monasteries like those of St. Cyril of Belozersk* and at Solovki**.

Kievan Rus broke up in the 12th century. Pskov, or the St. Trinity House, and its domains at the Velikaya and the Narva rivers, and Lakes Pskovskoye and Chudskoye became part of the Novgorodian land. True, Pskov was still strong enough and enjoyed a special status. For one, it had the right to build fortresses of its own. One of the oldest was at Izborsk, mentioned in the written records of anno 862 (today a stone citadel raised in the 14th century towers there). Subsequently thanks to its participation in the struggle against the Livonian knights in 1240 and 1242 (the Battle of the Neva and the Battle on the Ice)*** the city-state consolidated its influence, and with the victory in the Battle of Rakovor in 1268**** actually regained its independence (the fact officially recognized by Novgorod in 1348).

Prince Dovmont, who was invited to Pskov in 1266, captained this struggle. Born in Lithuania, he adopted Orthodox Christianity and was baptized as Timothy. He had many military victories to his credit, above all in defense of Pskov and, upon his death in 1299, was canonized as a saint. Prince Dovmont fortified the kremlin by addining new defense lines to the south. More fortifications were raised in 1309 and 1375, respectively, beyond the kremlin walls. A deep water-filled moat was dug to the south of the 20-meter high eminence Persi, first mentioned in the chronicles anno 1337.

The Grand Gate next to the citadel was actually a trap for the enemy. Entering thither, into a long sinuous passage known as zakhab, or a "corridor of death", he found himself in a bag and was destroyed by arrows, stones and boiling pitch. In the 14th and 15th centuries the Pskovian kremlin was a depositary of arms, provisions, coffers and archives. In keeping with the code of laws endorsed by the town popular assembly, or the veche, in 1397, all that was taken good care of; "give no life to the kremlin robber," it was warned.

Meanwhile Pskov added the fifth line to its fortifications, without peer in those days. Begun in 1465, this


See: O. Viktorova, "Old Russian Holies", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2009.–Ed.

** See: V. Darkevich, "Sovereign Stronghold on the White Sea", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2000; O. Borisova, "Islands of Prayer and Labor", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2010.–Ed.

*** See: A.  Bogdanov, "Alexander Nevsky.  Russia's Number One", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2010.–Ed.

**** This battle between the armies of principalities of northwestern, and northeastern Russia, and the joint forces of the Teutonic Order was fought near the fortress of Rakvere (Rakovor in Russian chronicles) in northern Estonia.–Ed.

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line took in a stone bulwark erected beyond the river and thus called Zapskovye, one "beyond the river", and forbidding access to the city by water by means of a gate supplied with lattices. As a matter of fact, kremlins, or citadels, were part and parcel of Russian towns, there were as many as a score of such strongholds countrywide. One in Pskov became one of the most impregnable fortresses in Europe of the day. In perimeter it was over 9 kilometers long, its stone walls 4 to 5 meters thick, and furnished with 39 towers and turrets "standing guard" there. The Pskovian kremlin developed into the main outpost in Russia's northwest.

As far back as the 13th century a German visitor noted that "this town is so large that its circumference could embrace the area of many towns, and there is no town in Germany equal to Pskov." Really and truly, Pskov was building apace. Archeologists from the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg working at Pskov since the mid-20th century have unearthed 11 churches with what remained of their frescoes and six civilian structures, and that in a rather small patch of land.

According to Yuri Spegalsky, a Pskov architect, artist and historian (his birth centennial was marked in 2009), "there were as many as 17 or 18 churches in the 15th and 16th centuries at the same time, not small at all. They were supplied with side-chapels, vestibules, galleries, tabernacles, burial-vaults... little courtyards and cemeteries with fences and gates... There must have been chapels over some tombs..."

The outlying location of Pskov made it stay in constant combat readiness. Maintaining age-old ties with Great Novgorod*, a city-state ruled by a popular assem-


See: V. Darkevich, "Republic on the Volkhov", Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998.–Ed.

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bly, Pskov established a similar system of its own. Nobles, merchants, artisans and other well-to-do citizens, the homestead owners, attended a popular assembly held in the Pskovian kremlin (they were summoned there by the city tocsin). The ruling prince and posad-niks* stood on a raised platform, the podium, before their fellow citizens who, if rankled, could bring them down and chase away, as it happened to Prince Vladimir Andreyevich in 1463 (archeologists uncovered the foundation of this podium in 1979). Now the popular assembly decided on most important issues–on war and peace, taxes, construction of churches, and so forth; it mediated among different estates. The assemblymen hearkened to opinions of the Boyar (Nobility) Council gathering in the St. Trinity Church.

In 1425 Pskov started minting coins of its own. The heads depicted Prince Dovmont holding a holy sword, while the tails carried the inscription "Pskovian denga" ("Pskov coin") or else the image of a fantastic beast of prey (most likely, snow leopard), as one on the Pskovian coat of arms. Early in the 16th century there were mints in Novgorod, Moscow and Tver only.

Back at the close of the 14th century Pskov began forging ties with Muscovy: the Moscovian prince Dmitry Donskoy (Dmitry of the Don)** led a joint force in 1380 against the Mongols in the Battle of the Kulikovo Plain; a Pskov detachment led by Prince Andrei Olgerdovich fought side by side. Finally Pskov acceded to Moscow peacefully, though Moscow, the "gatherer of Russian lands" put some pressure to bear. Speaking on behalf of the Grand Duke (Prince) of Moscow, Vassily III, his clerk Tretyak Dolmatov proclaimed the will of his sovereign to the Pskov townspeople: "Ye shall have no veche assembly, and ye shall take the veche bell away." The Pskovians had to obey humbly. The "trouble-making" bell was toppled from the belfry, its "ears" (lugs) cut off, its body whipped. The rebel bell was banished to the metochion (yard) of the local Snetogorsky Monastery.

The heroic defense from August 27, 1581, to February 4, 1582, against the troops of King Stefan Batory of Poland during the Livonian War***nscribed a glorious page in the history of Pskov. The devastating raids of the invaders were as bad as those of the Mongols-overrunning local strongholds and towns, they killed off soldiers and common folks alike; they ravaged many Russian lands–Smolensk, Ryazan, Novgorod-Seversky and the southwest of the Novgorod principality, slashing ahead as far as the upper reaches of the Volga in the Principality of Tver. Dozens of thousands of Russians lost their lives. Closing on Pskov, the enemy was out to seize it and give Russia's northwest to Poland.

Knowing that Muscovy was unable to render any tangible assistance to its outpost in the northwest, King Batory pitted against it only 50,000 men supported by rather weak artillery. Pskov was defended by a garrison, 4,500 men strong, and about 12,000 militiamen. Both conflicting sides described battlefield developments. Vassily, an icon-painter who took part in the defense


* Posadnik-governor of medieval  Russian city-state, appointed by prince or elected by citizens.–Ed.

** See: K. Averyanov, "St. Sergius of Radonezh Puzzle", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2008.–Ed.

*** oscovy waged what became known as the Livonian War of 1558 to 1583 against the Livonian Confederation (uniting the German Order of Knights of the Sword, the Riga archbishopric, the Episcopate of Kurland, and other forces) as well as the Grand Principality of Lithuania and Sweden for Baltic territories and access to the Baltic Sea.–Ed.

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fighting, has written a Tale of Stefan Batory's March on the Town of Pskov, while Ksiadz (Roman Catholic priest) Stanislaw Piotrovski, the king's amanuensis, confided his experience to his diary.

Getting ready for the onslaught, the Poles prepared their attack positions to the south–trenches, dug-outs, gun emplacements... In their turn, the Pskov townspeople led by Voivode (commander) Shuisky took care of deliberate defense just where the attack was anticipated. On the morning of September 7 the enemy shelled the city, and he struck the following day in a bid to take it by storm. Even though the main defense wall was not complete yet, the enemy was unable to break through the breach in it and pierce the second wall of defense positions.

Meanwhile the tocsin summoned townspeople who, laying their hands on whatever they could, rushed to the garrison's assistance. The attack was beaten off. The breathing space thus gained enabled the defenders to repair and fortify the defenses. The siege lasted as long as thirty weeks. Batory was all set, by hook or by crook, to capture Pskov. Its citizens pursued an active defense tactics and made over 40 sallies beyond the town walls, where they were helped by local peasants fighting like guerrilla warriors.

In the end King Batory had to agree to an armistice and back down. Furthermore, he had to give back the captured Russian towns. In his epic study A History of the State of Russia (1816-1817), the historian Nikolai Karamzin noted: "If we managed to keep ourselves within our ancient confines.., the credit is due to Pskov: like a solid bulwark it crushed Stefanian invincibility... It is true that Pskov or Shuisky saved Russia from the

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greatest threat, and the memory of this significant desert will never be erased from our history as long as we persist in the love of our fatherland and our name."

However, the town's peaceful life was short-lived. In the Time of Troubles that befell Russia in 1605 to 1613, Pskov had to stand up against Swedish aggression. Between 1611 and 1613 the Swedes overran Great Novgorod, Ladoga, Staraya Russa, Porkhov and Gdov, and pushed ahead towards Pskov. Its garrison, 4,200 men strong and composed of nobles, streltsi (career soldiers) and Cossacks, made strong and spirited resistance. Led by two voivodes, Pleshcheyev and Sobakin, this force was assisted by the home guard. Early in 1615 the enemy undertook the first attempt at seizing Pskov, and in the summer of the same year he approached the town walls, with King Gustaf Adolf of Sweden coming to the battlefield in person. Yet the beleaguered townsfolk came up with a pre-emptive strike: in a night sortie they destroyed quite a few enemy men, including General Horn, their commander.

King Gustaf Adolf would rather not launch another attack before reinforcements had arrived. The Pskov townspeople exhibited great tenacity, they were making regular sallies against the enemy, who was trying to break through breaches in the walls, stopped then and there by the valiant defenders. The last attempt at taking the town by storm was made on October 9. The enemy was beaten off in fierce fighting that involved as good as the entire population of Pskov and went on for as long as twenty-four hours. As before, in 1581 and 1582, the fortitude of the town defenders had a crucial part to play in warding off the enemy. The Swedish king had to beat a retreat and return the occupied Russian lands.

But in about 100 years after, Pskov found itself in the center of epic events again. With the beginning of the Great Northern War of 1700-1721* Czar Peter I rebuilt the Pskov kremlin, personally lending a hand in the undertaking in a bid to forestall a Swedish attack. The citadel was overhauled and well-fortified, it had an intricate system of defenses with solid walls, 12 meters tall and 4 meters thick, and fitted with a labyrinth of galleries, underground passages, traps, and "listening wells" for eavesdropping on the enemy.

The kremlin turned into an impregnable fortress enabling its garrison to raid the enemy freely. In the winter of 1701-1702 Russian troops carried the day at Ehresfer (near Derpt, now Tartu, Estonia), thus debunking the myth about the invincible Swedish army. Subsequently the enemy had to give up his plans of taking Pskov. Getting wind of that from defectors, Peter I withdrew in 1708.

Pskov, Russia's national historic site, is also famous for its architectural monuments. Its builders were invited to many capital cities, Moscow first and foremost. Working side by side with Italian masters, they put up the stone Moscow Kremlin in about the same way as it looks today. Erected just outside its walls in 1555 to 1560, the Church of the Protecting Wall on the Moat (otherwise known as St. Basil's Church) is a spectacular monument of Russian architecture attributed to Barma and Postnik who hailed from Pskov.

Quite a number of churches put up in the 14th to 16th centuries have survived in Pskov to this day. The Mirozhsky Monastery (rather, part of it) is just one of


See: V. Artamonov, "Ineffable Victory", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2008.–Ed.

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them. Founded back in the 12th century by Nifont, the archbishop of Novgorod, it happened to be the first target of foes, stand as it did beyond the kremlin walls. Its Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior put up prior to 1156 still carries frescoes, which are among the oldest in the Orthodox world (as much as 80 percent paintings of the day are there, recovered from under the stucco in 1858). The best Byzantine masters were among its painters. Dazzling in their vivid imagery, the frescoes call forth parables of the Old and New Testaments and served as a pictorial gospel, for most of the parisheners were unlettered.

Yet another sentinel towers on Mount Snyatnaya on one of the banks of the Velikaya. This is the Snetogorsky Monastery. We cannot name its exact foundation date. But we know that in 1299 Prince Dovmont ordered to raise a stone Church of Our Lady's Nativity in place of the old wooden one burned by the Teutons. Put up twelve years after, the church was decorated in another two years. In architecture it looks like the Church of the Transfiguration, though highly remarkable for interiors: lengthwise, from west to east, the house is partitioned by three walls. Ravaged by a fire during Stefan Batory's raid in   1581-1582,  it was  restored the  following year.

However, the frescoes in the central part of the building were covered with a new iconostasis, and the others, whitewashed.

Old murals were partly uncovered in the early 20th century. This work was begun in 1909 and proceeded, on and off, in subsequent years. Major restoration work was started at the close of the 20th century. The most striking part of the composition, Judgement Day, is beyond compare in its pictorial symbols and messages. Both canonical and apocryphal images are in there, all this in a contrasting gamut of colors with the prevalent "Pskovian dye", the red ocher*, much in use up until the late 16th century.


* Ocher-a mixture of clay and iron oxides ranging in color from yellow to red, used as a pigment.–Ed.


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