The oldest city of Russia, the cradle of Russian democracy, medieval centre of trades and crafts, boundless field for research for historians, architects and archaeologists - all this is Veliky Novgorod. This is a place where you can see with your own eyes the ancient stone temples, a place where you can stand on the very place from which, according to the legends, a pagan god Perun was thrown into the Volkhov river; you can participate in the battles of contemporary warriors and read the famous birch-bark scrolls. Troops started for battles from these ancient Kremlin walls, legendary merchant and musician Sadko used to sing his enchanting songs while sitting on the bank of the Ilmen Lake, and the Volkhov river was busy with numerous ships following the trading route "from the Varangians to the Greeks" and laden with various goods from foreign parts. Novgorodians always felt rather superior compared to their neighbours - they wore leather boots instead of traditional Russian lapti (bast shoes), they summoned and expelled princes whenever they pleased; streets of Novgorod were paved with wooden slabs, and local builders and icon-painters were famous throughout the lands.
Novgorod was first mentioned as a fortress in the chronicles of 859, and this date is accepted as a starting point of the city's age. However, historians and archaeologists still debate over the exact date of the city's foundation and the location of the "old" city, compared to which the later settlement was considered "new". Prevailing is the point of view that the old city is the so-called "Gorodische" ("abandoned city"), located on the right bank of the Volkhov river, 2 kilometers from contemporary Novgorod. It is generally considered that Gorodische used to be the settlement of Varangian Prince Rurik who was summoned to rule over Novgorod in the 9th century and who started the royal dynasty of Rurikovichy.
Starting from the very early stage of its existence, Novgorod had a quite different political order than other Russian cities. At the times of the Kievan Rus', the oldest sun of the Great Prince of Kiev traditionally ruled in Novgorod in order to learn the ropes and get skilled. Prince Vladimir, who converted Russia into Christianity, and his son Yaroslav the Wise were among those who occupied Novgorod throne. From the year 1136 and on, Novgorod became "free in princes", which means that princes were invited for a period of time (usually during the wars). He was actually hired on certain conditions which were stated in a contract. If the prince didn't come up to the expectations, he was simply fired and expelled. Moreover, the prince and his troops were forbidden to live within the city borders and hunt nearby.
From the 12th century, the Novgorod Land became an independent feudal republic managed by veche - a gathering of representatives of all city parts. Veche made decisions concerning war and peace, foreign and internal policy and other global matters as well as elect the archbishop of Novgorod.
The history of Novgorod is full of events. Here are the major ones, in chronological order:
- 859 - Novgorod is first mentioned in the chronicles in relation to the famous trading route "from the Varangians to the Greeks".
- 862 Varangian Prince Rurik is invited to rule in Novgorod.
- 1019 Prince Yaroslav the Wise grants Novgorod independence from Kiev and rights of a "free city".
- 1044 Prince Vladimir starts building stone walls of the Kremlin.
- 1045 the first stone cathedral of St. Sophia is founded.
- 1136 Novgorod becomes "free in princes" and is now a republic ruled by veche.
- 1242 Novgorodians, led by Prince Alexander Nevsky, win the Battle in Ice on the Chudskoye Lake against the Livonian knights.
- 1471 Novgorodians loose to the Muskovites the battle on the Shelon' river; annexation of Novgorod to the Moscow kingdom begins.
- 1478 the end of the Novgorod Republic.
- 1570 Novgorod is defeated and pillaged by Ivan the Terrible.
- 1611-1617 Novgorod is occupied by the Swedes.
- 1706 the Likhoud brothers found the first Greek and Latin school in Novgorod.
- 1727 Novgorod becomes a regional centre.
- 1862 the Monument to the Millennium of Russia is opened.
- 1865 Museum of the Society of the Antiquity Lovers is opened in Novgorod as the first provincial museum in the Russian Empire.
- 1941-1945 Novgorod is occupied by the Nazi.
- 1951 the first birch-bark scroll is found during the archaeological excavations.
- 1997 Novgorod is awarded a Banner of Honor of the European Council for its achievements in economic and social development.
- 1999 the historical name of Veliky Novgorod (Novgorod the Great) is returned to the city.
Since the middle of the 20th century, systematic archaeological excavations have been held on a large scale within the city borders and at the Rurik's Gorodische. Local and visiting researchers, students and schoolchildren participate in these excavations. At this time over 2 thousand of lead seals, a large number of weaponry, jewelry, household utensils, and various musical instruments have been found. The subject of great pride for historians is over a thousand of birch-bark scrolls of various contents and in a perfect condition. Among the scrolls there are business contracts, love letters, culinary recipes, commentaries to the Bible, commercial estimates, and even pupils' scribbles. These finds demonstrate total literacy of the inhabitants of medieval Novgorod, including women and commoners, and help understand the details of our ancestors' life and their ways. We cannot but admire the finely crafted items made of wood, metal, leather and glass, multitude and richness of the finds and the amount of the birch-bark scrolls. All these things tell us about former grandeur, power and importance of Veliky Novgorod as a political, religious, trading and cultural centre of ancient Russia.
However, enough talking of the past. What about Novgorod today?
Veliky Novgorod is situated in the North-West of Russia, 180 kilometers from Saint-Petersburg and 524 kilometers from Moscow. The city is easy to reach by car, bus or train.
The climate is moist and moderate continental, with four definite seasons. Winter is snowy, summer is sunny, and in May-June it is the time of famous "white nights".
For those who come for more than one day, the city offers a large variety of hotels of different quality and price levels, from a four-star Beresta Palace Hotel to a hostel. Each of them has available a parking space and a restaurant or cafe. Most of the lodging places are situated within 10 minutes of driving from the historical centre. Numerous restaurants, cafes and bars hospitably open their doors to the guests, and in the summertime the number of eateries doubles, when additional tables are taken out into the streets. There are also night clubs and dance clubs, theatres and a modern movie-centre, billiard clubs and casinos. You will not be bored in Novgorod, either during the day or at night!
Crushed and stripped to the brick, burned down and robbed many times in its history, Novgorod nevertheless was resurrected every time, rebuilt anew and remained undefeated and proud. Perhaps, there is something special in this land - perhaps memories of the former power and wealth, or the traditions of the veche republic - which helps Novgorodians, even today, to find their own way of development and looking at life.