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Citadel, Ancient City and Fortress Buildings of Derbent

Cultural criteria: iii, iv
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 2003

On the west coast of the Caspian Sea, where the Caucasian branches come up quite near to the offshore zone, the ancient Derbent spread over the maritime valleys and hills. Nowadays it is ranked as second city in size of the Republic of Dagestan after the capital Makhachkala lying 125 km to the north.

Derbent is one of the most ancient cities of not only the Caucasus but also the whole Russia. Its history, according to archaeologists, has five millenniums, – just then, already in the Bronze Age, a little settlement emerged in this place that subsequently also acquired urban fortifications.

But one connects the documented formation of Derbent as a sufficiently big city with the Persian tsar of the Sasanid dynasty – Yezdigerd II (governed in 435-57 AD), who raised it at the north border of his possessions, in the elevated and strategically important place – between the mountains and the sea (which is reflected in the name itself: the Iranian “derbend” means “mountain passage”, or “mountain post”).

Approximately a century later, i.e. in the VI century, under another tsar of the same dynasty (Khosrov I Anushirvan – governed in 531-579), on ruins of previous fortifications one raises a reinforced Upper (Old) city, of which the center is an impregnable fortress Naryn-Kala. One also raises two stone fortress walls (they are equipped with powerful towers and majestic entrance gate), which moved away from the citadel and ran parallel to one another towards the sea. These walls now being extant in fragments, once stretched down to the waterside, and ever came into shallow water, enclosing thereby not only the city finding itself in a sort of a protected from enemies “pier”, but also the harbor. Apart from the two main walls, earlier there existed another fortress wall - Dag-Bary (Mountain Wall), 3 m in thickness and up to 10 m in height that moved away from the southwest corner of the citadel and went away towards the Caucasus Mountains for 40 km! (now the Mountain Wall is almost completely demolished, there are only separate extant fragments).

Subsequently, due to its advantageous geographical location, Derbent turns out in one of the biggest and developed mediaeval cities of the East. Though, its history is full of drama: it finds itself in the thick of the stormy events, experiences a lot of assaults and destructions, goes through flourishing and decline periods. In the 630s Derbent is occupied by Khazars, since 652 it is part of Arab Caliphate, in the X century it becomes a center of an independent emirate. Further, in 1071 the city is occupied by Seljuk Turks, in the XIII century it is conquered by Mongols, in the period from the XVI century to the beginning of the XVIII century Derbent is part of Iran. Since 1743 it is a center of the Derbent khanate, and in 1813 Derbent joins Russia.

The Naryn-Kala citadel being now in a good state of preservation, is limited by thick (2-4 m) and high (10-12 m) fortress walls built in two rows of well processed stone blocks filled with debris and lime mortar. On its territory one can see ruins of the Derbent khan’s palace (the second half of the XVIII century), this is also a special underground structure – a “prison cell” (a cellar or prison for khan’s prisoners), baths, guardroom. Ruins of palace structures of earlier periods (beginning with the antique times) remained too.

In the area adjoining the citadel there is a typical Mussulmanish mediaeval city with a network of narrow crooked streets, blind facades of one- and two-storey houses overlook, with mosques, fountains, and baths. In this part of the city there are: the Jumah Mosque complex composed of a mosque proper (the VIII century), madrasah (the XV-XIX centuries) and 3 arched gates (the XVII-XIX centuries), as well as the Kyrhlyar Mosque (the XVII century), the Minaret Mosque (the XVIII century, partly reconstructed in the XIX century) with the only dilapidated minaret in Derbent (the XIV century), the Chertebe Mosque (the XVII-XIX centuries), the previous khan’s mausoleum (the end of the XVIII century). Here one can also see special reservoirs for storing water – underground cisterns (the XVII-XIX centuries), which for Derbent, as for any other stronghold city of those times, was of nearly primary importance. Water was delivered here from mountain sources – by numerous stone and ceramic water conduits found during excavations.

Since 1926 in the Upper city a museum of regional studies has been functioning, and in 1989 the Ancient Derbent State Historical-Architectural and Art Museum-Preserve was organized.