Located not far from St Petersburg , Russia ’s capital of the north, Veliki Novgorod, literally, “ Novgorod the Great, the ancient Russian town located on the Volkhov river, is literally steeped in history. Founded in the middle of the 10 th Century, the town is closely linked with the birth of the Russian state. The adoption of Christianity made Novgorod a powerful religious center in the ancient Kievan Russian state. Until the late 15 th Century, when Moscow became the capital of the newly unified Russian state, Novgorod was truly “The Great,” a cradle of democratic values, controlling a huge swathe of territory from Finland in the West to the Northern Ural Mountains in the West. Today, Veliki Novgorod is the first stop for anyone with an interest in Russia ’s fascinating past and the birth of its cultural traditions.
In the sacred history of the Russian Orthodox Church, art and religion have always been inseparably intertwined. As well as being a religious center, Veliki Novgorod was one of Europes great medieval centers of decorative art, jewelry, and especially icon production. Today, it is possible to visit many of Russia ’s oldest religious and artistic sites, all within a stone’s throw of each other. At the top of the list is the Cathedral of St Sophia. Built in 1045, it is the oldest surviving Russian stone monument, and still dominates the town’s Kremlin, or walled fortress, itself is the oldest Kremlin in Russia , dating back 1000 years.. Inside this church some of the earliest examples of Russian Icon painting can be seen in their natural setting, as part of the breathtaking iconostases that form the backdrop for the orthodox religious services which, to this day, take place within the church.
Also within the walls of the Kremlin is the impressive “Monument to the Millenium of Russia,” designed by Mikhail Mikeshin, and erected in 1862. This remarkable bronze edifice pays eternal tribute to the men of state, science, art and letters that made the country an outstanding European power in the 19 th Century.
Other monuments of 12 th Century Novgorod architecture are no less impressive: the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in the Court of Yaroslav, and the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady in St. Anthony’s Monastery. In fact, no other Russian city offers such a wealth of preserved architectural monuments, a fact that has earned the town the soubriquet among scholars of Russian history, “The Russian Florence.”
Across the Volkhov River by footbridge are yet more remnants of a bustling medieval center, the trade yard, which is known as a trading site since the middle of the 8 th Century.
The town can also be seen by boat, with a trip along the river and around Lake Ilmen .
Several museums in the town display the rich finds that have made Novgorod a center of Russian historical and archeological research. The Novgorod State United Museum is the place to see first hand the amazing discoveries unearthed from the soil beneath the city. Also on display are artifacts of medieval jewelry, not to mention famous examples of Russian icon painting from the “ Novgorod ” period of icon design, from some of Russia ’s most famous artists, whose influence has since spread throughout the world.
For those interested in history, Novgorod is an essential stop on a tour of Russia . For those who seek to solve the riddle of the mysterious Russian soul, Veliki Novgorod is the city that holds the answer.