Pskov

Pskov is an undiscovered gem of a small historical city off the beaten tourist paths. It stands in a region of great intrinsic value at the confluence of the borders of Russia, Estonia, and Latvia – the boundaries of powerful former empires. Pskov was founded in 903 by St. Olga, according to legend, at a place that was indicated to her by three beams that had fallen from the sky, beams she subsequently used to build the wooden Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. The city of Pskov then began to grow around it. From the very beginning of its existence Pskov was an important center of trade and handcrafts that was soon integrated into the Hanseatic League. It belonged to the Republic of Novgorod, later becoming an independent city in 1348 and forming the Republic of Pskov with its own parliament, the Veche. In the beginning of the 16th century it joined the Grand Duchy of Moscow, further stimulating its development, and it was during this time that many of its most beautiful monuments and churches were built. Pskov was considered the western gate of Russia and its strongly fortified Krom (kremlin, or fortress) was subject to siege more than 100 times, though it never surrendered. In the 18th century Pskov was no longer a frontier city, as Russia’s borders had moved west, and Pskov fell into sharp decline, something that preserved the city’s architectural legacy. The last tsar abdicated after the Russian revolution in Pskov, and today the city is a true open-air museum where, far from the crowded capitals, you can discover the art and history of Old Russia. Some of its monuments have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the Pskov schools of architecture and iconography are famous all over the world.

Panoramic tour of Pskov. We will tour the town along the banks of the Pskov, Mirozha, and Velykaya rivers, along with its different neighbourhoods: Stadishche, Gorodishche, Polonitsche, Zapskovye, and Zavelichye. After admiring the Alexander Nevsky monument, we will take in examples of Russian architecture from different historical periods: many medieval buildings from the 12th to 15th centuries have survived, including Trinity Cathedral (1138); the Pagankin Trade Yard, today a city museum; the Ivanovsky Monastery, with its wonderful Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (1140); and the Mirozhsky Monastery. These ancient churches feature a particular architectural style: whitewashed with only one dome and characteristic belfries and porches. The monuments from Pskov’s glory days are the most numerous: beautiful churches from the 15th and 16th centuries such as St. Basil on the Hill (1413), Assumption (1444), St. Cosmas and St. Damian (1463), St. George (1494), Epiphany (1496), and St. Nicholas on the Walls (1536). Moving on, we will visit merchant houses, including the Menshikov, Podznoev, and Batov chambers, the Malt House, and the Trubinsky Mansion, all of them from the 17th century. The Pokrov complex is a part of the historical fortifications of Pskov, and here we will see the massive tower and gates, part of the city walls, the Peter bastions, Pokrov church, and the Monument to the 300th Anniversary of the Pokrov Defense, an event that took place in 1581. We will then visit the Pskov Kremlin.

Visit to the Pskov Kremlin. The Pskov Kremlin, called the “Krom” by the city’s inhabitants, is both the main landmark of the oldest part of the city and its historical and architectural center. The kremlin is located on a rocky cape at the junction of the Velikaya and Pskov rivers on the location of wooden fortresses dating back as early as the 8th century, though the actual stone walls were erected in the 15th century during the Pskov Republic. Within the Kremlin walls met the Veche, a popular assembly where all important decisions about state affairs were made. Opposite the Veche area is the symbol of the old Pskovian Land, the Holy Trinity Cathedral (1138, rebuilt in 1699), the highest building in Pskov, featuring a beautiful baroque iconostasis. In 1935 the cathedral was closed by the Soviets, who opened in its place an anti-religion museum. During the occupation of the city by the Germans in 1941-1944 the cathedral was reopened and since then it has never again been closed.

Visit to the Mirozhsky Monastery. Founded during the 12th century at the junction of the Mirozha and Velikaya rivers, the monastery became very prosperous as the main center of the cultural and spiritual life of the city, even producing the first texts in Pskov. The monastery boasted a scriptorium, a library, and an icon-painting workshop and school. Situated on the bank of the Velikaya River opposite the Kremlin and outside its walls’ protection, the monastery has been occupied many times by the city’s attackers, though its Transfiguration Cathedral (1130) has survived every occupation and is the most prominent monument in Pskov, dating back to before the Mongol invasions. The jewels of the cathedral are its wonderful 12th century frescoes. Painted by Greek masters and their Russian pupils, they were whitewashed over in the 18th century, only to be accidentally rediscovered 100 years later. They are now on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Visit to Izborsk. Situated 30 kilometers west of Pskov on the Estonian border, this is one of the oldest Russian fortresses, mentioned even in the “Tale of the Bygone Years,” an ancient history of the Kievan Rus dating back to 862. Throughout its history Izborsk stayed closely linked to Pskov, serving as its outpost and protecting Pskov from its western enemies as one of a complex of more than 30 border forts guarding Russian borders. Beginning in the 13th century and continuing throughout the next three hundred years the fortress was under constant attack, though after the end of the Great Northern War in the 18th century the Russian border was moved west and Izborsk lost its strategic importance. We can still admire most of the walls and powerful towers dating back to the 14th century, foremost among which is Lukovka Tower, which was built in 1330. Inside the fortress is 16th century Nativity Church, and from here we will admire beautiful views of the natural reserve surrounding Izborsk.

Visit to the Pskov-Caves (Pskovo-Pechersky) Monastery. Situated west of Pskov and just 2 kilometers from the Estonian border, it was founded in the 15th century after some eremites settled in local caves. Built as a fortress, it withstood numerous sieges from Russian enemies, including Polish and Swedish armies. Its Church of the Dormition dates back to 1473, a year that is also considered the date of the monastery’s founding. From 1920 until 1944 these lands were inside Estonian territory, sparing the monastery from the Soviet terror and preserving its architecture and treasures, making of it one of the rare Russian monasteries that have never once been closed.