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Derbent ( ; Lezgian: Кьвевар; Azeri: Dərbənd; Avar: Дербенд; Persian: دربند; Judæo-Tat: דארבּאנד / Дэрбэнд / Dərbənd) is a city in the Republic of Dagestanmarker, Russiamarker, close to the Azerbaijani border. It is the southernmost city in Russia, and it is the second most important city of Dagestan. Population: 101,031 (2002 Census); 78,371 (1989 Census). The Azeris are the main ethnic group (42%), followed by Lezgins (25%) and Tabasarans (20%).

Often identified with the legendary Gates of Alexander, Derbent claims to be the oldest city in the Russian Federation. Since antiquity the value of the area as the gate to the Caucasus has been understood and Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic particularity the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world. Over the years different nations gave the city different names, but all connected to the word 'gate'.

Geography

The modern city is built near the western shores of the Caspian Seamarker, south of the Rubas River, on the slopes of the Tabasaran mountains (part of the Bigger Caucasusmarker range). Derbent is well served by transportation, with its own harbour, a railway going south to Bakumarker, and the Baku to Rostov-on-Donmarker road.

To the north of the town is the monument of the Kirk-lar, or forty heroes, who fell defending Dagestan against the Arabs in 728. To the south lies the seaward extremity of the Caucasian wall (fifty metres long), otherwise known as Alexander's Wall, blocking the narrow pass of the Iron Gate or Caspian Gates (Portae Athanae or Portae Caspiae). This, when entire, had a height of 29 ft (9 m) and a thickness of about 10 ft (3 m), and with its iron gates and numerous watch-towers formed a valuable defence of the Persian frontier.

History

View of the city from Naryn-Kala, 1910s
Derbent has an important strategic location in the Caucasus: the city is situated on a narrow, 3-kilometre strip of land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus mountains. Historically, this position allowed the rulers of Derbent to control land traffic between the Eurasian Steppe and the Middle East. The only other practicable crossing of the Caucasus ridge was over the Darial Gorgemarker.

The first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BCE; the site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BCE. Until the 4th century CE it was part of Caucasian Albania, and is traditionally identified with Albana, the capital. The modern name is a Persian word (دربند Darband) meaning "closed gates", which came into use in the end of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th century AD, when the city was refounded by Kavadh I of the Sassanid dynasty of Persia.

The twenty-metre-high walls with thirty north-looking towers are believed to belong to the time of Kavadh's son, Khosrau I of Persia. The Armenian chronicler Movses Kagankatvatsi wrote about "the wondrous walls, for whose construction the Persian kings exhausted our country, recruiting architects and collecting building materials with a view of constructing a great edifice stretching between the Caucasus Mountains and the Great Eastern Sea." Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries Derbent becomes also an important centre for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.

Movses Kagankatvatsi left a graphic description of the sack of Derbent by the hordes of Tong Yabghu of the Western Turkic Khaganate in 627. His successor, Buri-sad, proved unable to consolidate Tong Yabghu's conquests, and the city was retaken by the Persians. In 654 Derbent was captured by the Arabs, who transformed it in an important administrative centre and introduced Islam to the area. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. The Sassanids had also brought Armenians from Syunikmarker to help protect the pass from invaders; as Arab rule weakened in the region at the end of the ninth century, the Armenians living there were able to establish a kingdom of their own, which lasted until the early years of the thirteenth century.

Sassanian fortress in Derbent.


The recent excavations on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea opposite to Derbent, have revealed the eastern counterpart to the wall and fortifications of the city in the Great Wall of Gorgan. Similar Sasanian defensive fortifications—massive forts, garrison towns, long walls—are seen on the eastern shores of the Caspian extending literally into the sea as they are witness emerging from the rising waters of the Caspian in the west at Derbent.

The Caliph Harun al-Rashid spent time living in Derbent, and brought it into great repute as a seat of the arts and commerce. According to Arab historians, Derbent, with population exceeding 50,000, was the largest city of the 9th-century Caucasus. In the 10th century, with the collapse of the Arab Caliphate, Derbent became the capital of an emirate. This emirate often fought losing wars with the neighboring Christian state of Sarir, allowing Sarir to occasionally manipulate Derbent politics. Despite that, the emirate outlived its rival and continued to flourish at the time of the Mongol invasion in 1239.

In the 14th century Derbent was occupied by Tamerlane's armies. In 1437 it fell under the control of the Shirvanshahs of Azerbaijanmarker. During the 16th century Derbent was the arena for wars between Turkeymarker and Persia ruled by the Iranian Safavid dynasty. Ottoman Empire gained control of the city following the Battle of the Torches in 1583 and Ottoman ownership was secured with the Constantinople Treaty (Ferhad Pasha Treaty) in 1590.

By the 1735 Ganja treaty Derbent fell within the Persianmarker state. In 1722 during the Russo-Persian War, Peter the Great of Russiamarker wrested the town from the Persians, but in 1736 the supremacy of Nadir Shah was again recognized. In 1747 Derbent became the capital of the khanate of the same name. During the Persian Expedition of 1796 it was stormed by Russian forces under Valerian Zubov. As a consequence of the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813—between Russian and Persia—Derbent became part of the Russian Empiremarker.
The Caspian Gates.


A large portion of the walls and several watchtowers have been preserved in reasonable shape till our days. The walls, reaching to the sea, date from the 6th century, Sassanid dynasty period. The city has a well preserved citadel (Narin-kala), comprising an area of 45,000 m², enclosed by strong walls. Historical attractions include the baths, the cisterns, the old cemeteries, the caravanserai, the 18th century Khan's mausoleum, as well as several mosques. The oldest mosque is the Juma Mosque, built over a 6th century Christian basilica; it has a 15th century madrassa. Other shrines include the 17th century Kyrhlyar mosque, the Bala mosque and the 18th century Chertebe mosque.

International relations

Twin towns — Sister cities

Derbent is twinned with:

Economy and culture

The city is home to machine building, food, textile, fishing and fishery supplies, construction materials and wood industries. It is the production centre of Russian brandy. The education infrastructure is fairly extensive; there is a university as well as several technical schools. On the cultural front, there is a Lezgin drama theatre (S. Stalsky theatre). About two kilometres from the city is the vacation colony of Chayka (Seagull).

Derbent being in practice a huge museum and with magnificent mountains and shore nearby, a great potential for development of the tourism industry exists, further increased by UNESCOmarker's classification of the Citadel, Ancient City and Fortress as a World Heritage Site in 2003; however, instability in the region has not allowed further development.

Image:Coat of Arms of Derbent (Dagestan) (1843).png|Coat of arms of Derbent (1843).Image:Derbent gate.jpg|A gate in the old city of Derbent.Image:derbent gate2.jpg|A gate of the citadel.Image:Derbent sea.jpg|View on the Caspian Sea.

Notes

  1. Its etymology derives from the Persian Darband ("closed gate"); it was known to the Arabs as Bāb al Abwab ("Gate of Gates") and to the Turks as Demirkapı ("Iron Gate").
  2. Barkhudaryan, Sedrak. “Դերբենդի հայ-աղվանական թագավորությունը” (“The Armenian-Caucasian Albanian Kingdom of Derbend”). Patma-Banasirakan Handes . № 3, 1969, pp. 125-147.
  3. Matthew of Edessa. Ժամանակնագրություն (Chronicle). Translated by Hrach Bartikyan. Yerevan: Armenian SSR: Hayastan Publishing, 1973, pp. 151-152, 332, note 132a.


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