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Izborsk Fortress - On the Frontiers of the Rus

 Izborsk fortress

A long time ago, in olden times, when the fields and forests of Russia were a home to many animals and birds, and when the trade route between the Varangians to the Greeks was the main trade artery, there was the great fortress called Izborsk. It is of this famous place of our land, I wish to tell you about now. 

Izborsk fortress
What the fortress looked like to attackers (

With walls and towers situated on the highest hill of the picturesque Malskaya valley, the legendary Izborsk fortress once stood proudly.  It's insurmountable limestone walls reliably protected residents from all enemy attacks, a precipice not chosen by simple chance. No, the steep hills and deep ravines nearby made for ideal protection from siege on both sides of fortress located on Zheravi Mountain, which afforded the defenders an unimpeded panorama of approaching danger from ten kilometers or more. Even to this day Izborsk fortress looks proud and unapproachable.

The first time Izborsk was mentioned in " The Tale of Bygone Years " - the ancient chronicles, it was written in 862. This is the year where it was supposed the iconic three brothers administration in Rus' began. The names Rurik, Sineus and Truvor speak of a reign which would culminate in what is today modern Russia. Rurik began to reign in Novgorod, while Sineus established himself at Belo Ozero. As for the youngest of the three, Truvor came to Izborsk. And while his reign was short - only two years, after his death the descendants built a stone cross, which reminds us of him and those heady times when Russia was but a imagined dream.

The stone cross

The main walls and towers of the Izborsk fortress were built in 1330. These walls withstood a total of 9 sieges over the following 100 years. This was a century of unsusuceesful conquest for those besieging the city, of the Crusaders who fiercely wanted to get that piece of land they called the fortress "Iron town". And it was the courage and bravery of its defenders that made the attackers attribute the honorary title of " The Russian Land Stronghold ".

From this rigid stronghold Russia graudally expanded its borders of to the West, so the fortress lost its border protective function during Peter I's reign, the settlement becaming simply a county town of the Pskov region. St. Nicholas Cathedral, located inside the fortress, was built in the 14th century as a place of consolation and where locals could pray. Here ancient crosses with illegible inscriptions look out over the magnificent valley and the Gorodischenkoe Lake below. 

From the top of Izborsk fortress
From the top of Izborsk Fortress (

Izborsk has more famous landmarks too. Slovenian springs is a place of pilgrimage for many Orthodox Christians. Here 2 springs run forth from the limestone slabs near the Gorodischenkoe Lake shore. These are sometimes called the Twelve Apostles Springs, waters the healing power of which is widely known since the 16th century. Local beliefs say: " The one who will get up at dawn, and who will reach 12 sources barefoot, will have a wash in the first, will plunge into the fifth, and will drink water in the tenth, they shall live healthy and happy for 150 years."

Izborsk fortress
Springs at Izborsk

Izborsk is also an attractive place for culture and artistic pursuits. Here a unique aura of the place left its mark on the life of the famous painter Nikolai Rerikh, who In the early 20th century visited Izborsk and painted several pictures, including the famous "The Towers" and "The cross on the Truvor site". Poets too, often praise the wondrous charm of these places, artists paint pictures, and simple people, like me, come to Old Izborsk again and again, to breathe the air of freedom, to drink in the life-giving waters of those magical springs, and to recall where we come from. 

Additional photo credits: Special thanks to, and Alexander Voivodeship, and Road Planet.