Novgorod or literally "new city" dates back as early as the middle of
the 9th century. Despite its relatively young age it became one of the
largest and most successful cities in Medieval Russia. Due to its
strategic location it became a key trading center and due to its
seclusion it managed to avoid Mongol invasion of the 13th century that
devastated much of Rus'. Functioning as a democracy Novgorod republic
gathered "veche" or public assembly to discuss policies, hire or dismiss
officials and etc. Unfortunately after loss of its independence to
Moscow prince Ivan III and massacre of Ivan the Terrible Novgorod lost
much of its importance. Only large churches and impressive walls tell of
the time then Novgorod got its respectful greeting of "Lord Great
The Sofia First Chronicle makes initial mention of
it in 859, while the Novgorod First Chronicle first mentions it in
862, when it was purportedly already a major Baltics to Byzantium
station on the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks. The
Charter of Veliky Novgorod recognizes 859 as the year when the city
was first mentioned. Novgorod is traditionally considered to be the
cradle of Russian statehood.
Archaeological excavations in
the middle to late 20th century, however, have found cultural layers
dating back only to the late 10th century, the time of the
Christianization of Rus' and a century after it was allegedly
founded, suggesting that the chronicle entries mentioning Novgorod
in the 850s or 860s are later interpolations. Archaeological dating
is fairly easy and accurate to within 15–25 years, as the streets
were paved with wood, and most of the houses made of wood, allowing
tree ring dating.
The Varangian name of the city Holmgård or
Holmgard (Holmgarðr or Holmgarðir) is mentioned in Norse Sagas as
existing at a yet earlier stage, but the correlation of this
reference with the actual city is uncertain. Originally, Holmgård
referred to the stronghold, now only 2 km (1.2 miles) to the south
of the center of the present-day city, Rurikovo Gorodische (named in
comparatively modern times after the Varangian chieftain Rurik, who
supposedly made it his "capital" around 860). Archaeological data
suggests that the Gorodishche, the residence of the Knyaz (prince),
dates from the mid-9th century, whereas the town itself dates only
from the end of the 10th century; hence the name Novgorod, "new
city", from Old Church Slavonic Новъ and Городъ (Nov and Gorod),
although German and Scandinavian historiography suggests the Old
Norse term Nýgarðr, or the Old High German term Naugard. First
mention of this Nordic or Germanic etymology to the name of the city
of Novgorod (and that of other cities within the territory of the
then Kievan Rus') occurs in the 10th-century policy manual De
Administrando Imperio by Byzantine emperor Constantine VII.
Slightly predating the chronology of the legend of Rurik (which
dates the first Norse arrival in the region around 858–860), an
earlier record for the Scandinavian settlement of the region is
found in the Annales Bertiniani (written up until 882) where a Rus'
delegation is mentioned as having visited Constantinople in 838 and,
intending to return to the Rus' Khaganate via the Baltic Sea, were
questioned by Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious at Ingelheim am
Rhein, where they said that although their origin was Swedish, they
had settled in Northern Rus' under a leader who they designated as
chacanus (the Latin form of Khagan, a title they had likely borrowed
from contact with the Avars).
Princely state within Kievan
Rus' In 882, Rurik's successor, Oleg of Novgorod, conquered Kiev
and founded the state of Kievan Rus'. Novgorod's size as well as its
political, economic, and cultural influence made it the second most
important city in Kievan Rus'. According to a custom, the elder son
and heir of the ruling Kievan monarch was sent to rule Novgorod even
as a minor. When the ruling monarch had no such son, Novgorod was
governed by posadniks, such as the legendary Gostomysl, Dobrynya,
Konstantin, and Ostromir.
Of all their princes, Novgorodians
most cherished the memory of Yaroslav the Wise, who sat as Prince of
Novgorod from 1010 to 1019, while his father, Vladimir the Great,
was a prince in Kiev. Yaroslav promulgated the first written code of
laws (later incorporated into Russkaya Pravda) among the Eastern
Slavs and is said to have granted the city a number of freedoms or
privileges, which they often referred to in later centuries as
precedents in their relations with other princes. His son, Vladimir,
sponsored construction of the great St. Sophia Cathedral, more
accurately translated as the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom, which stands
to this day.
Early foreign ties
In Norse sagas the city is mentioned as the
capital of Gardariki. Four Viking kings—Olaf I of Norway, Olaf II of
Norway, Magnus I of Norway, and Harald Hardrada—sought refuge in
Novgorod from enemies at home. No more than a few decades after the
1030 death and subsequent canonization of Olaf II of Norway, the
city's community had erected in his memory Saint Olaf's Church in
The Gotland town of Visby functioned as the leading
trading center in the Baltic before the Hansa League. At Novgorod in
1080, Visby merchants established a trading post which they named
Gutagard (also known as Gotenhof). Later, in the first half of the
13th century, merchants from northern Germany also established their
own trading station in Novgorod, known as Peterhof. At about the
same time, in 1229, German merchants at Novgorod were granted
certain privileges, which made their position more secure.
Novgorod Republic In 1136, the Novgorodians dismissed their
prince Vsevolod Mstislavich. The year is seen as the traditional
beginning of the Novgorod Republic. The city was able to invite and
dismiss a number of princes over the next two centuries, but the
princely office was never abolished and powerful princes, such as
Alexander Nevsky, could assert their will in the city regardless of
what Novgorodians said. The city state controlled most of Europe's
northeast, from lands east of today's Estonia to the Ural Mountains,
making it one of the largest states in medieval Europe, although
much of the territory north and east of Lakes Ladoga and Onega was
sparsely populated and never organized politically.
the most important local figures in Novgorod was the posadnik, or
mayor, an official elected by the public assembly (called the Veche)
from among the city's boyars, or aristocracy. The tysyatsky, or
"thousandman", originally the head of the town militia but later a
commercial and judicial official, was also elected by the Veche.
Another important local official was the Archbishop of Novgorod who
shared power with the boyars. Archbishops were elected by the Veche
or by the drawing of lots, and after their election, were sent to
the metropolitan for consecration.
While a basic outline of
the various officials and the Veche can be drawn up, the
city-state's exact political constitution remains unknown. The
boyars and the archbishop ruled the city together, although where
one official's power ended and another begins is uncertain. The
prince, although his power was reduced from around the middle of the
12th century, was represented by his namestnik, or lieutenant, and
still played important roles as a military commander, legislator and
jurist. The exact composition of the Veche, too, is uncertain, with
some historians, such as Vasily Klyuchevsky, claiming it was
democratic in nature, while later scholars, such as Marxists
Valentin Ianin and Aleksandr Khoroshev, see it as a "sham democracy"
controlled by the ruling elite.
In the 13th century,
Novgorod, while not a member of the Hanseatic League, was the
easternmost kontor, or entrepôt, of the league, being the source of
enormous quantities of luxury (sable, ermine, fox, marmot) and
non-luxury furs (squirrel pelts).
Throughout the Middle Ages,
the city thrived culturally. A large number of birch bark letters
have been unearthed in excavations, perhaps suggesting widespread
literacy, although this is uncertain (some scholars suggest that a
clerical or scribal elite wrote them on behalf of a largely
illiterate populace). It was in Novgorod that the Novgorod Codex,
the oldest Slavic book written north of Bulgaria, and the oldest
inscription in a Finnic language (Birch bark letter no. 292) were
unearthed. Some of the most ancient Russian chronicles (Novgorod
First Chronicle) were written in the scriptorium of the archbishops
who also promoted iconography and patronized church construction.
The Novgorod merchant Sadko became a popular hero of Russian
Novgorod was never conquered by the Mongols during
the Mongol invasion of Rus. The Mongol army turned back about 200
kilometers (120 mi) from the city, not because of the city's
strength, but probably because the Mongol commanders did not want to
get bogged down in the marshlands surrounding the city. However, the
grand princes of Moscow, who acted as tax collectors for the khans
of the Golden Horde, did collect tribute in Novgorod, most notably
Yury Danilovich and his brother, Ivan Kalita.
In 1259, Hordes tax-collectors and census-takers
arrived in the city, leading to political disturbances and forcing
Alexander Nevsky to punish a number of town officials (he cut off
their noses) for defying him as Grand Prince of Vladimir (soon to be
the khan's tax-collector in Russia) and his Mongol overlords. In the
14th century, raids by Novgorod pirates, or ushkuiniki, sowed fear
as far as Kazan and Astrakhan, assisting Novgorod in wars with the
Grand Duchy of Moscow.
During the era of Old Rus' State,
Novgorod was a trade hub at the northern end of both the Volga trade
route and the "route from the Varangians to the Greeks" along the
Dnieper river system. A vast array of goods were transported along
these routes and exchanged with local Novgorod merchants and other
traders. The farmers of Gotland retained the Saint Olof trading
house well into the 12th century. Later German merchantmen also
established trading houses in Novgorod. Scandinavian royalty would
intermarry with Russian princes and princesses.
great schism, Novgorod struggled from the beginning of the 13th
century against Swedish, Danish, and German crusaders. During the
Swedish-Novgorodian Wars, the Swedes invaded lands where some of the
population had earlier paid tribute to Novgorod. The Germans had
been trying to conquer the Baltic region since the late 12th
century. Novgorod went to war 26 times with Sweden and 11 times with
the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. The German knights, along with
Danish and Swedish feudal lords, launched a series of uncoordinated
attacks in 1240–1242. Novgorodian sources mention that a Swedish
army was defeated in the Battle of the Neva in 1240. The Baltic
German campaigns ended in failure after the Battle on the Ice in
1242. After the foundation of the castle of Viborg in 1293 the
Swedes gained a foothold in Karelia. On August 12, 1323, Sweden and
Novgorod signed the Treaty of Nöteborg, regulating their border for
the first time.
Expansion of Muscovy The city's downfall
occurred partially as a result of its inability to feed its large
population, making it dependent on the Vladimir-Suzdal region for
grain. The main cities in the area, Moscow and Tver, used this
dependence to gain control over Novgorod. Eventually Ivan III
forcibly annexed the city to the Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1478. The
Veche was dissolved and a significant part of Novgorod's population
was either killed or deported. The Hanseatic League kontor was
closed in 1494 and the goods stored there were seized by Muscovite
At the time of annexation, Novgorod became the third
largest city under Muscovy (with 5,300 homesteads and 25–30 thousand
inhabitants in the 1550s) and remained so until the famine of the
1560s and the Massacre of Novgorod in 1570. In the Massacre, Ivan
the Terrible sacked the city, slaughtered thousands of its
inhabitants, and deported the city's merchant elite and nobility to
Moscow, Yaroslavl and elsewhere. The last decade of the 16th century
was a comparatively favorable period for the city as Boris Godunov
restored trade privileges and raised the status of Novgorod bishop.
The German trading post was reestablished in 1603.
Time of Troubles, Novgorodians submitted to Swedish troops led by
Jacob De la Gardie in the summer of 1611. The city was restituted to
Muscovy, a brief six years later, by the Treaty of Stolbovo and only
regained a measure of its former prosperity towards the end of the
century, when such ambitious buildings as the Cathedral of the Sign
and the Vyazhischi Monastery were constructed. The most famous of
Muscovite patriarchs, Nikon, was active in Novgorod between 1648 and
1652. The Novgorod Land became one of the Old Believers' strongholds
after the Schism.
In 1727, Novgorod was made the
administrative center of Novgorod Governorate of the Russian Empire,
which was detached from Saint Petersburg Governorate. This
administrative division existed until 1927. Between 1927 and 1944,
the city was a part of Leningrad Oblast, and then became the
administrative center of the newly formed Novgorod Oblast.
On August 15, 1941, during World War II, the city
was occupied by the German Army. Its historic monuments were
systematically obliterated. The Red Army liberated the city on
January 19, 1944. Out of 2,536 stone buildings, fewer than forty
remained standing. After the war, thanks to plans laid down by
Alexey Shchusev, the central part was gradually restored. In 1992,
the chief monuments of the city and the surrounding area were
inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as the Historic
Monuments of Novgorod and Surroundings. In 1999, the city was
officially renamed Veliky Novgorod (literally, Great Novgorod), thus
partly reverting to its medieval title "Lord Novgorod the Great".
This reduced the temptation to confuse Veliky Novgorod with Nizhny
Novgorod, a larger city the other side of Moscow which, between 1932
and 1990, had been renamed Gorky, in honor of Maxim Gorky.
Get in By plane Novgorod Airport (NVR IATA) is not
operational. It was a busy airport during the time of the USSR.
By train The Novgorod-Na-Volhove train station is located
1.5km west of the city center, the river, and the Detinets
Russian Railways operates trains between the
Novgorod-Na-Volhove train station and Saint Petersburg's Moskovskiy
Vokzal station (3 hours, early morning and late evening, ~400 руб)
as well as Moscow's Leningradskii Vokzal station (8 hours,
overnight, 800+ руб). The trains to/from Saint Petersburg are all
seated and can be uncomfortable, although there is a lot of leg
room. The overnight trains to/from Moscow feature soft berths and
compartments for an additional charge.
All trains and
elektrichkas make a brief stop in Chudovo, where you can get out of
the train and use a very unpleasantly dirty bathroom.
luggage services are available at the Novgorod-Na-Volhove train
By bus The bus station in Novgorod is located
across the street from the train station.
Several buses run
daily from Saint Petersburg's Main Bus Terminal to Novgorod (several
daily, 4 hours, ~200 руб). Buses to Moscow operate only during the
summer, but the trip is long and inconvenient. Buses also operate to
Tver, Pskov, Riga, and other cities in the Novgorod region.
Get around By bus Novgorod has both bus and trolleybus
systems. Running approximately every 5 minutes, buses and
trolleybuses will get you to every part of the city. Bus &
trolleybus route maps and timetables are available online in
By foot Novgorod is a walking-friendly city, and
if you like long walks, everything in the city is within walking
distance. The advantage is also that you have a chance to see the
beautiful architecture of the city.
By bicycle Bicycles
are a perfect way to get around Novgorod. Bicycle and rollerblade
rental are available at the "Shooting Club" on the Main Alley of the
Kremlin Park. Phone: +7 921 731 74 32.
Budget Yaroslav Hostel, Nikolskaja Street #4 (Just east of the
river). Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 12PM. Bright colors! Dorm bed:
Mid-range Hotel Acron, Ul. Predtechenskaya
24 (Next to the Volkhov Hotel but with a separate entrance), ☎ +7
8162 73-69-08, +7 8162 73-69-12, fax: +7 (8162) 73-69-18, e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. One of the less expensive decent options in the
city center. Single: 1,600 руб; Double: 2,200 руб. Intourist
(Гостиница «Интурист»), ☎ +78162 77-42-36. Located in central part
of a town (10 mins walk from Kremlin). All rooms are ensuite and
have been recently renovated. Breakfast is not included in the price
and costs 300 Rubles pp. There is a restaurant inside hotel. double
1800-2200 Rubles. Sadko Hotel, Ul. Fedorovsky Ruchei (Across the
river from the Kremlin, about a 30-40 minute walk from the train
station), ☎ +7 8162 66-09-20, fax: +7 (8162) 60-30-17, e-mail:
email@example.com. Mid-range, clean, renovated 3-star hotel with
restaurant. Single: 2,000-2,100 руб; Double: 2,800-3,000 руб,
including breakfast. Volkhov Hotel, Ul. Predtechenskaya 24
(Between the train station and the Kremlin, about a 10-minute walk
from each.), ☎ +7 8162 33-55-48, fax: +7 (8162) 33-55-51, e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 11:00, check-out: 12:00. Mid-range
3-star hotel Single: 2,150 руб; Double: 3,100 руб, including
Splurge Beresta Palace, Ul. Studentechskaya 2
(North of the city center on the east side of the river,), ☎ +7 8162
94-09-10, e-mail: email@example.com. Novgorod's top class
hotel, with the most amenities, a moderate distance from the city
center. Singles: US$97; Doubles: US$109.
Budget 1 "The central cooking", dining room ("Центральная
кулинария", столовая), 2/13 Fedorovskiy Ruchey st., ☎ +7 816 2 69 32
33. 8.00 - 20.00. Dirty cheap place to eat. Self-service
Mid-range Cafe Charodeyka, Ul. Volosova 1 (Corner of Sofiyskaya
Square across from the Fine Arts Museum), ☎ +7 8162 730-879, e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. A comfortable, trendy cafe with excellent
food and coffee, a short walk outside the Kremlin walls. For both
salads and main courses, you choose your own ingredients and sauces
from a list on the menu. English menu. Has a sidewalk cafe in the
summer. 2 Derzhavnyy ("Державный", кафе-бар), 5/2 Gazon st.
(opposite Kremlin), ☎ +7 816 2 90 58 78, +7 816 2 73 21 33. 12.00 -
23.00. Freaking good food, Russian cuisine. Although prepare to wait
as they tend to cook it for quite long. Portions aren't particularly
big, so grab few ones. mains 150-400 Rubles. 3 Fregat Flagman
(Фрегат Флагман) (near the walking bridge over the river), ☎ +7 911
600 66 06, +7 816 2 606 606, e-mail: email@example.com. 12.00 -
23.00 (Mon - Fri); 12.00 - 06.00 (Sat, Sun). This is a real-size
ship - restaurant with some great views over the Kremlin and
surroundings 4 Ilmen (Ильмень), 2a Gazon st., ☎ +7 816 2 77 70
60, +7 816 2 77 71 92. 12.00 - 24.00. Some OK food, small portions.
They serve quite fast. mains 300 Rubles.
fortune-telling, Vitoslavlitsy. 3 King Festival («Малый»,
новгородский театр для детей и молодежи), 32А Mira bul., ☎ +7 816 2
65 54 53, fax: +7 (8162) 65 54 53, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mid-April. They sometimes hold performances in English
International Bell Ringing Festival, Vitoslavlitsy.
International Music Festival and the International Young Pianists
Contest. April-May Ivan Kupala Day (pagan holiday merged with
the Christian holiday of Birth of Saint John the Baptist),
Ilmen-lake. Summer festival "Sadko" (Садко). You can see real
old-Russian folklore. "Sadko" based on Russian medieval epic Bylina.
Adventurer, merchant and Musician from Novgorod. Also the main
character from a Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov opera.
Buy Souvenirs, particularly wooden handicrafts and birch-bark
paintings, can be found at many locations, including the souvenir
market on Sennaya Square (to one's right as one faces the Kremlin
from Sofiyskaya Square and the Lenin Statue).