Pskov is an ancient city, located in the north-west of Russia about 20 km east from the Estonian border, on the Great River. The city of Pskov serves as the administrative center of Pskov Oblast. Population: 202,780 (2002 Census)
The name of the city, originally spelled Pleskov, may be loosely translated as "the town of purling waters". Its earliest mention comes in 903, which records that Igor of Kiev married a local lady, St. Olga. Pskovians sometimes take this year as the city's foundation date, and in 2003 a great jubilee took place to celebrate Pskov's 1,100th anniversary.
The first prince of Pskov was St. Vladimir's younger son Sudislav. Once imprisoned by his brother Yaroslav, he wasn't released until the latter's death several decades later. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the town adhered politically to the Novgorod Republic. In 1241, it was taken by the Teutonic knights, but Alexander Nevsky liberated it several months later during his legendary campaign.
In order to secure their independence from the knights, the Pskovians elected a converted Lithuanian prince, named Daumantas (known in Russian as Dovmont), as their military leader and prince in 1266. Having fortified the town, Daumantas routed the knights at Rakovor and overran much of Estonia. His remains and sword are preserved in the local Kremlin, and the core of the citadel, erected by him, still bears the name of Dovmont's town.
By the 14th century, the town functioned as the capital of a de-facto sovereign republic. Its most powerful force was the merchants who brought the town into the Hanseatic league. Pskov's independence was formally recognized by Novgorod in 1348. Several years later, the veche promulgated a law code (called the Pskov Charter) which was one of the principal sources of the all-Russian law code issued in 1497.
For Russia, the Pskov Republic was a bridge towards Europe. For Europe, it was a western outpost of Russia and subject of numerous attacks throughout the history. Unbelievably, the Kremlin (called by Pskovians the Krom) withstood 26 sieges in the 15th century alone. At one point, five stone walls ringed it, making the city practically impregnable. A local school of icon-painting flourished, and local masons were considered the best in Russia. Many peculiar features of Russian architecture were first introduced in Pskov.
Finally, in 1510, the city fell to Muscovite forces. The deportation of noble families to Moscow is a subject of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Pskovityanka (1872). As the second largest city of Muscovy, Pskov still attracted enemy armies. Most famously, it withstood a prolonged siege by 50,000-strong Polish army during the final stage of the Livonian War (1581–1582). The king of Poland Stefan Batory undertook some 31 attacks to storm the city, which was defended mainly by civilians. Even after one of the city walls was broken, the Pskovians managed to fill the gap and repel the attack. "It's amazing how the city reminds me of Paris", wrote one of the Frenchmen present at Batory's siege.
Peter the Great's conquest of Estonia and Latvia in the early 18th century spelled the end of Pskov's traditional role as a vital border fortress and a key to Russia's interior. As a consequence, the city's importance and well-being declined dramatically, although it has served as a capital of separate government since 1777. It was here that the last Russian tsar abdicated in March 1917.
During World War I Pskov became the center of much activity behind the lines, and after the Russo-German Brest-Litovsk Peace Conference (December 22, 1917–March 3, 1918), in the winter of 1917–1918, the Imperial German Army invaded the area.
The medieval citadel provided little protection against modern artillery, and during World War II Pskov suffered substantial damage during the German occupation from July 9, 1941 until July 23, 1944. Many ancient buildings, particularly churches, suffered destruction before the Wehrmacht could occupy the city. Though a huge portion of the population died during the war, Pskov has since struggled to regain its traditional position as a major industrial and cultural centre of Western Russia.
Pskov still preserves much of its medieval walls, built from the 13th century on. The Krom, or medieval citadel, looks as impressive as ever. Within its walls rises the 256-foot-tall Trinity Cathedral, founded in 1138 and rebuilt in the 1690s. The cathedral contains the tombs of saint princes Vsevolod (died in 1138) and Dovmont (died in 1299). Other ancient cathedrals adorn the Mirozhsky abbey (completed by 1152), St. John's (completed by 1243), and the Snetogorsky monastery (built in 1310 and painted in 1313).
Among the sights in the vicinity of Pskov are Izborsk, a seat of Rurik's brother in the 9th century and one of the most formidable fortresses of medieval Russia; the Pskov Monastery of the Caves, the oldest continually functioning monastery in Russia and a magnet for pilgrims from all over the country; the 16th-century Krypetsky Monastery; Elizarovo Monastery, which used to be a great cultural and literary centre of medieval Russia; and Mikhailovskoe, a family nest of Alexander Pushkin where he wrote some of the best known lines in the Russian language.