Izborsk (Russian: Избо́рск; Estonian: Irboska; Seto: Irbosk, Irbuska) is a rural locality (village) in Pechorsky District of Pskov Oblast, Russia. It contains one of the most ancient and impressive fortresses of Western Russia. The village lies 30 kilometers (19 mi) to the west of Pskov and just to the east of the Russian-Estonian border.
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According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, the town was the seat of Rurik's brother Truvor from 862-864. Although his burial mound is still shown to occasional tourists, archaeological excavations of long barrows abounding in the vicinity did not reveal the presence of the Varangian settlement at the site, indicating that Izborsk was an important centre of the early Krivichs.
The next mention of the town in Slavonic chronicles dates back to 1233, when the place was captured by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. In 1330 the Pskov posadnik Sheloga constructed the Izborsk fortress on the top of Zheravya hill.
In the later 16th century, Izborsk was one of the smaller, but nonetheless strategically important fortresses that protected the northwest Russian borders from invasion. The fortress was supposed to be impregnable, which is why the seizure of it in 1569 by a small Lithuanian regiment came as such a shock to the then ruler, Ivan the Terrible. The relative ease and suspicious circumstances of the seizure of the fortress deeply troubled the already paranoid Ivan. In the dead of night Teterin, a Russian turncoat disguised as an oprichnik, ordered the gates of the town be opened in the name of the oprichnina, thus allowing the enemy regiment to enter and overtake the fortress (the town of Izborsk, however, was never listed as territory where oprichnina governance applied).
Though Ivan managed to retake the city with little difficulty, the treachery and conspiracy involved in the original seizure led him to order the executions of the assistant crown secretaries of Izborsk, as well as the secretaries of the surrounding fortresses. With rumors of disaffection and growing discontent throughout the country on the rise, Ivan feared that other cities would soon follow the treasonous example of Izborsk. The proximity of the town to the cities of Novgorod and Pskov, coupled with the questionable implication of Novgorod's chancery administration in Teterin's plot, threw suspicion of treachery and defection onto the already distrusted city.
During the siege of Pskov (1581) Izborsk was captured by the Lithuanian troops, but after the Truce of Yam-Zapolsky (1582) handed over to the Muscovy.
After the Great Northern War Izborsk ceased to be a western borderline fortress of Russian state. In 1708 it joined the newly-established Governorate of Saint-Petersburg (until 1710 called Ingermanland Governorate), where it was listed as the centre of uyezd within the Pskov Province. In 1727 the whole Pskov province was transferred to the Novgorod Governorate, and later transformed into a part of the larger Pskov Governorate, where Izborsk was listed as a town until 1920.
In 1920, according to the Treaty of Tartu, the Russian-Estonian state boundary went eastwards of Izborsk and thus the town became part of Estonia. During 1940-1945 the town remained within the Estonian SSR (1941-1944 under Nazi occupation).
In 1945 Russian SFSR/Estonian SSR border was redefined to resemble the pre-1918 borders between the Livonia and Pskov Governorate, leaving Izborsk with the Pskov Oblast of the Russian SFSR, now Russian Federation.
Truvor's gorodishche is a settlement about half a kilometer north from the fortress that came about in the late 7th and early 8th century, and proceeded to grow twice in size in the 10th and 11th centuries. It was the predecessor of the Izborsk Fortress, protected by an oakwood wall which was later upgraded to stone, 3 meters in height by 3 meters in width in the 12th century.
To accommodate a larger capacity, the Izborsk Fortress was moved to its present location on the summit of Zheravya ("Crane") Hill in the year 1303, and the Lukovka Tower was built from stone on the outer edge, standing at 13 meters in height, and 9.5 meters in diameter.
First wooden fortress on the current site was built in early XIV century. The most ancient extant structure is the Tower Lukovka (literally, "Onion Tower"). At that time it was the only stone building west of Pskov and adjoined a wooden wall. The walls surrounding the fortress were modified from wood to stone soon after, in 1330. After seven other stone towers and the new stone wall were completed, Lukovka became a watch-tower and an armory. The Nativity church within the fortress was built in the 16th century.
The walls were yet again thickened in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the towers were now compatible with cannons. The side that was most prone to attack was designed thicker than the others, at 5 meters in width, while the rest range from 2.5 to 3.7 meters. The towers were built at a maximum of 60 meters apart for reinforcement.
There were two entrances to the fortress, both constructed with a barbican. The Nikolski gate, which is the larger of the two, has an inner gate with a tower and a portcullis, and is 90 meters long and 5 meters wide.The Talavski entrance is 36 meters long and 4 meters wide. The fortress' southeast side was equipped an underground stone hallway that provided access to a spring well.
Early XVIII century the fortress lost its borderline status and was abandoned. Due to the inclement weather and climate of the region, the fortress faced deterioration. First renovations of the deserted fortress were carried out in 1842 after the order approved by Nicolas I.
Recent restoration of the fortress, completed in 2012, was accompanied by gross embezzlement of money, and the fortress was severely damaged. On 15 March 2016, Grigory Pirumov, deputy minister of culture of Russia, and two other offices of the Ministry of Culture, were arrested on criminal charges related to the embezzlement. The repair and archaeological works are still in process.
Near the fortress there is a museum of stone crosses.
Though Truvor's gorodishche is mostly destroyed, a small part of the wall remains today.
In 2002, the Izborsk Fortress was nominated to be a part of Russia's World Heritage Tentative List.
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- Skrynnikov, R. G., and Hugh F. Graham. Ivan the Terrible. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International, 1981. [p 120]
- Nossov, Konstantin (2007). Medieval Russian Fortresses: AD 862-1480. Oxford, UK: Osprey. pp. 35–36.
- "Izborsk, Russia – Global Heritage Fund". Global Heritage Fund. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
- "Дело о хищениях в Минкультуры: как работала "прачечная" на миллиарды" (in Russian). Moskovsky Komsomolets. 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
- Snyder, Timothy (2018). The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. London, U.K.: The Bodley Head. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-847-92526-8.
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