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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

West, Where Russia Begins

Pskov -- a frontier city whose walls withstood 26 sieges and were only overcome once -- still combines Russian defiance that has never known the Mongol invasion with the charisma of its provincial small scale.

Stocky churches typical of Pskovian architecture are interspersed with residential buildings, the fortifying walls that filled enemies with awe are now landscape elements of parks and boulevards, while the rivers and medieval towers all make Pskov seem like an ideal place to grow up and play hide-and-seek. Although the tourism infrastructure in Pskov is only just developing, the destination could eventually rival neighboring Novgorod and be a starting point for a number of interesting side trips.

Your visit should begin with the Kremlin of Pskov, accessible through the massive gates just off Lenin Square. Preceding the actual fortress, or krom, as Pskovians call it, is an area called Dovmont town. It doesn't look much like a town now, but the Pompeii-like ruins dug up by archeologists reveal 18 different church foundations. Facing this accumulation of religious structures are the Prikaznye, or Mandate, Chambers. All of the clerks and ministers of the 18th century were housed in this building, in fact, in one room, deciding on the fates of Pskov and its people. Right now the tables, the books and the scrolls listing marriages and cattle purchases are positioned to look just like they did at the time.

Maria Antonova / MT
On the fortress walls are a sword and shield with the words "He who comes here with a sword will die from a sword." Below are ruins of the ancient Dovmont city.
Historically, Pskov thrived in the 14th and 15th centuries when it was essentially a republic. It minted its own coins and sent talented architects to build the Blagoveshchensky Cathedral in Moscow. Neighboring princedoms such as Novgorod eyed Pskov wanting to undermine it, often by setting Moscow against it.

Maria Antonova / MT
Stone 15th-century burial crosses on display next to the walls of Izborsk fortress.
According to one legend, Ivan the Terrible was once tipped off that Pskovians were rebelling and set out to quell the uprising. A holy fool, an acetic with prophetic tendencies, invited the tsar into his small cell and plopped a chunk of raw meat in front of him, saying: "You are worse than a dog -- a dog would never eat raw human flesh, but you do!" Ivan the Terrible became frightened and left Pskov without harming a soul.

Maria Antonova / MT
Prominent Pskov merchant Pogankin built these chambers for himself. Today the building houses the city's main museum.
The city said goodbye to its independence in 1510, voluntarily joining Moscow. Eventually it lost most of its military importance: After St. Petersburg was built, Pskov assumed the role of a major cultural center. The main streets are Sovietskaya, going south from the Kremlin, and Oktyabrskaya, connecting the Kremlin with the train station. The best view of the Kremlin is from Sovietsky bridge across Pskova river. Zapskovye, or "over Pskova" neighborhood, is full of abandoned chambers of once prominent merchants.

Maria Antonova / MT
Talavskaya tower, one of six towers of the Izborsk fortress, built in the 14th century.
The mysterious Gremyachaya, or rattling, tower on Pskova (pictured page 9) is one of the quaintest parts of town, on a quiet part of the riverbank. In one of the town's legends, adventurers were sent to dig around the tower and its surrounding ancient walls for gold buried there before one of the sieges. It is possible to climb the tower and take in the views that 16th-century guards had.

Sitting atop a hill between two rivers, surrounded by nine kilometers of walls -- longer than any other city in Russia -- Pskov amazed both friendly visitors and enemies seeking to overthrow it.

When Stefan Bathory, king of Poland, came near Pskov with his army after overthrowing nearby towns Velikiye Luki and Polotsk, he wrote in his diary:
"We are admiring Pskov, by God, what a beautiful city, just like Paris!"

How to Get There

By car: There are two ways to drive to Pskov. One is by taking the M10 highway to Novgorod and then switching to the A116. The second way is taking the M9 highway through Volokolamsk and switching to the M20 after Velikiye Luki. The 580-kilometer trip takes about 10 hours.

By train: Express train 010A leaves Leningradsky station nightly at 7:28 p.m. and arrives at 7:35 a.m. Train 296A departs at 8:10 p.m. and arrives at 8:30 a.m.

By air: UTAir and Vyborg fly between Pskov and Vnukovo airport.

What to See

Pskov Kremlin:The Trinity Cathedral in the Kremlin was first built by Tsarina Olga, wife of Prince Igor, the first Orthodox ruler of Russia -- she was baptized in Constantinople around 955.

(8112) 2-09-29.

Pogankin Chambers: The museum documents the history of ancient and medieval Pskov with various articles, all inside the monumental house that belonged to merchant Pogankin -- he was nicknamed thus because of his cruel and greedy nature.

1 Muzeiny Pereulok, (8112) 16-2517/3311.

Mirozhsky Monastery's Cathedral of Transfiguration: Frescoes painted in the 12th century by Greek painters and their pupils are only open to visitors on sunny days. The cathedral is located across the Velikaya river and accessible from Yubileinaya Ulitsa

(8112) 46-73-02.

Where to Stay

Kolos Hotel: A small, tidy hotel located a 10-minute walk from the Kremlin. Rooms start at 1,900 rubles per night for one person, the price includes a hearty breakfast.

6 Ul. Krasny Partizan, (8112) 72-32-56,

Where to Eat

Arsenal: This 24-hour restaurant is located inside one of the old city walls, and is only wide enough for one long row of tables. An encyclopedic menu has Russian and European dishes including baked trout (250 rubles), quail and a decent choice of wines and drinks.

Ul. Oktyabrskaya and Sverdlova intersection.

Lavitsa: A cheap bakery and cafe on the main square across from the Kremlin serves Soviet-style desserts and espresso for 14 rubles, as well as soups salads and entrees.

1 Ul. Sovietskaya, (8112) 22-47-78.

Near Pskov

Izborsk, one of the oldest Russian towns, is about 30 kilometers away. To get there, take highway A212 out of Pskov. Buses to Izborsk leave from the bus station, but be careful not to confuse it with New Izborsk.