Being first mentioned in 903, Pskov is located at the junction of essential trading routes. The Western hostile forces repeatedly tried to invade the Russian State, but every time they suffered total defeat at the foot of Pskov Fortress.
Pskov Kremlin – “Krom” / Alexander Kozlov (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The beginning of the Pskov lands
In the first centuries A.D. this region became inhabited by the Finno-Ugric and then the Slavic tribes. In the eighth century, the locals had to build an earth bank with wooden towers and pale fences to defend themselves from the constant Lithuanian and Chud raids. Soon the wooden walls of Pskov Fortress were replaced with the stone ones.
Its efficient defensive construction did a great job protecting the citizens of Pskov from the attacks of Germans, Dutch and Lithuanians. As a result, the town was thriving at that time. Unfortunately, armed resistance to the Western invaders was the only option for the locals as any diplomatic efforts came to nothing.
In 1240, Pskov was captured the first and the only time in its history when the war chief opened the gates and let in the soldiers of the Livonian Order. Two years later, in 1242, the legendary Russian Prince Alexander Nevsky reached the town and recaptured it in one blitz-attack.
However, Pskov Fortress was not the only fortification in the Pskov lands. The second one – Izborsk Fortress – is situated in several kilometers from Pskov.
During the period of feudal disunity Pskov got under control of the Novgorod Republic, then it became the independent Principality of Pskov and finally entered the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Even before that the Princes of Pskov helped the rulers from Moscow to repel the Mongol-Tatar attacks.
Vladimir Serov. Alexander Nevsky’s Entry into Pskov (1945, the State Russian Museum)
Dovmont of Pskov
The Lithuanian nobleman Dovmont came to Pskov in the second half of the thirteenth century. He decided to become baptized into Orthodoxy and assumed the name Timofey. Due to his outstanding leading and military talents, Dovmont was chosen the Prince of Pskov. Although he was of the Lithuanian origin, Dovmont efficiently protected Russia’s western borders. He defeated the Lithuanians, Germans and Dutch independently or within the united Russian army.
The stand against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
In the fifteenth century Pskov Fortress had four lines of defensive walls. In 1581, the army of Stephen Bathory, one of the most gifted European combat leaders, approached Pskov. Although the combined Polish-Lithuanian-German-Hungarian forces had been besieging Pskov Fortress for five months and constantly assaulting it, they ultimately failed. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was stopped near Pskov and the Russian lands were spared devastation.
Karl Bryullov. The Siege of Pskov by the Polish King Stephen Bathory in 1581 (1839-43). Inspired by the success of his painting “The Last Day of Pompeii”, Karl Bryullov depicted the first Polish storm of Pskov when the enemy forces exploded its defensive wall and the Russian army along with common people sprang to its defense
Later Pskov suffered from numerous attacks of the Poles and Swedes, but was never captured. The victory of the Russian army in the Great Northern War put an end to centuries-long foreign attacks on Pskov.
The decline of Pskov
In the eighteenth century several Baltic towns were merged in Russia and its borders were moved further to the West. When Peter the Great started to build the new Russian capital Saint Petersburg, Pskov completely lost its significance and turned into a small provincial town.
The twentieth century is filled with tragic events for Pskov. There the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II the Bloody abdicated. In the course of the First and the Second World Wars Pskov was occupied by the German troops.