Velikiy Novgorod is the foremost historic city of North-Western Russia, situated on the highway (and railway) connecting Moscow and St Petersburg. " Novgorod" is the Russian for " new city", whereas "Velikiy" means "the Great". An administrative centre of Novgorod Oblast, the city lies along the Volkhov River just below its outflow from Lake Ilmen. Its population is estimated at 290,000. 

Novgorod is the most ancient Slavic city recorded in Russia. The chronicle first mentions it in 854, when it was already a major station on the trade route from the Baltics to Byzantium. By the middle of 10th century, Novgorod had become a fully developed medieval city. Cathedral of St. Sophia (1045) was regarded by medieval Novgorodians as symbol of their independence.


Throughout Middle Ages, the city thrived culturally. Most of the population was literate and used birch bark letters for communication. When Paris and London were drowning in mud, Novgorod was praised by foreigners for its paved embankments and clean streets. Some of the most ancient Russian chronicles were written in the city. 

The city's downfall was a result of its inability to feed its large population, making it dependent on the Vladimir-Suzdal region for grain. The main cities in this area, Moscow and Tver, used this dependence to gain control over Novgorod. 

In 1727, Novgorod was made a capital of the Novgorod government. On August 15, 1941 it was occupied by the Nazi army. Its historic monuments were systematically annihilated. When the Red Army liberated the city on January 19, 1944, out of 2536 stone buildings less than 40 were still standing. After the WWII, the downtown has been gradually restored. Its chief monuments are declared the World Heritage Site. In 1998, the city was officially renamed Velikiy Novgorod, thus partly reverting to its medieval title "Lord Novgorod the Great".


Novgorod 's St Sophia is the oldest church in Russia.

No other Russian or Ukrainian city may compete with Novgorod in the variety and age of its medieval monuments. The foremost among these is the St Sophia Cathedral, built in the 1040s on behest of Yaroslav the Wise. It is the best preserved of 11th century churches, and the first one to represent original features of Russian architecture (austere stone walls, five helmet-like cupolas). Its frescoes were painted in the 12th century and renovated in the 1860s. The cathedral features famous bronze gates, made in Magdeburg in 1156 and reportedly snatched by Novgorodians from the ancient Swedish capital Sigtuna in 1187.

Novgorod kremlin, traditionally known as Detinets, also contains the oldest palace in Russia (the so-called Chamber of the Facets, 1433), the oldest Russian belltower (mid-15th cent.), and the oldest Russian clocktower (1673). Among later structures, the most remarkable are a royal palace (1771) and a bronze monument to the Millenium of Russia, representing the most important figures from the country's history (unveiled in 1862).

Outside Kremlin walls, there are three cathedrals constructed during the reign of Mstislav the Great, the last monarch of united Rus. St Nicholas Cathedral (1113-23), containing frescoes of Mstislav's family, graces Yaroslav's Court (formerly the chief square of Novgorod Republic). The Yuriev Monastery (probably the oldest in Russia, 1030) contains a gloomy Romanesque cathedral from 1119. A similar three-domed cathedral (1117), probably designed by the same masters, stands in the Antoniev Monastery.

There are numerous ancient churches scattered throughout the city. Some of them were blown up by the Nazis and subsequently restored. The most ancient pattern is represented by those dedicated to Sts Peter and Pavel (on the Swallow's Hill, 1185-92), to Annunciation (in Myachino, 1179), to Assumption (on Volotovo Field, 1180s) and to St Paraskeva (at Yaroslav's Court, 1207). The greatest masterpiece of early Novgorod architecture is the Saviour church at Nereditsa (1198). 

Nereditsa church formerly contained the finest 12th-century frescoes in Russia. The frescoes perished when the church was blown up by the Nazis in 1944.

In the 13th century, there was a vogue for tiny churches of three-paddled design. These are represented by a small chapel in Peryn (1230s) and St Nicholas' on the Lipnya Islet (1292, also notable for its 14th-century frescoes). The next century saw development of two original church designs, one of them culminating in St Theodor's church (1360-61, fine frescoes from 1380s), and another one leading to the Saviour church on Ilyina street (1374, painted in 1378 by Feofan Grek). The Saviour' church in Kovalevo (1345) admittedly reflects Serban influence.

During the last century of republican government, some new temples were consecrated to Sts Peter and Paul (on Slavna, 1367; in Kozhevniki, 1406), to Christ's Nativity (at the Cemetery, 1387), to St John the Apostle's (1384), to the Holy Apostles (1455), to St Demetrius (1467), to St Simeon (1462), and other saints. Generally, they are not thought so innovative as the churches from the previous epoch. Several 12th-century shrines (i.e., in Opoki) were demolished brick by brick and then reconstructed exactly as they used to be.

Novgorod 's conquest by Ivan III in 1478 decisively changed the character of local architecture. Large commissions were thenceforth executed by Muscovite masters and patterned after cathedrals of Moscow Kremlin: e.g., the Saviour Cathedral of Khutyn Monastery (1515), the Cathedral of the Sign (1688), the Nicholas Cathedral of Vyaschizhy Monastery (1685). Nevertheless, some parochial churches were still styled in keeping with traditions of local art: e.g., the churches of Holy Wives (1510) and of Sts Boris and Gleb (1586).

In the village of Vitoslavlitsy, on the road from Novgorod to the Yuriev Monastery, a museum of ancient wooden art was established. Many wooden churches, houses and mills, some of the dating to the 14th century, were transported there from all around the Novgorod region.