Derbent (Russian: Дербе́нт dyeer-BEHNT) is a 5,000-year-old city in Dagestan on the Caspian Sea, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the location of the mythical "Gates of Alexander," and easily one of the most impressive historical sites in Russia.
It is the southernmost city in Russia. Derbent occupies the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian Steppe to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. It has a population of roughly 124,000 residents (2018).
Derbent resembles a huge museum and has magnificent mountains and shore nearby, and therefore possesses much touristic potential, further increased by UNESCO's classification of the citadel, ancient city and fortress as a World Heritage Site in 2003; however, instability in the region has halted development.
The city is home to machine building, food, textile, fishing and fishery supplies, construction materials and wood industries. It is the center of Russian brandy production. The educational infrastructure includes a university as well as several technical schools. On the cultural front, there is a Lezgin drama theater (named after S. Stalsky). About 2 km from the city is the vacation colony of Chayka (Seagull).
Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms. In the 19th century, the city passed from Iranian into Russian hands by the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813.
Jews began to settle in Derbent in ancient times. The Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela mentions Jews living in Derbent in the 12th century, and Christian traveler Wilhelm of Rubruquis writes about a Jewish community in the 13th century. The first mention of Jews in Derbent in modern times is by a German traveler, Adam Olearius, in the 17th century.
Derbent's Jewry suffered during the wars in the 18th century. Nadir Shah of Persia forced many Jews to adopt Islam. After the Russian conquest, many Jews of rural Dagestan fled to Derbent, which became the spiritual center of the Mountain Jews. The Jewish population numbered 2,200 in 1897 (15% of total population) and 3,500 in 1903. In the middle of the 20th century, Jews constituted about a third of the population of Derbent. In 1989, there were 13,000 Jews in the city, but most emigrated after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2002, there were 2,000 Jews with an active synagogue and community center. The chief rabbi of Derbent, Obadiah Isakov, was badly injured in an assassination attempt on July 25, 2013, sparking concerns of further acts of anti-Semitism targeting the Jewish community. In 2016, the Jewish population had fallen to 1,345.
There are two daily communter trains from the regional capital of Makhachkala, one departing 10:00 and another departing 17:20, journey time is around 3 hours. Minibuses go at least an hour faster, but trains can be more convenient than departing from the center of Makhachkala and with a clear timetable.
Long-distance trains from Baku make a stop-over here. From Moscow there are departures on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, leaving from Moskva Paveletsky station at 18:05 and arriving two nights later at 18:40. A second class sleeper ticket costs around 3500 руб. Other Russian cities with rail connections includes Saint Petersburg (59 hr), Rostov-on-Don (25½ hr) and Yekaterinburg (64 hr). International connections includes Kiev (56 hr) and Minsk (65 hr).
Also, twice a day, electric trains run to the Azerbaijani border (checkpoint "Tagirkent-Kazmalyar - Yalama", aka "lower post"). Rare international trains from Russia to Azerbaijan also stop in Derbent.
- Derbent station (Станция Дербент), ul. Vokzalnaya (ул. Вокзальная) (by the sea, in the "lower" part of the city).
As in the rest of Dagestan, most of the information about minibuses can only be found on the spot. Minibuses from Makhachkala (from the southern bus station) leave "after filling" (if it is not early morning or late evening, you will have to wait no more than 10-15 minutes) and arrive in Derbent, respectively, to the northern one, about an hour and a half on the way. There are rare direct buses in Baku , with transfers at the border you can get more often. Also, minibuses run from Derbent throughout Southern Dagestan ( Kubachi and further south), their place of departure and schedules are known (by no means always) to the inhabitants of these villages.
As in all other large cities of the North Caucasus, Derbent has two bus stations, one close to the city center, the other on the highway on the outskirts. In addition, in theory, minibuses and collective taxis can depart from the vicinity of these bus stations, as well as from the central market or train station (and the list may not be limited to this).
- 1 North bus station (Северная автостанция), st. Gagarin/ave. Agasieva (ул. Гагарина/просп. Агасиева). Combined with the market.
- 2 Southern bus station (Южная автостанция), Caucasus highway (трасса «Кавказ») (in the area of the southern exit from the city (minibuses run here)).
The P217 highway, also known as M29 or "Baku", passes through Derbent. To the north to Makhachkala about 120 km, to Grozny - 290 km. To the south, the same route goes to the Azerbaijani border (about 50 km), and then Azerbaijani roads lead to Guba (40 km from the border) and Baku (about 250 km from the border).
Derbent does not have its own airport; you will have to fly through Makhachkala airport. Minibuses from Makhachkala-Derbent sometimes call in there, but, most likely, you will have to go from there either by taxi, or through Makhachkala or Kaspiysk.
- 1 Citadel of Derbend. The fortification and walls were built by the Persian Sassanian Empire as a defensive structure against hostile nomadic people in the north, and continuously repaired or improved by later Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms until the early 19th century, as long as its military function lasted. A large portion of the walls and several watchtowers remain in reasonable shape. The walls, reaching to the sea, date from the 6th century, Sassanid dynasty period. The city has a well-preserved citadel (Narin-kala), enclosing an area of 4.5 hectares (11 acres), enclosed by strong walls. Historical attractions include the baths, the cisterns, the old cemeteries, the caravanserai, the 18th-century Khan's mausoleum, as well as several mosques. The oldest mosque is the Juma Mosque, built over a 6th-century Christian basilica; it has a 15th-century madrasa. Other shrines include the 17th-century Kyrhlyar mosque, the Bala mosque and the 18th-century Chertebe mosque.
- 2 Museum of the History of World Cultures and Religions (Музей истории мировых культур и религий), ul. Mira, 3 (ул. Мира), ☏ .
- 1 Embankment and beach, md. Quarry (мкрн. Карьер) (north of the city). The equipped embankment in Derbent is located in the north of the city. The historical part goes to the sea as an industrial zone - you can still get to the coast, but the impressions are not the most pleasant.
Travel to Dagestan is not safe. See the Dagestan article for more information.