1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Derbent

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DERBENT, or Derbend, a town of Russia, Caucasia, in the province of Daghestan, on the western shore of the Caspian, 153 m. by rail N.W. of Baku, in 42° 4′ N. and 48° 15′ E. Pop. (1873) 15,739; (1897) 14,821. It occupies a narrow strip of land beside the sea, from which it climbs up the steep heights inland to the citadel of Naryn-kaleh, and is on all sides except towards the east surrounded by walls built of porous limestone. Its general aspect is Oriental, owing to the flat roofs of its two-storeyed houses and its numerous mosques. The environs are occupied by vineyards, gardens and orchards, in which madder, saffron and tobacco, as well as figs, peaches, pears and other fruits, are cultivated. Earthenware, weapons and silk and cotton fabrics are the principal products of the manufacturing industry. To the north of the town is the monument of the Kirk-lar, or “forty heroes,” who fell defending Daghestan against the Arabs in 728; and to the south lies the seaward extremity of the Caucasian wall (50 m. long), otherwise known as Alexander’s wall, blocking the narrow pass of the Iron Gate or Caspian Gates (Portae Albanae or Portae Caspiae). This, when entire, had a height of 29 ft. and a thickness of about 10 ft., and with its iron gates and numerous watch-towers formed a valuable defence of the Persian frontier. Derbent is usually identified with Albana, the capital of the ancient Albania. The modern name, a Persian word meaning “iron gates,” came into use in the end of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th century, when the city was refounded by Kavadh of the Sassanian dynasty of Persia. The walls and the citadel are believed to belong to the time of Kavadh’s son, Khosrau (Chosroes) Anosharvan. In 728 the Arabs entered into possession, and established a principality in the city, which they called Bab-el-Abwab (“the principal gate”), Bab-el-Khadid (“the iron gate”), and Seraill-el-Dagab (“the golden throne”). The celebrated caliph, Harun-al-Rashid, lived in Derbent at different times, and brought it into great repute as a seat of the arts and commerce. In 1220 it was captured by the Mongols, and in the course of the succeeding centuries it frequently changed masters. In 1722 Peter the Great of Russia wrested the town from the Persians, but in 1736 the supremacy of Nadir Shah was again recognized. In 1796 Derbent was besieged by the Russians, and in 1813 incorporated with the Russian empire.