Mirozhsky Monastery in Pskov. Source: Wikipedia/Savin
Mirozhsky Monastery in Pskov. Source: Wikipedia/Savin

UNESCO World Heritage 2019 – Churches of the Pskov School of Architecture

Pskov is located 20 km from the border of Estonia. Likely, the listing of the churches and monasteries in the ancient principality of Pskov reflects the geo-political interests of Putin’s Russia

Ivan the Terrible's repentance: he asks the hegumen (father superior) Cornelius of the Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery to let him take the tonsure at his monastery. Painting by Klavdy Lebedev. Source: wikipedia
Ivan the Terrible’s repentance: he asks the hegumen (father superior) Cornelius of the Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery to let him take the tonsure at his monastery. Painting by Klavdy Lebedev (1852 – 1916). The monastery has been an important spiritual centre for the Seto people. This monastery is not part of the new listing. Source: wikipedia

The Monuments in Ancient Pskov are located along the River Velikaya in the northwestern part of Russia, twenty km from Estonia. It consists of 18 components from the 12thto the 19thcentury – two fortified towns, one bell tower, two monasteries, three cathedrals, eleven churches and two administrative chambers. Of these, seventeen are located in the city of Pskov, the rest near the city, to which they belong administratively. The city was the centre of the Pskov Republic from c. 850 to 1230, after which it joined the Novgorod republic. In the later Middle Ages, it became independent and established and aristocratic republic. Soon after, however, it was turned into a dependant on Moscow. In 1510 its independence was put to an end.

Later, During the Livonian War (1558–1582) a major part of medieval Livonia (modern Estonia and Latvia) was conquered by Ivan the Terrible’s Russia, and Muscovian administration was introduced in the annexed territories. A Russian Orthodox Church organisation was also established in the territory of medieval Livonia for the Russians who had migrated there during the war. A unique source of this matter is the land charter of the Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery issued in 1563. It contains data about the settlement, economy, administration, and social history of Estonian and Pskov lands in the 16th century, including its rich onomastic material. This document includes unique historical material about Setumaa, the distinct frontier region between Estonia and Russia, which is currently divided between the two neighbouring states.

The city of Pskov must according to the proposal be characterised as “a unique social and Cultural environment, which nurture the “Pskov School of Architecture”… one of the most artistic and original in the Russian State”. However, ICOMOS, when on its factfinding mission did not agree. Nevetheless, the State Party did not deliver a revised catalogue, nor a comparative analysis of the monuments in Pskov as compared e.g. to the Novgorod School. Instead ICOMOS concluded that the Pskov School of Architecture is one of several Russian Schools, which exerted influence on the development of architectural styles in Russia. It is apparent that ICOMOS for a number of reasons could not accept the proposal as it stood and recommended that only ten of the eighteen proposed monuments should be listed. Also, that the title should be changed to the “Churches of the Pskov School of Architecture”.

Putin at the Holy Dormition – Pskovo-Pechorsky – Monastery. Source: Kremlin
Putin at the Holy Dormition – Pskovo-Pechorsky – Monastery. Albeit the oldest and still existing monastery in Russia, it was not included in the final listing. The rejection by ICOMOS was framed as an artistic evaluation Source: Kremlin

In the end, UNESCO listed in July 2019 ten of the eighteen monuments in Pskov with their cubic volumes, domes, porches and belfries, and adopted the new title; and requested that the State Party submits a new and revised map. This is odd. Usually, UNESCO does not further an undocumented proposal, where the State Party has not followed up upon the recommendations and requests of ICOMOS.

The appointment of Pskov and its monuments as UNESCO World Heritage may perhaps be regarded as a political act, intended to humour Russia. Historically speaking, the border between the Estonian, Latvian, and Pskov principalities has been volatile, unstable, and shifting. It is well-known that both Russians and NATO allies have posted military units near the border and that the area is constantly the site for military drills and manoeuvres.

At the same time, however, the governor of Pskov has proposed a freedom for visas for tourists entering Pskov from Estonia and Latvia. Arguing that “Very many Latvian and Estonian residents are prepared to come to Pskov”, she adds, “a visa costs two or three times as much as the whole trip to Pskov. At present, a single entry visa costs 80 euros, this is a significant barrier” when trying to boost tourism in the region.

Is the plan to use the UNESCO listing no more than part of a wider plan to create a fluid and permeable border between Russia and Eastern Europe? Useful for employing “Little Green Men”, when the time comes?

The site was declared UNESCO World Heritage in July 2019.


Evaluations and Nominations of Cultural and Mixed Properties. ICOMOS report for the world Heritage Comittee, 43rd ordinary session, Baku 30. june – 10 of July 2019.



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