Guide to Derbent – the Khan Citadel, the oldest mosque and the sunny coast
Derbent seems to have gathered the most desirable things for tourists. The city is located right on the shore of the Caspian Sea, which is why it is prized by beach lovers. From here you can enjoy breathtaking views of the high mountains. And it is also one of the oldest cities, which has preserved curious and somewhat mysterious artifacts – a find for historians and all who are interested in the ancient world.
I will tell you about the most interesting corners of the city. Set aside a couple of days for the visit if you want to get around all the sites quietly and not get tired. If you plan to visit only the main attractions, a day will be enough.
The sights of Derbent
Derbent is the southernmost and one of the oldest cities in Russia. Officially it is 2,000 years old, but judging by excavations, the real age is much more – about 5,000 years.
The city occupies a narrow “corridor” between the sea and the mountains. Such a location gave Derbent not only spectacular views, but also a rich history: it has been conquered more than once by different states and populated by hundreds of peoples, each with their own religion and culture. That’s why there are dozens of amazing constructions, which are recognized as cultural heritage sites.
An imposing fortress with an area of 4.5 hectares is about seven soccer fields. It was built in the 6th century by Persian shahs. At first it helped defend against northern nomads, later it became the heart of the Arab Caliphate, and under Peter the Great it passed into the Russian Empire.
The citadel was an ancient structure of irregular shape, fortified by towers on the perimeter. From the fortress to the sea stretches two walls: north and south – the second almost did not survive. Inside you can walk around the green area, admire the city from a height, explore the citadel locations and curious objects such as sarcophagi and ancient keys.
Entrance to the fortress is paid: adult ticket – 150 rubles, children – 50. For another 500 rubles you will be accompanied by a guide who will tell you about each place in detail. Inside the fortress there is a small cafe, free museum and souvenir shops.
The wooded area near the fortress is an ideal location for a picnic or bike ride. At the time of our visit, the pine wood had just begun to be decked out, but, judging by the master plan, soon it will be home to art, camping areas, and a sports field.
The route to the pine forest is as follows. When you exit the fortress you’ll come across a fork in the road to the right. It takes about ten minutes to get to the pine forest. You can shorten the way several times if you turn right at the beginning of the road – to the trail that leads to the mountains. The trail is steep and can be difficult for children and people who are not used to physical exertion.
Old town (Magaly)
Magals are called the old quarters of the city, located near the fortress. This is a kind of city within the city with narrow labyrinthine streets. This curious layout did not appear by accident: in the Middle Ages it used to confuse enemies if they got inside.
Here it is interesting even just to walk through the neighborhoods, imagining that you are in a remote eastern region: winding streets, small mosques, locals sitting right on the threshold of the ancestral houses.
It is not difficult to find the magals. Go out of the fortress, turn left and go down the long staircase that leads to the town, you will find yourself on the paved street of Orta Capa. Go straight ahead for another 20-30 meters until you meet a stone gate on the left: this is one of the entrances to the quarters.
It is a mini-museum inside, where the brides and their girlfriends used to be brought in order to wash up before the wedding. Entry fee is 100 rubles. The cash desk is not in the bathhouse itself, but in the adjacent building, to the left of the entrance to the museum. You can follow the route in any navigator.
Juma Mosque .
In Magaly there is the oldest functioning mosque in Russia and CIS. It was built in about VIII century, when Derbent belonged to Arabs. The interior of the mosque is modest: the building consists of tall long rooms divided by large columns.
There are a lot of greenery in the yard, and special attention deserves the giant plane-trees, which, according to various calculations, are about 800 years old.
Every day between 11:30 and 12:30 at the mosque there is a collective prayer but tourists are not allowed in. Women at the entrance must wear a scarf and a spacious dress or robe – they are given at the entrance. For men it is enough to wear just pants and a T-shirt.
Armenian Church (Carpet Museum)
The church was designed by an Armenian writer who was exiled to Derbent in 1850. It was built 20 years later. The building was badly damaged during the civil war: it has been partially restored, but in some places the traces of bullets are still visible.
Now inside the church is a museum of carpets. Here you can see objects of ancient life and interior, national costumes.
The Armenian church is located on the crossing of Rzayev street and Gadzhiyev alley – it’s the outskirts of the old quarters. The entrance fee is 100 rubles.
This is a small transparent bridge, which was erected over the fresh archaeological excavations. Here they accidentally discovered the remains of an ancient water supply complex. Tour guides say that this is the Achilles’ heel of the city: once fortified Derbent was conquered by spoiling the water in this place.
Around the bridge – an alley decorated with flowers, benches, swings, souvenir shops. The place is suitable for quiet walks.
The attraction is right at the northern wall, near the intersection of Shahbazov and Kerim Mamedbekov Streets.
Mirza Kazimbey Alley
A wide pedestrian zone that the guides position it as an art space. There are cafes, gazebos, and stores along the alley. The heart of the art space is Passage, a historic building with a shopping mall inside. The interior is decorated in oriental style and mostly sells clothes, sweets, and souvenirs.
The alley stretches from Suleiman Stalsky Park to Lenin Street, near the middle of the northern wall.
The Passage building is an architectural monument. It had been empty for a long time, and a few years ago it was restored and turned into a shopping center.
Peter I House and “Kubachi” souvenir store
In a place where during the Persian campaign of Peter I stayed, now there is a museum complex. It consists of two buildings. In one of them through the glass walls you can see the remains of the stone foundation of the Emperor’s hut. In the other building there is an exhibition of clothes, paintings and household items of the Petrine epoch.
The complex is located on Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya Street, closer to the sea. Entrance fee is 100 rubles.
There is a souvenir store “Kubachi” 50 meters from the museum – on the right, if you stand facing the complex. I advise to visit it, even if you are not going to buy anything (although it will not be easy to resist): there are many curious local products.
A spacious park right on the coast of the Caspian Sea. There is a decorated square, high viewing platforms, children’s corners with carousels, seasonal fairs. Many trees are planted in the park – now they are small, but in the future they will be a great relief from the scorching sun.
From the park you can go to the beach “Breeze”. The water in the city is not the cleanest – if you plan to swim, it is better to take antibiotics advised by your doctor and take an antiseptic beforehand. In general, for swimming you should choose beaches outside the city, where it is not so crowded.
The promenade is located on Handadash Tagiev Street – this is the northern part of town.
The “Moon” booster plane
A huge rocket carrier from Soviet times installed on the shore of the Caspian Sea. It is the only realized screen-plane, which foreign scouts nicknamed the “Caspian Monster”. In flight, it rose above the water by only a couple of meters to avoid the radars. Despite its impressive size – about 19 meters high and 74 meters long – it reached speeds of up to 500 km/h.
Tourists mostly pass through here when they go to the mountainous regions or return to the city.
The attraction is not in the city itself, but near the village Arablar, about 20 kilometers from the center. You can get here only by your own car or a cab and it will take you half an hour. There are no stores or infrastructure nearby.
The “Moon” is not yet fenced in, therefore, the most desperate people try to climb on the wings and see the interior of the plane through the portholes.
Where to eat in Derbent.
In most cafes and restaurants in Derbent you can find a menu for all tastes – from homemade food to Japanese cuisine. But guests should definitely try the national dishes:
- Chudu – thin flatbread with meat, potato, cottage cheese and other fillings.
- Kurze – dumplings of a peculiar shape.
- Hinkal – differently shaped pieces of boiled dough with garlic sauce, broth, and meat.
Here are a few places with good reviews.
The interior is simple but cozy, the staff is polite, and the food is delicious. The place is located in the northern part of the city, not far from the federal highway. The average bill is 800 rubles.
Another cafe in the north of the city, but closer to the sea and the private sector. The interior varies depending on the floor, there is a summer terrace. The average bill is 1100 rubles.
City center, modest interior, has its own small library. The average bill – 1300 rubles.
Restaurant near the sea, located on the opposite side of town from the fortress. The place is decorated in oriental style and is atmospheric inside. The average bill is 1200 rubles.
Inexpensive cafe with Caucasian cuisine and appropriate design. It’s about 50 meters from the railway station. The average bill is 500 rubles.
The restaurant is located near the citadel, near the federal highway. There is an open veranda and separate rooms for small banquets. The average check is 1000 rubles.
A small canteen in 15-20 minutes walk from the citadel, you have to go deep into the city. Big portions, wide choice of dishes, cozy interior. The average bill is 350 rubles.
When to go to Derbent
The beach season in Derbent traditionally starts in June and ends in mid-September, the water temperature at this time is 25-27°C. But for walks around the city, I recommend just any other time when there are not so many people.
The main thing is to check the weather beforehand so you don’t catch any rain. The least rainfall in the city is usually in January, March, and April.
In July and August, temperatures often reach above 30 °C. It’s dangerous to be under the sun for a long time during the day, so it’s better to choose the evening time for walks. Winters in Derbent are warm, almost without frosts: the average temperature is about 3 ° C. The coldest time is in January and February.
How to get to Derbent
From Moscow and other major cities run trains and buses. You can see the train schedule on Yandex Travel, and buses are not as regular – check with the information desk at your train station.
Planes will take you only to Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. See the timetable on the airport’s website. The distance from here to Derbent is about 130 kilometers – you can get there by rented car or by cab (~2,500 rubles, it takes a little over two hours to get there by taxi.)
Another way to get from the airport is to take a cab to “Yuzhnaya” bus station or Makhachkala railway station (500 rubles), and then change to a cab or bus.~500 rubles), and then take a Derbent bus (~250 rubles) or by train (~150 rubles).
There is also a way to get to Derbent by private car: take the federal highway R-217 “Kavkaz”. Thus, the road from Moscow will take little more than a day.
How to get around the city
The cheapest way is by bus, but they do not always go regularly. The fare is 20 rubles. From the “Northern” bus station to the fortress you can take a minibus number 11 and to the waterfront – number 4.
Cab around the city costs 100-250 rubles. So, for 140 rubles you can get from the citadel to the railway station. In Derbent there is Yandex Go, “Maxim” and other local firms, the numbers of which are easy to find on flyers: they are posted all over the city.
If you drive your own car, be careful: sometimes you may be cut off and not give way where the traffic rules say you should. Traffic jams – predictably in the center of the city and on the way to the attractions. You’d better leave your car somewhere farther away, the parking lots by the roads are usually free.
Where to stay in Derbent
If your goal is to walk and bypass the sights, focus on the northern wall: it stretches across the city, the interesting places are located just along it. For example, you can stay at the Ethnohostel hostel – 2500 rubles per night in a double room. But a night in the hotel Derbent in the city center will cost already 8500 rubles for two.
For a holiday at the sea suit hotels on the coast, there are most of them. So, in the hotel Safiya for 4500 rubles you will be offered a double room with breakfast. Hotel Golden Beach will be more comfortable, but here the night will cost about 12 500 rubles.
What to bring from Derbent
From the ordinary things you can buy in the stores are the following souvenirs:
- Jurabs – knitted high socks with an ornament. The price starts from 500 ₽.
- Jewelry like pendants and rings – from ₽1000.
- A small, locally made knife – from 1,200 ₽.
- Souvenir daggers – from 3,000 ₽.
- Utensils and household items: ceramic mug – from 500 ₽, handmade silver glass – from 10,000 ₽.
If you are returning home by plane, check with the carrier in advance if you can take souvenir knives and daggers with you.
Tips for tourists
1. people here are friendly and hospitable, but jealous of their culture and traditions: guests are asked not to wear short and tight clothes, and among young people not to communicate with people of the opposite sex.
2. Food can be bought not only in supermarkets, but also in a modest city market – look for it on the maps. Prices here are usually lower, and at 6-7 a.m. you can catch wholesalers. Still on the way into town you’ll run into farmers selling fruit and vegetables by the side of the road. Usually they have everything fresh and inexpensive.
If you plan to stay in Derbent for more than a day, don’t miss the nearby places of interest 1-1.5 hours away from the city: the mighty Khanag waterfall and the Samursky Forest, a dense liana jungle with animals from the Red Book.
4. Prepare for a car with very loud music driving past you every 20 minutes in the center of town. The repertoire varies from local pop to foreign legends.
The 25 best sights of Derbent
Derbent is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities not only in Dagestan, but also in the entire North Caucasus. It attracts tourists with its picturesque places – there are waterfalls, valleys, karst caves, gorges, rivers and an amazing liana forest in its vicinity. Derbent has a beautiful Caspian coast: from May to September you can sunbathe and swim on the beaches here. And the subtropical climate is pleasant for rest, thanks to which citrus fruits, figs, pomegranate, almonds and grapes grow here. Can boast a rich historical and cultural heritage. We will tell you about the main sights worth visiting in Derbent. We present the top 25 the most fascinating places for travel and excursions.
The grandiose defensive structure is included in the World Heritage List and is recognized as one of the largest in the world. From the top of the ancient fortress Naryn-Kala tourists admire Derbent and the Caspian Sea. There are more than two hundred monuments: pay attention to Orta-Kapa Gate and Juma Mosque.
2. Zindany .
Translated from Persian, this is an underground dungeon. In Derbent on the territory of Naryn-Kala tourists are shown two zindans. They used to be cellars for the needs of the residents of the fortress and cisterns for water in case of drought. Later the underground halls became the abode of prisoners, from which one could not escape and where one could not even lie down.
3. khan’s bathhouse
Part of the Naryn-Kala complex, where the rulers of ancient Derbent performed ablutions, socialized, and played chess and backgammon. Vaulted bathhouses of shell rock with large domes are perfectly preserved. Unique opportunity to see ancient eastern baths where according to legend on Thursday was bathing khan himself, and on Friday forty wives from harem.
4. Derbent wall
The legendary Derbent double wall was built in the times of Sasanids dynasty of the Persian rulers. Its length is more than 3.5 km. The part of the wall directed towards the Caucasus Range is called “Dagh Bary”. It is not completely preserved. The other goes half a kilometer into the Caspian waters, thus blocking the path to the harbor.
5. Juma Mosque
The grandiose Muslim shrine is recognized as the most ancient operating mosque in our country and on the post-Soviet space. The sight of the 8th century can be found in the Old City – so Derbent district is called. The Derbent Juma Mosque has a three-nave podkupola hall where general Friday prayers have been performed since 734. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is an ancient Eastern plane tree growing on its territory.
6. Derbent Lighthouse
It is located in the center of modern Derbent. Like the Makhachkala lighthouse, you can’t get close to the Derbent one and you can’t climb up it. Tourists take photos of the white tower from the restaurant area or walking down the street.
7. House of Peter I
It is a museum on the site of an earthen hut where the emperor spent the night in 1722 during the Persian campaign. The hut itself has gone under the ground. The fact is that Prince Mikhail Vorontsov a century after Peter the Great’s stop in Derbent ordered the construction of a stone fence with anchor chains there. And in the 1870s a pavilion was built over the dugout. But then no one guarded this place for a long time. Museum with artifacts works since 2015, in front of it there is a monument to Peter Alexeyevich.
8. Museum of Carpet and Applied Art
In 1982 a small museum about the craft and trade of Dagestan craftsmen was opened in the Armenian Gregorian church with a century-old history. Here you can see patterned pile and smooth carpets, various utensils, ceramics and silverware.
9. Derbent embankment
A beautiful embankment, which is not inferior to the coastal areas of the Black Sea resorts. With sports and children’s playgrounds, bicycle and pedestrian paths, lifeguard stations and a colonnade with the name of the city written on it. Near the sea is a large parking lot.
10. Church of the Intercession of the Theotokos
This is a modestly decorated and the only preserved orthodox temple in Derbent. Its history goes back to the beginning of the XX century, when at first an altar was built for the Sunday school, and later the building was given to the church. In the 2000s, after the restoration of the temple there appeared a house of the rector and a bell tower, and in the church itself there is a rich iconostasis.
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