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Derbent (dyĭrbyĕntˈ), city, SE European Russia, in Dagestan, on the Caspian Sea. It stands on a narrow strip of land that forms a natural pass (the Caspian, or Iron, Gates) between the Caucasian foothills and the sea. Orchards and vineyards are cultivated. Industries include food processing and the production of woolen textiles and bricks. There are oil and natural gas deposits in the area.

Derbent's location has been key to controlling the north–south invasion and trade route along the W Caspian since the 1st millenium B.C. A strategic fortress at the Iron Gates was established by the Persians in the late 5th or early 6th cent. A.D., and remains of the Caucasian Wall (also called Alexander's Wall), built by the Persians in the 6th cent. as a bulwark against northern invaders, survive. The Arabs, who took Derbent in 728, made it a commercial and cultural center. Passing (1220) to the Mongols and later recovered by Persia, Derbent was briefly held (1722) by Peter I of Russia and was annexed to Russia in 1806. Ancient caravansaries and baths and a mosque (8th cent., rebuilt or renovated 14th and 17th cent.) have been preserved.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(from Persian der, door, and bent, barrier), a city in Dagestan ASSR. Located on the shore of the Caspian Sea; port; railroad station on the Makhachkala-Baku line. Population (1971), 59,000 (14,600 in 1897; 34,100 in 1939; 47,300 in 1959).

The city developed toward the east from a fifth-century fort, which consisted of a citadel (Naryn-kala) placed on a hill and two stone walls, which ran from the citadel to the sea and which blocked the narrow (3 km) passageway between the sea and the mountains of the Caucasus and guarded the territory of the city from the south and north. In the seventh to ninth centuries Derbent was part of the Arabian Caliphate, and in the tenth century it was the center of a feudal principality. In the 13th century it was captured by the Mongols and underwent a period of decline. In the 16th through the early 18th century it was part of Iran; in 1722 it was united with Russia but returned to Iran’s control in 1735 as a result of the Treaty of Gandzha. In 1747 the Derbent Khanate was founded with its center in Derbent; it was occupied by Russian forces in 1796. By the terms of the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813 it finally was joined to Russia. The basic occupations of the people of Derbent are horticulture, viticulture, and fishing. At the end of 1904 a Social Democratic group was founded in Derbent. In February 1917 the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was formed. In early December 1917, Soviet power was established in Derbent. From July 1918 to March 1920, the city was in the hands of bourgeois nationalists. On Mar. 25, 1920, the Red Army liberated Derbent.

Industries in Derbent include a plant that manufactures grinding machines; a wool-spinning factory (supplying raw material to rug-weaving factories in the RSFSR, Transcaucasia, and Middle Asia); tinned goods, cognac, and meat combines; wineries; a dairy; clothing factories, a rug-weaving factory; a house-building combine; a brickyard; and a plant producing wall blocks. There are many gardens and vineyards. There are evening technicums that teach machine tool- and die-making and agriculture, pedagogical and medical schools, and a school of rug-making. There is a Lezghian National Theater and a museum of local lore.

Derbent can be divided into two parts with respect to architectural design; the upper part is an old city with narrow winding streets and cul-de-sacs; the lower part is the new city with a network of straight streets and buildings of the second half of the 19th and the 20th century.

The Dzhuma Mosque Complex (eighth to 14th century), a madrasa (15th to 19th century), the Minaret Mosque (14th to 19th century), the Kyrkhliar Mosque (17th century), baths with arches and cupolas (17th to 18th century), and a mausoleum of the khans (18th century) have been preserved. In the citadel there are ruins of the khans’ palace (18th century) and a guard house (19th century, Empire style). During the Soviet period Derbent has been reconstructed; housing, schools, motion picture theaters, clubs, parks, and squares have been built.


Artamonov, M. I. Drevnii Derbent. In the collection Sovetskaia arkheologiia, vol. 8. Moscow, 1946.
Khan-Magomedov, S. O. Derbent. Moscow, 1958.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.