History of Volokolamsk

12th Century

Volok na Lame

Volokolamsk was first mentioned in 1135 as Volok na Lame (Volok-on-Lama), literally meaning ‘the portage on the Lama’. The name originates due to the fact that here, near the River Lama, boats were carried across land from one water trade route to another. The settlement was originally on the southern border of the Novgorod Republic. In 1178 however Vsevolod the Big Nest burned the settlement to the ground and added it to his domain of Vladimir-Suzdal.

13th Century

In 1238 Batu Khan sacked Volokolamsk during the Mongol-Tatar Invasion of Rus. Afterwards the city was split between the Novgorod Republic and Vladimir. In 1273 it was sacked once more, this time by Prince Svyatoslav Yaroslavich of Tver, who attempted to annex the important trade city for himself. In 1293 Volokolamsk was burned down by the army of the Mongol warlord Dyuden, brother of Khan Tokhta of the Golden Horde. Volokolamsk was just one of 14 cities destroyed during this raid to help Andrey of Gorodets wrestle the throne of Vladimir from his elder brother Aleksandr Nevsky.

14th Century

In 1332 the governor of the half of Volokolamsk ruled by Moscow (which by now was in control of Vladimir) managed to banish the Novgorodians and rule the whole of the city. In 1345 Prince Simeon the Proud of Moscow gave the city to his father-in-law Prince Fyodor Svyatoslavich of Smolensk. During the reign of the Smolensk princes, the city heroically defended itself against a three-week siege of Prince Algirdas of Lithuania in 1371. In 1382 Tokhtamysh's destructive campaign against Muscovy was finally brought to an end when Prince Vladimir the Brave of Serphukov defeated him in battle outside Volokolamsk and forced him to retreat. As a consequence Volokolamsk was added to Prince Vladimir's lands in 1389.

15th and 16th Centuries

Volotsk Principality

In 1462 Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscow gave Volokolamsk as an appendage to his younger brother Boris Vasilievich. This marks the start of the Volotsk Principality as it was known. Prince Boris' reign was an era of development for Volokolamsk and many churches were built during this period. The most famous is the white-stone Resurrection Cathedral in the Volokolamsk Kremlin. Also during the reign of Prince Boris, and with his blessing, St Joseph (Iosif) of Volotsk founded the Iosifo-Volotsky Monastery in 1479 in a forest 18km from the city to found his new monastery – the modern day village of Teryaeva. The monastery would grow into one of the most influential monasteries in Russia. Prince Boris died in 1494 and was succeeded by his son Fyodor Borisovich. When Boris died in 1513 the Volotsk Principality was absorbed by Moscow.

17th Century

Time of Troubles

During the Times of Troubles in 1606 the citizens of Volokolamsk supported the rebellion of Ivan Bolotnikov, whereas the monks of the Iosifo-Volotsky Monastery supported Tsar Vasili IV Shuisky and provided much support in suppressing the rebellion. In 1608 Volokolamsk was occupied by the troops of the Second False Dmitri and many of its citizens sought refuge in the Iosifo-Volotsky Monastery. Polish troops started to besiege the monastery in 1609. The monastery was able to withstand the siege at first but it was eventually forced to surrender to avoid starvation. The Polish troop eventually left the monastery in 1609 due to a lack of supplies and pressure from Russian troops who were now besieging the monastery. After the unsuccessful siege of Moscow in 1612, King Sigismund III Vasa of Poland-Lithuania decided to intervene directly and invaded Russia. On his way to Moscow he started to besiege Volokolamsk. However the citizens of Volokolamsk held out and even repulsed three attacks launched by the Polish. Partisans also harassed the Polish outside of the city. The defeat of other Polish-Lithuanian troops outside of Moscow forced Sigismund to retreat back to Poland and the siege was lifted.

Yaropolets and Petro Doroshenko

Close to Volokolamsk, is the village of Yaropolets which was first mentioned in 1135 as a fortified point of Prince Yaropolk Vladimirovich, son of Vladimir Monomakh, after whom the village was named. For a long time it was owned by the Iosifo-Volotsky Monastery until it was purchased by Tsar Ivan the Terrible to be used as a hunting lodge. In 1684 it was given by Regent Sofia to Petro Doroshenko, the former hetman of Right-Bank Ukraine who was overthrown due to his alliance with the Ottomans. Doroshenko spent the rest of his life as an honorary exile in Russia. After Doroshenko's death, the lands passed to his two sons and on these two territories two separate estates were created for which Yaropolets is famous today.

18th Century

Volokolamsk District

In 1781 Volokolamsk became the administrative centre of the Volokolamsk District of the Moscow Governorate and at the same time was granted a coat of arms. Its coat of arms depicts ancient earthen fortifications in honour of its heroic defence from Polish-Lithuanian troops in 1612.

19th Century

Napoleonic War

During Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 Volokolamsk found itself in close proximity to the French troops who often came to the lands surrounding Volokolamsk to find supplies. As such Russian partisan troops were active in the surrounding areas.

20th Century

Volokolamsk in the 20 Century.

Iosifo-Volotsky Monastery under the Soviets

In 1922 the Soviets ordered that the monastery be closed and it was later used to house a children’s home and its Dormition Cathedral was turned into a cinema hall. During the Second World War the children were evacuated and replaced by Soviet soldiers in October 1941, until they were forced to retreat two months later and the monastery was occupied by the Nazis. During the Nazi occupation the monastery was greatly damaged and its unique 15th century bell tower was completely destroyed.

The Iosifo-Volotsky Monastery was returned to the church in 1989. The monastery has since undergone much restoration work and today is a working monastery with the status of a stauropegic monastery (second in status after a lavra).

Second World War

During the Second World War, Volokolamsk was occupied by the Nazis from October to December 1941. During the occupation the kremlin and its cathedrals were used to imprison Soviet POWs in completely inhumane conditions where many died of starvation or exposure. Approximately 7 kilometres from Volokolamsk on the railway to Moscow on 16 November 1941 a battle took place as part of the Defence of Moscow which would become legendary. The 316th Rifle Division - a group of 28 Soviet riflemen, known as Panfilovtsy after their major-general Ivan Panfilov - made a heroic last stand against a German tank division. At first it was reported that all 28 Panfilovtsy riflemen were killed but managed to destroy 18 German tanks and in doing so buy more time for the defence of Moscow. They were posthumously named Heroes of the Soviet Union and their heroic sacrifice was widely publicised. However several years later a report was conducted into the battle and it was found that the events were somewhat exaggerated and in fact six of the Panfilovtsy heroes actually survived the battle. However despite the controversy regarding the exact details, it is generally accepted that the courage showed by the Panfilovtsy heroes at the Battle of Dubosekovo made an important contribution to the defence of Moscow.

In 2010 Volokolamsk was awarded the status of City of Military Glory for its "courage, endurance and mass heroism, exhibited by defenders of the city in the struggle for the freedom and independence of the Motherland".