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Staraya Ladoga (Russian: Ста́рая Ла́дога), Finnish language: Vanha Laatokka or the Aldeigjuborg of Norse sagas, is a village (selo) in the Volkhovsky District of Leningrad Oblast, Russia, located on the Volkhov River near Lake Ladoga, 8 km north of the town of Volkhov. The village used to be a prosperous trading outpost in the 8th and 9th centuries. A multi-ethnic settlement, it was dominated by Scandinavians who were called by the name of Rus and for that reason it is sometimes called the first capital of Russia.

Origin and name

The fortress of Ladoga was built in the 12th century and rebuilt 400 years later. It is now mostly reconstructed since being heavily damaged during World War II.

Dendrochronology suggests that Ladoga was founded in 753.[1] Until 950, it was one of the most important trading ports of Eastern Europe. Merchant vessels sailed from the Baltic Sea through Ladoga to Novgorod and then to Constantinople or the Caspian Sea. This route is known as the Trade Route from the Varangians to the Greeks. An alternative way led down the Volga River along the Volga trade route to the Khazar capital of Atil, and then to the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, all the way to Baghdad. Tellingly, the oldest Arabian Middle Age coin in Europe was unearthed in Ladoga.

Old (staraya means "old") Ladoga's inhabitants were Norsemen, Finns, and Slavs, hence different names for the city. The original Finnish name, Alode-joki (i.e., "lowland river"), was rendered as "Aldeigja" in Norse language and as "Ladoga" (Ладога) in Old East Slavic.

Ladoga under Rurik and Rurikids

According to the Hypatian Codex, the legendary Varangian leader Rurik arrived at Ladoga in 862 and made it his capital. Rurik's successors later moved to Novgorod and then to Kiev, thus laying foundations for the powerful state of Kievan Rus. There are several huge kurgans, or royal funerary barrows, at the outskirts of Ladoga. One of them is said to be Rurik's grave, and another one—that of his successor Oleg. The Heimskringla and other Norse sources mention that in the late 990s Eiríkr Hákonarson of Norway raided the coast and set the town ablaze. Ladoga was the most important trading center in Eastern Europe from about 800 to 900 CE, and it is estimated that between 90 to 95% of all Arab dirhams found in Sweden passed through Ladoga.

St. George's Church contains magnificent frescoes painted in 1167.

Ladoga's next mention in chronicles is dated to 1019, when Ingigerd of Sweden married Yaroslav of Novgorod. Under the terms of their marriage settlement, Yaroslav ceded Ladoga to his wife, who appointed her father's cousin, the Swedish earl Ragnvald Ulfsson, to rule the town. This information is confirmed by sagas and archaeological evidence, which suggests that Ladoga gradually evolved into a primarily Varangian settlement. At least two Swedish kings spent their youths in Ladoga, king Stenkil and Inge I, and possibly also king Anund Gårdske.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, Ladoga functioned as a trade outpost of the powerful Novgorod Republic. Later its trade significance declined and most of the population engaged in fishing in 15th century.[2] After new fortresses such as Oreshek and Korela were constructed in the 14th century further to the west of Ladoga the town's military significance also decreased. Ladoga belonged to the Vodskaya pyatina of the republic and contained 84 homesteads in the 15th century; most of the land belonged to the church.[2] The Novgorodians built there a citadel with five towers and several churches. The fortress was rebuilt at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, while the mid-12th-century churches of St. George and of Mary's Assumption stand in all their original glory. Inside St. George's, some magnificent 12th-century frescoes are still visible.

Sights and landmarks

In 1703, Peter the Great founded the town of Novaya Ladoga (New Ladoga) closer to the bank of Lake Ladoga. The ancient fortress thenceforth declined and came to be known as Old Ladoga, in order to distinguish it from the new town.

The heart of Staraya Ladoga is an old fortress where the Yelena River flows into the Volkhov River. In earlier times, it was a strategic site because it was the only possible harbour for sea-vessels that could not navigate through the Volkhov River. Apart from the churches mentioned above, there is a mid-12th-century church of St. Climent, which stands in ruins. There is also a monastery, dedicated to St. Nicholas and constructed mainly in the 17th century.



  1. Chernykh, N.B. (1985). Дендрохронология древнейших горизонтов Старой Ладоги (по материалам раскопки Земляного городище) (Dendrochronology of the oldest layers of Starya Ladoga (from material of the excavation of the city's Earthmound)). I. Leningrad (Saint Petersburg). 79. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bernadsky, Viktor Nikolayevich (1961). Новгород и новгородская земля в XV веке (Novgorod and the Novgorod Land in the 15th Century). Leningrad (Saint Petersburg): published by the USSR Academy of Sciences. pp. 130–131. 

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