The five hundred kilometers between Moscow and Novgorod can be easily covered by either car or train. However, six or seven centuries ago this distance required a week-long journey on river boats. Perhaps greater than the physical distance was the ideological gap between the two towns. As time passed, Moscow conquered Novgorod. Yet a special aura still exists in Russia's former capital. Some call this the air of democracy and liberty, but in any case Novgorod is beautiful, and surely worth a contemplative visit.
Medieval Novgorod was one of Europe’s greatest art centuries. Its architectural traditions, school of icon painting, jewelers and decorative applied art became famous all over the world.
Though the name of the town means "New Town," Novgorod is the oldest major Russian city: people have been living here since the 6th century AD and it had become a major trade settlement by the 9th century. The place where Novgorod stands is strategic: the Volhov River was a key part of the busy trade route from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Novgorod was just the place to control this route and to develop trade with foreign merchants. This specialized role of the town determined its type of rule: Novgorod became a merchant republic.