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Russia’s Most Jaw-Dropping Ancient Citadels

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This article originally appeared at Russia & India Report


1. Moscow

Kremlin

LORI / LEGION MEDIA

The Kremlin (with a capital “K”) is the most popular sight in Moscow. All tour guides make a point of showing visitors its red walls, the Tsar Bell, the Tsar Cannon and the Taynitskaya (Secret) Tower. But did you know that there are dozens of kremlins in Russia? The word “kremlin” in Russian refers to any medieval citadel in the center of an ancient Russian town or city. In the 18th and 19th centuries, these strongholds lost their strategic importance and were often torn down and used for construction materials. Most of the surviving fortresses have now been turned into museums, each with its own legend that lives on behind the walls. We’ve chosen 9 more kremlins besides Moscow’s one, and strongly recommend that you visit them all!

2. Rostov Veliky

Kremlin

LORI / LEGION MEDIA

The Rostov kremlin (built between 1670-83) is among the few fortresses built not for defense, but as a seat of the local Orthodox bishop (metropolitan). Its walls were designed to please the eye rather than to protect the inhabitants. After the Russian army had suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Swedes in the Battle of Narva in 1700 and lost all its artillery, Peter the Great gave orders to take down iron bells in churches and monasteries, melt them down and recast them into cannons. Although even Moscow did not escape the bell-stripping campaign, Rostov was somehow bypassed.

3. Kazan

Kremlin

ALAMY/LEGION-MEDIA

Dominating the city skyline is the kremlin, UNESCO heritage and Kazan’s ancient fortress, built between 1554-62. There is a large mosque as well as a Russian Orthodox cathedral. Tatarstan became part of Russia during the reign of Ivan IV (the Terrible), whose forces put the city under siege in 1552. Next to the mosque, the Annunciation Cathedral is revered by Orthodox believers as the home of the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, one of the holiest in Russian Orthodoxy. / Zylant dragon, the symbol of the city, in front of Kazan kremlin.

4. Kolomna

Kremlin

LORI / LEGION MEDIA

The Kolomna kremlin (built in 1531) was one of the biggest fortresses of the time, but in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the locals took most of it apart using the aging walls as a source of construction materials. Only the decree of Russian tsar Nicholas I Romanov helped preserve what remained of the fortress. The Kolomna kremlin had 17 towers, one of which was named after Maryna Mniszech, the wife of False Dmitry I , who was reportedly incarcerated in that tower where she subsequently died. One of the legends, though, says that she did not die, but rather turned into a magpie and flew out the window. As a result, it was called Marina’s tower.

5. Pskov

Kremlin

LORI / LEGION MEDIA

Inside the kremlin there is an excavated settlement that was ruled by Prince Dovmont in the 13th century. At one time it was an impressive complex of defense constructions with walls, gates, churches and chambers. Today this is Pskov’s Pompeii: the foundations of two churches discovered by the archeologists can offer a lot of details about what life was like in during the time of Prince Dovmont. Inside the kremlin there is only one church, the Trinity Cathedral, constructed much later in a style typical for church architecture in the 18-19th centuries. Wooden walls of the kremlin were built in 8-10th centuries.

6. Astrakhan

Kremlin

LORI / LEGION MEDIA

Astrakhan’s historical center grew around the kremlin (built between 1562-89), whose foundations were laid back in the times of Ivan the Terrible. These days, the kremlin houses an ethnographic museum devoted to the culture and everyday life of the peoples of Astrakhan Region, as well numerous exhibitions in its Artillery Tower, Red Gate Tower, and Torture Tower. The Astrakhan kremlin is a UNESCO world heritage site.

7. Tula

Kremlin

SHUTTERSTOCK / LEGION-MEDIA

Apart from giving the world its spice cakes, the city of Tula has played a big role in Russia’s history. This place was the ultimate stopping point for successive waves of Tatar invasions. It also boasts one of the oldest fortresses in Russia, the Tula kremlin, built between 1514-20. In all likelihood, it was erected by Italian architects who came to Tula after completing the Moscow Kremlin. Historians say that the citadel was built by several crews, which would explain the apparent difference between its walls.

8. Tobolsk

Kremlin

ALEXEI MALGAVKO, RIA NOVOSTI

Tobolsk has the only stone fortress in Siberia. The stone walls and the towers of the kremlin were constructed between 1683—1799. It contains a bell tower especially erected as a place of “exile” for the bell that sounded the alarm in the city of Uglich following the murder of Prince Dmitry, the real son of Ivan the Terrible. On orders from Prince Shuisky, the bell was subjected to a formal execution, the same that was applied to humans: its clapper and canons were removed, and the bell itself was exiled to Siberia.

9. Veliky Novgorod

Kremlin

LORI / LEGION MEDIA

Veliky Novgorod or simply Novgorod has one of the oldest stone citadels in Russia (the first reference to fortifications dates to 1044). It is even listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Under the reign of Ivan IV, the city became embroiled in political discord. After receiving a tip-off that Novgorod was plotting to cut ties with Muscovy, Ivan IV sieged the mutinous city and subjected it to brutal devastation. According to a legend, the carnage stopped only when a pigeon, having flown from across many seas, perched on the cross at the top of the St Sophia Cathedral and, observing the violence below, turned to stone.

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Paschal Donohoe plans bank levy extension but lower haul

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Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will continue the Irish banking levy beyond its scheduled conclusion date at the end of this year, but plans to lower the targeted annual haul from the current €150 million as overseas lenders Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland retreat from the market, according to sources.

Reducing the industry overall levy target will avoid the remaining three banks facing higher levy bills at a time when the Government is seeking to lower its stakes in the bailed-out lenders.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB paid a combined €93 million levy in each of the last two years, according to their latest annual reports. A decision on the new targeted yield, currently linked to deposit interest retention tax (DIRT) collected by banks on customers’ savings, will be announced at the unveiling of Budget 2022 on October 12th.

Originally introduced in 2014 by then minister for finance Michael Noonan for three years to ensure banks made a “contribution” to a recovering economy after the sector’s multibillion-euro taxpayer bailout, the annual banking levy has since been extended to the end of 2021.

A further extension of the levy has largely been expected by the banks and industry analysts, as the sector has been able to use multibillion euro losses racked up during the financial crisis to reduce their tax bills. A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on the future status of the banking levy as planning for Budget 2022 continues.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB (PTSB) alone have utilised almost €500 million of tax losses against their corporation tax bills between 2017 and 2019, according to Department of Finance figures.

Sources said that the Government will be keen not to land a levy increase on the three lenders at a time when it is currently selling down its stake in Bank of Ireland and plotting a course for the reduction of its positions in AIB and PTSB in time.

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which holds the Bank of Ireland stake on behalf of the Minister for Finance, sold 2 percentage points of holding in the market between July and August, reducing its interest to just below 12 per cent.

Meanwhile, it has been reported in recent days that the UK government is planning to lower an 8 per cent surcharge that it has applied to bank profits since the start of 2016. It comes as the general UK corporation tax is set to rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.

“The optics of reducing the surcharge might still be bad politically, but it would signal the partial rehabilitation for the nation’s banking sector,” said Eamonn Hughes, an analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers, in a note to clients on Tuesday, adding that he continues to factor in a retention of the Irish banking levy in his financial estimates for banks over the medium term.

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‘Covid light’: How to get Switzerland’s data-safe Covid certificate

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One of the major concerns surrounding Switzerland’s Covid certificate, as with other Covid passports, has been privacy. 

In order to respond to these concerns, Switzerland in summer launched the ‘Covid light’ certificate. 

Unlike the Covid certificate itself, which displays which vaccine they had, the date on which they were vaccinated, whether they have recovered from the virus or whether they tested negative, the Covid light certificate simply shows whether or not a person’s credentials are valid. 

As noted directly by the government “the certificate light does not contain any health data; it merely shows that the holder has a valid COVID certificate.”

More information about the certificate itself can be found at the following link. 

UPDATE: What is Switzerland’s data-safe ‘light’ Covid certificate?

Importantly, the Covid light certificate only works in Switzerland, i.e. it cannot be used for travel purposes or in other countries. 

What exactly is the certificate light and is it in digital form? 

The ‘certificate light’ might sound like a separate document from the main Covid certificate, but in reality is effectively a data-safe function of the app itself. 

This function can be switched on, from which point the certificate only provides minimal data, including your name, date of birth, electronic signature and whether the certificate is valid or not. 

While this is done in the app, it can also be printed out. 

How do I get the certificate light?

If you go into your Covid certificate app, you can see there is an option to get a ‘certificate light’ if you tap on the certificate itself. 

Once the certificate is activated, it will be valid for 48 hours. After that 48 hour period, it must be activated again. 

UPDATED: A step-by-step guide to getting the Swiss Covid certificate

If you need to show your actual Covid certificate after you have activated certificate light (for instance for travel), you will need to deactivate it. 

The certificate light can be activated and deactivated again and again at no cost. 

The following diagram, produced by the Swiss government, shows how the certificate can be activated and deactivated (albeit in relatively shabby resolution). 

Switzerland’s Covid light certificate. Image: FOPH.



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The macro pig farm threatening a historical gem in northern Spain | Culture

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Christians and Muslims fought over the castle of Gormaz in Soria in the Spanish region of Castilla y León for two centuries. Now, after a lapse of hundreds of years, it is once again under threat – this time, from a macro pig farm for 4,200 animals. The proposed farm is within two kilometers of the fortress, and will be visible from its impressive caliphal gate, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the medieval site.

Environmental and neighborhood associations, architecture and restoration professionals, as well as the town councils of Recuerda, a village of 70 inhabitants, and Gormaz, a village of 20, call the plans an “attack” on one of the most impressive Islamic fortresses on the peninsula. With a perimeter measuring more than one kilometer, the castle of Gormaz was once the largest in Europe. It was this fortress that the Caliph of Córdoba, Al-Hakam II, ordered to be reinforced and expanded at the end of the 10th century to stop the Christian advance from the north.

Meanwhile, the company behind the project, Agro Peñaranda Esteban, insists it will comply “strictly with the law” and that if the permits are not issued, it will go elsewhere. “It’s great to eat torreznos [a kind of fried bacon snack] from Soria in a good restaurant in a big capital city,” says one of the shareholders, who is from the area. “People must think that they fall from the sky.”

The castle of Gormaz was built in the 9th century to strategically support Medinaceli, the capital of the so-called Muslim Middle Frontier. Divided into two large areas separated by a moat, there is the fortress with the tower of Almanzor and the caliphal quarters, and then the area for the troops, where the main entrance is located. Altogether, it has 28 towers with battlements and arrowslits.

The Soria fortress defended the routes to the north of the peninsula that followed the banks of the Duero river and was coveted by a number of figures, including Count García Fernández, Sancho II of Pamplona, Ramiro III of León, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar and the de facto ruler of Islamic Iberia, Almanzor. And so it passed from one side to the other until, in 1060, Fernando I of León seized it once and for all. During the reign of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, it was turned into a prison as it no longer had any strategic value.

But now it is administrative forces that are advancing on the castle. On June 29, the Castilla y León regional government published “the announcement of a pig farm of 4,200 pigs in plot 20114 of industrial estate 1 of the municipality of Recuerda,” which backs onto Gormaz. August 10 was the deadline for anyone wishing to take issue with the environmental impact assessment, which states that the farm would not alter the surrounding landscape. “It is a landscape altered by human activity, due to its agricultural use, with no dominant variations or striking contrasts,” claims the report.

This contradicts the regional plan for the Duero Valley, approved by the Castilla y León regional authorities in 2010, which mentions a series of Landscape Management Areas (AOP) needing a specific regime of protection, management and planning. One such area includes the castle of Gormaz and the surrounding area where the farm would be located.

View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.
View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.José Francisco Yusta

Luis Morales, architect and member of the Soria Association for the Defense of Nature (Aseden), points out that the castle’s environment is “totally agricultural – fields and forests – and very similar to what it might have been in the Middle Ages, when Gormaz was built. To put an industrial complex of enormous dimensions to house more than 4,000 pigs, which is what they intend, is barbaric,” he adds. “It breaks up the landscape from the same caliphal gate, the one that is so often photographed for tourism purposes.”

Morales also believes that the municipalities have the means to stop the project, “because the land is rustic and can therefore be classified as protected, which would prevent the livestock complex from being built.” Meanwhile, the Aseden association points out that the regional authorities were responsible for the White Paper of the Territorial Enclaves of Cultural Interest (ETIC), which selected 111 locations of cultural or heritage interest, one of which was Gormaz.

According to the NGO Ecologists in Action, in this type of facility whose surface area would be 4,000 square meters plus another 2,000 for slurry, “the problem of odor emissions is very important because of its proximity and orientation with respect to inhabited areas and other places of interest.” It explains: “In this case, the farm would be to the west, 1.3 kilometers from Recuerda and two kilometers from the castle of Gormaz. According to data from [Spain’s national weather agency] Aemet, the prevailing winds are from the west. In other words, it would bring unhealthy smells for most of the year to Recuerda. Surprisingly, the project says that the prevailing winds are from the northeast.”

Consuelo Barrio, mayor of Recuerda, agrees. “It is not only the visual impact, which is very important, but also the environmental impact due to the possible contamination of the water from the slurry as we are in an area of aquifers; this is in addition to the smell that would come our way as we are barely a kilometer from it.”

Meanwhile, the company behind the project considers it is under “unjustified attack.” According to one 38-year-old businessman involved in the project, “in this part of Soria there are at least three farms: Quintanar, Gormaz…. And if ours smells, it means they all smell. It’s not like years ago, when pigs were thrown into the Duero – some of which I have seen floating – or the slurry was dumped down drains. No. There are strict environmental laws and we will comply with them. It is easy to talk about ‘deserted’ Spain and all the things the politicians are saying, but when you try to create wealth, obstacles are thrown up because you can be seen from the castle two kilometers away. If they don’t let us set up here, we’ll go somewhere else,” he adds angrily.

Marisa Revilla, president of Amigos del Museo Numantino, is particularly upset by the visual effect of the pig farm. “The impact report does not take into account the horizontal impact. It only states that they are going to put up some hedges to hide the farm. But the installation will not only affect the castle, it will also affect the nearby Romanesque San Miguel hermitage.” This hermitage was inspected in the 1990s by architect José Francisco Yusta, who specializes in historical monuments and also opposes the construction of the farm. “There is no justification for breaking up the landscape,” says Yusta, who has worked on such architectural gems as the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and castle of Gormaz itself.

“I believe it is not worth destroying our landscape for the two jobs that the macro-farm will provide, which are those proposed by the promoters,” says architect Luis Morales. “If there were only 200 for deserted Spain….”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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