This most important city in the west of Russia was founded in 863, a bit later than Velikiy Novgorod (859) and Kiev (854). The city is located on the bank of the Dnieper, Kiev is also located on this river. Such a convenient location made it possible for Smolensk to become the key city on the trade route from the Byzantine Empire to Scandinavia. The other important Russian cities, such as Moscow and Vladimir, were founded much later.
Smolensk was founded on the very rugged terrain, among steep hills. Many of the hills are just unsuitable for building, so even in our days one can see big spaces covered with forests in the center of Smolensk.
Cathedral Square is the highest one in the old town, and it is around it that the city itself was built. Today Smolensk Assumption Cathedral is located atop the hill. It was built in 1609-1611 on the site of a church of the 12th century. There was kept the Icon of the Blessed Virgin of Smolensk, but during World War II it was lost.
Considering the exceptional importance of Smolensk for defense of the borders of Russia, it virtually always had some defensive works. Under Ivan the Terrible, in the middle of the 16th century there was built a wooden fortress, but already 50 years later, in 1595, they began to erect the strong stone wall around the city. Russian architect Fyodor Kon` was the head of the construction.
From the wall of the 17th century, which encircled the city, with 40 towers there remained several sections of several kilometers long and 15 towers. But even this can give you certain idea about the strength of defenses. Each tower had its own name: Kopytenskaya, Bubleyka, Veselukha, Makhovaya, Orel, Volkova, and so on. At the foot of Gromovaya Tower the statue of Fyodor Kon` is standing. And in front of Donets Tower there located the military memorial dedicated to the defense of Smolensk from the armies of Napoleon and Hitler.
Generally, the city has a lot of memorials dedicated to defense of the city, as it survived the innumerable number of sieges and invasions. In the 15th century Smolensk was even under the dominion of the Polish-Lithuanian Princedom. After Smolensk was returned to the dominion of Russian tsars in 1514, Novodevichy Convent was founded in Moscow.
Near Smolensk there were very important battles with French troops during the Moscow campaign of Napoleon in 1812, as well as with German armies during World War II in 1941.