Vyazma ( _ru. Вя́зьма, _pl. Wiaźma) is a town in Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Vyazma River, about halfway between Smolensk and Mozhaysk. Throughout its turbulent history, the city defended western approaches to the city of Moscow. Population: 57,545 (2002 Census); 44,000 (1970). It is served by Vyazma Airport.

Medieval history and monuments

Vyazma was first mentioned in a chronicle under the year of 1239, although it is believed that it is a much older settlement. At that time, the town belonged to a lateral branch of the Rurikid House of Smolensk. In 1403, the local princes were expelled by Lithuanians to Moscow, where they took the name of Princes Vyazemsky. The most notable among them were Pyotr Vyazemsky, an intimate friend of the poet Alexander Pushkin and a poet himself, and Sophie Viazemski, a French writer, for a time married to Jean-Luc Godard.

In 1494, Vyazma was captured by Muscovy and turned into a fortress, of which but a single tower remains. Two important abbeys were embellished with stone churches, including a rare three-tented church dedicated to Our Lady of Smolensk (Hodegetria) and consecrated in 1638. A barbican church of the same abbey dates back to 1656, and the city's cathedral was completed by 1676. Other churches are designed mostly in baroque style.

Battles of Vyazma

During the Patriotic War of 1812, there was a battle between the retreating French army (up to 37,000 troops) and the Russian army (25,000 men) near Vyazma on October 22, 1812. The vanguard of the Russian army under the command of Lieutenant General Mikhail Miloradovich and a Cossack unit of General Matvey Platov attacked the rearguard corps of Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout east of Vyazma and cut off his retreat route. Owing to the intervention of Eugène de Beauharnais and Józef Antoni Poniatowski, Davout managed to break through the Russian army's encirclement. The French army's attempts, however, to hold the heights near Vyazma and the city itself were unsuccessful. By the evening of October 22, the Russians seized Vyazma, which had been set on fire by the French. The French lost 6,000 men during the battle; 2,500 soldiers were taken prisoners. The Russians lost around 2,000 men.

During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, Vyazma once again became the battlefield between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht during the Battle of Moscow. Vyazma was occupied by the German army between October 7, 1941 and March 12, 1943. The city was mostly destroyed and then rebuilt after the war. American war correspondent Quentin Reynolds visited Vyazma shortly after the German retreat and gave an account of the destruction of the city in his book "The Curtain Rises" in which he stated that its population was reduced from 60,000 to 716 with only three buildings remaining. Nowadays it is a major railroad junction, connecting trains from Moscow, St.Petersburg, Kaluga and Bryansk.

External links

* [http://www.vyazma.ru/ vyazma.ru] - official website of the city
* [http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/MapCenter/Map.aspx?TextLatitude=54.9248535125362&TextLongitude=33.2922476374206&TextAltitude=8&TextSelectedEntity=9336&SearchEnc=false&MapStyle=Comprehensive&MapSize=Small&MapStyleSelectedIndex=0&searchText
* [http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=55.204737,34.303093&spn=0.127120,0.305935&t=k&hl=en Satellite photo via Google Maps]

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