The first prince of Pskov was St. Vladimir's younger son Sudislav. Once imprisoned by his brother Yaroslav, he wasn't released until the latter's death several decades later. In the 12th century and 13th centuries, the town adhered politically to the Novgorod Republic. In 1241, it was taken by the Teutonic knights, but Alexander Nevsky liberated it several months later during a legendary campaign dramatized in Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 movie.
In order to secure their independence from the knights, the Pskovians elected a converted Lithuanian prince, named Daumantas (known in Russian as Dovmont), as their military leader and prince in 1266. Having fortified the town, Daumantas routed the knights at Rakovor and overran much of Estonia. His remains and sword are preserved in the local kremlin, and the core of the citadel, erected by him, still bears the name of "Dovmont's town".
By the 14th century, the town functioned as the capital of a de-facto sovereign republic. Its most powerful force was the merchants who brought the town into the Hanseatic league. Pskov's independence was formally recognized by Novgorod in 1348. Several years later, the veche promulgated a law code (called the Pskov Charter) which was one of the principal sources of the all-Russian law code issued in 1497.
For Russia, the Pskov Republic was a bridge towards Europe. For Europe, it was a western outpost of Russia and subject of numerous attacks throughout the history. Unbelievably, the kremlin (called by Pskovians the Krom) withstood 26 sieges in the 15th century alone. At one point, five stone walls ringed it, making the city practically impregnable. A local school of icon-painting flourished, and local masons were considered the best in Russia. Many peculiar features of Russian architecture were first introduced in Pskov.
Finally, in 1510, the city fell to Muscovite forces. The deportation of noble families to Moscow is a subject of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Pskovityanka (1872). As the second largest city of Muscovy, Pskov still attracted enemy armies. Most famously, it withstood a prolonged siege by 50,000-strong Polish army during the final stage of the Livonian War (1581–1582). The king of Poland Stefan Batory undertook some 31 attacks to storm the city, which was defended mainly by civilians. Even after one of the city walls was broken, the Pskovians managed to fill the gap and repel the attack. "It's amazing how the city reminds me of Paris", wrote one of the Frenchmen present at Batory's siege.
During World War I, Pskov became the center of much activity behind the lines, and after the Russo-German Brest-Litovsk Peace Conference (December 22, 1917–March 3, 1918), in the winter of 1917–1918, the Imperial German Army invaded the area. Pskov also occupied by Estonian army between February 1919-July 1919 during Estonian War of Independence.
The medieval citadel provided little protection against modern artillery, and during World War II Pskov suffered substantial damage during the German occupation from July 9, 1941 until July 23, 1944. Many ancient buildings, particularly churches, suffered destruction before the Wehrmacht could occupy the city. Though a huge portion of the population died during the war, Pskov has since struggled to regain its traditional position as a major industrial and cultural centre of Western Russia.
Pskov is exceedingly rich in tiny, squat, picturesque churches, dating mainly from the 15th and the 16th centuries. There are many dozens of them, the most notable being St. Basil's on the Hill (1413), St. Kozma and Demian's near the Bridge (1463), St. George's from the Downhill (1494), Assumption from the Ferryside (1444, 1521), and St. Nicholas' from Usokha (1536). The 17th-century residential architecture is represented by merchant mansions, such as the Salt House, the Pogankin chambers, and the Trubinsky mansion.
Among the sights in the vicinity of Pskov are Izborsk, a seat of Rurik's brother in the 9th century and one of the most formidable fortresses of medieval Russia; the Pskov Monastery of the Caves, the oldest continually functioning monastery in Russia and a magnet for pilgrims from all over the country; the 16th-century Krypetsky Monastery; Elizarovo Monastery, which used to be a great cultural and literary centre of medieval Russia; and Mikhailovskoe, a family nest of Alexander Pushkin where he wrote some of the best known lines in the Russian language. The national poet of Russia is buried in the ancient cloister at the Holy Mountains nearby. Unfortunately, the area presently has only a very minimal tourist infrastructure, and the historic core of Pskov requires serious investments to realize its great tourist potential.
Pskov is served by Pskov Airport which was also used for military aviation.