People settled in the area during 5th to 4th millennium BC, as witnessed by the archeological traces of the Narva culture, named so after the city. The settlement was first mentioned in the First Novgorod Chronicle as Rugodiv (Ругодивъ) under the year 1171.
The castle of Narva was founded during the Danish rule of northern Estonia on November 30, 1223. The castle and surrounding town of Narva became a possession of the Livonian Order after 1346. Captured briefly by Russians in 1558, Narva changed hands a few times, and after 1581 was controlled by Sweden.
During the Great Northern War, Narva was the setting for its first great battle between the forces of King Charles XII of Sweden and Tsar Peter I of Russia. Although outnumbered four to one, the Swedish forces routed their 40 000-strong opponent. The city was subsequently conquered by Russia in 1704.
Narva became part of independent Estonia in 1918 following World War I. It was made part of the Estonian SSR in 1940 during World War II. Narva had an baroque style old town for a city center which was quite famous all over Europe. The old town of Narva was completely destroyed by the bombing of Soviet Union on 6th of March, 1944. On the same year, the retreating germans also blew up some of the houses. After the battle, most of the buildings could have been restored as the walls of the houses still existed, but the Soviet Union demolished those to make room for apartment buildings. Many estonians who had fled Narva during war wanted to come back but they were not allowed. Instead russians were brought in. The only remaining building of the old town is the old town hall.
Having reoccupied Estonia during World War II in 1944, the Soviet authorities separated Ivangorod administratively from the rest of Narva, and transferred the territory to the Leningrad Oblast of the Russian SFSR in January 1945. Ivangorod received the status of town in 1954.
After Estonia regained independence in 1991, the border as per 1920 Treaty of Tartu was considered by Russia legally superseded by an Subdivisions of the Soviet Union between two former Soviet republics drawn later by the Soviet authorities. Ivangorod thus remained a part of Russia. Due to political tensions, a new border treaty between Estonia and Russia has not yet come into force.
Narva is dominated by the 15th-century castle, with the 51-metre-high Long Hermann tower as its most prominent landmark. The sprawling complex of the Kreenholm Manufacture, located in the proximity of scenic waterfalls, is one of the largest textile mills of 19th-century Eastern Europe. Other notable buildings include Swedish mansions of the 17th century, a Baroque town hall (1668-71), and remains of Erik Dahlberg's fortifications.
Across the Narva River is the Russian Ivangorod fortress, founded by Grand Prince Ivan III of Muscovy in 1492 and known in Western sources as Counter-Narva. During the Soviet times Narva and Ivangorod were twin cities, despite belonging to different republics. Before World War II, Ivangorod (in Estonian known as Jaanilinn) was administrated as part of Narva.