Derbent (dyĭrbyĕntˈ) [key], city (1989 pop. 78,000), SE European Russia, in Dagestan, on the Caspian Sea. It stands on a narrow strip of land that forms a natural pass (the Caspian, or Iron, Gates) between the Caucasian foothills and the sea. Orchards and vineyards are cultivated. Industries include food processing and the production of woolen textiles and bricks. There are oil and natural gas deposits in the area.
Derbent was founded (5th or 6th cent. A.D.) by the Persians as a strategic fortress at the Iron Gates. There are remains of the Caucasian Wall (also called Alexander's Wall), built by the Persians in the 6th cent. as a bulwark against northern invaders. The Arabs, who took Derbent in 728, made it a commercial and cultural center. Passing (1220) to the Mongols and later recovered by Persia, Derbent was briefly held (1722) by Peter I of Russia and was annexed to Russia in 1806. Ancient caravansaries and baths and a mosque (8th cent., rebuilt or renovated 14th and 17th cent.) have been preserved.