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Valdai is located on the western shore of the Valdai Lake, in the middle of the St. Petersburg-Moscow highway in the central part of the Valdai Upland.

The first written mention of the city dates back to 1495. Valdai became a sovereign palace village in the 16th century. In 1654, in connection with the construction of the Iversky Monastery on the Valdai Lake island by Patriarch Nikon, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich renamed his village to Bogoroditsyno and ascribed it to the Iversky Monastery. Valday was a Bogoroditsyno monastery village until 1764. Because of the secularization of church and monastic lands, the village of Bogoroditsyno emerged from under the monastery administration and was given the original name again — Valdai.

In 1770, was elevated to the rank of the city by decree of Empress Catherine II Valdai, in 1772 it was given the coat of arms: golden imperial crown on ermine fur on one side of the shield, a green mountain on a silver field, as a symbol of the Valdai Upland,  on the other. In 1776 Valdai became the center of the Valdai district of Novgorod province.

The active development of Valday is primarily due to the convenient location of the city on the main road of Russia. Second half of the 18th century was the heyday of Valdai and the development of its traditional crafts and crafts — bell, blacksmith, tanneries, soap production, cartage. Valdai was known for baking special bagels called «Valdai». For the first time in the history of the world bell-casting practice, bell chimes began to be cast here.

The construction of the Nikolayev railway led to a sharp reduction in the number of travelers following the route through the Valdai in the second half of the XIX century, which contributed to the economic decline of Valdai.

Valdai became a favorite holiday destination for the capital's summer residents between the second half of the 19th and early 20th century. Writer Vsevolod Soloviev, leading publicist of the Novoye Vremya newspaper Mikhail Menshikov, teacher and public figure Viktor Ostrogorsky, spiritual writer Sergei Nilus, archaeologist, artist and philosopher Nikolai Roerich and others lived here.

Korotsky Tikhonovsky nunnery, which became a famous center of Orthodox pilgrimage, was built in the homeland of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk near Valday at the end of the 19th century.

Today, there's Iversky Svyatoozersky monastery, founded in the 17th century by Patriarch Nikon, as well as the Trinity Cathedral of 1744, the Peter and Paul Church, dating back to 1858, the chapel of Jacob Borovitsky (19th century) operating in Valdai.

There's the only museum of bells in the country opened in 1995 and the museum of the county town specializing in showing provincial culture and lifestyle, opened in 1998, in the structure of the Valdai branch of the Novgorod State United Museum Reserve. The museums are established on the basis of the Valdai Museum of Local History, organized in 1918.

The All-Russian Menshikov Readings in memory of M.O. Menshikov and All-Russian Bell Conferences have been held since 1995;  Nord-West Author's Song Interregional Festival first took place in 1997. The City Day is celebrated every year on June 12, the Valdai Wheel fair is held in the Valdai on the last Saturday of September.

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