Derbent resembles a huge museum and has magnificent mountains and shore nearby, and therefore possesses much touristic potential, further increased by UNESCO's classification of the citadel, ancient city and fortress as a World Heritage Site in 2003, however, instability in the region has retarded development.
The current fortification and walls were built by the Persian Sassanian Empire as a defensive structure against hostile nomadic people in the north, and continuously repaired or improved by later Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms until the early course of the 19th century, as long as its military function lasted. The fortress was built under direction of the Sassanid emperor Khosrow I.
A large portion of the walls and several watchtowers still remain in reasonable shape. The walls, reaching to the sea, date from the 6th century, Sassanid dynasty period. The city has a well-preserved citadel (Narin-kala), enclosing an area of 4.5 hectares, enclosed by strong walls. Historical attractions include the baths, the cisterns, the old cemeteries, the caravanserai, the 18th-century Khan's mausoleum, as well as several mosques. The oldest mosque is the Juma Mosque, built over a 6th-century Christian basilica, it has a 15th-century madrassa. Other shrines include the 17th-century Kyrhlyar mosque, the Bala mosque and the 18th-century Chertebe mosque.