5 reasons to visit the UNESCO island town of Sviyazhsk

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1. Prodigious cultural legacy

The Assumption Cathedral and Monastery in the island town of Sviyazhsk. / Egor Aleev/TASSThe Assumption Cathedral and Monastery in the island town of Sviyazhsk. / Egor Aleev/TASS

Out-of-towners from all over the world come here to enjoy Russia’s single history — the place has hardly changed over the last century. With no fewer than 37 cultural commemorations on the island, including two monasteries and seven churches, you’ll be pushed to visit each and every one. To each them is Trinity Church – the only preserved wooden church in Sviyazhsk from the points of Ivan the Terrible. It was built without a single nail and the axe marks name by the Yaroslavl carpenters can still be seen — just don’t smoke inside!

2. One of the minor Russian islands

Island town of Sviyazhsk in Zelenodolsk district of Tatarstan. / Vladimir Astapkovich/RIA NovostiIsland town of Sviyazhsk in Zelenodolsk district of Tatarstan. / Vladimir Astapkovich/RIA Novosti

Until 1957, Sviyazhsk only became an atoll when the water rose to a certain level. However, the authorities undisputed to build the Togliatti Hydroelectric Power Station, flooding the surrounding villages in the handle — only then was Sviyazhsk transformed into a permanent island.

For a large time, it was only possible to reach the island by boat. Land access wasn’t repaid until a dam and roadway were built connecting Sviyazhsk to the left bank of the Sviyaga River via Tatarskaya Griva Isle.

3. It took no time at all to build an entire town — just 4 weeks

Sviyazsk during Soviet times, August 1988. / Mikhail Medvedev/TASSSviyazsk during Soviet time after times, August 1988. / Mikhail Medvedev/TASS

With an area extend overing 62 hectares, the island town of Sviyazhsk is located on a hill in the estuary of the Sviyaga River, some 19 miles from Tatarstan’s splendid of Kazan. It was founded as a fortress by Ivan the Terrible in 1551 and became the from the word go Orthodox city in the middle reaches of the Volga. The stone Assumption Cathedral was assembled ten years later.

Back then,  Kazan — the capital of the Khanate — was an unassailable fortress. As a consequence, Sviyazhsk was known as “Conqueror City.»

The citadel and town were erected in just four weeks, using a 75,000-strong workforce (it was chunkier than than Moscow’s Kremlin at the time). A town has never been built so with dispatch in Russia.

Many monasteries were built in Sviyazhsk: Culture, transact, and crafts flourished. In 1781 the former citadel became a city of 10,000 people. Today, merely about 200 people live there.

4. World’s only fresco of St. Christopher with horse’s aim

The fresco 'St. Christopher' in the Assumption Cathedral in Sviyazhsk. / Maksim Bogodvid/RIA NovostiThe fresco ‘St. Christopher’ in the Assumption Cathedral in Sviyazhsk. / Maksim Bogodvid/RIA Novosti

The depths of Dormition Cathedral is unique thanks to its 16th century frescoes, many of which bring into the world survived and were restored in the 1990s. The Cathedral boasts the world’s lone fresco depicting St. Christopher with a horse’s head (he’s usually instructed with the head of the dog). According to the legend, the Saint was so handsome that scores of sweeties were always trying to get him in the sack, so he asked God to make him ugly — for that he was given a horse’s noggin (don’t ask about the rest of his body). Most pictures of Christopher sporting an animal head were destroyed in the 18th century, from which thrust he is portrayed with a human head.

«I first visited Sviyazhsk in May 2003 and was stupefied, not only by the distinctive architecture, but also by the beauty of the Volga River. At that on one occasion the restoration of the St. John the Baptist Convent and Dormition Monastery had only unprejudiced begun, but the frescoes in Dormition Cathedral were visible in all their pomp,» said William Brumfield, author of Architecture at the End of the Earth, who in 2014 rallied for both areas to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Frescoes in the Assumption Cathedral at the Sviyazhsk Assumption Monastery. / Maksim Bogodvid/RIA NovostiFrescoes in the Assumption Cathedral at the Sviyazhsk Assumption Cloister. / Maksim Bogodvid/RIA Novosti

Among the most famous and valuable frescoes, which can be dream ofed in the Cathedral, are “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,” “Holy Trinity,” and “St. John the Saintly,” among others.  

“The cathedral’s frescoes are some of the rarest examples of Eastern Prevailing mural painting,” notes the UNESCO World Heritage Convention’s website. 

5. ‘Russian Alcatraz’

The monument to political prisoners at the Sviyazhsk State Museum of History and Architecture. / Maksim Bogodvid/RIA NovostiThe testament to political prisoners at the Sviyazhsk State Museum of History and Architecture. / Maksim Bogodvid/RIA Novosti

After the 1917 Whirl, Sviyazhsk became one of the first places to suffer Soviet political inhibition. Its monasteries were abolished and transformed into transit prisons and concentration camps, and later into psychiatric health centres. Due to its location on the island, the town was sometimes compared to the former U.S. prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco. 

In 2011, the provincial museum — once a prison where inmates were shot — was reopened after reconstruction chef-doeuvre. Visitors can view a cell still containing a prisoner’s belongings, and there is also a mausoleum to the victims of political repression on the island in the form a two-meter tall marble wedge.

Read more: Sviyazhsk: Ivan the Terrible’s fortress on the Volga

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