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Republic of Tatarstan: Sviyazhsk
February 23, 2010 01:32

Sviyazhsk (Tatarstan Republic) is a settlement on the island in the Middle Volga, which has been turned into a huge water reservoir. Earlier it was not an island, but a town on the hill. If I ask you where such different odious characters as Ivan the Terrible, Leo Trotsky and Judas Iscariot could meet, the answer is Sviyazhsk. Historically, it was a jumping board for the conquest of the Kazan Khanate and a product of the unique military operation. During the Civil war (1918 – 1922), the General Headquarters of Leo Trotsky were situated here. As for Judas Iscariot, the monument to him was erected in Sviyazhsk in 1918.

Ivan the Terrible and the fortress
Tsar Ivan the Terrible had some views for Kazan Khanate since he became the Tsar in 1547. Kazan Khanate was suffering a very serious economy crisis. He wanted to conquer it, but the Kazan Tatars headed by Imam Kul Sharif looked upon the problem with a quite different eye. All the attempts to take the mighty fortress of Kazan were in vain. It could continue for a very long time, if one absolutely unprecedented operation was not undertaken. It was 1550 when Ivan the Terrible, returning from latest unlucky storm of Kazan, chose a place for the fortress which was supposed to be built as soon as possible. It was a place of the future Sviyazhsk, not far from Kazan, in the mouth of the Sviyaga River. The frontier of the Khanate lied then rather close to the capital (about 20 km). The wooden fortress was constructed of wood in the town of Myshkin in the Volga upstream. Each log of wood was marked. After that the elements of the fortress were rafted down the Volga River from the Uglich city, which stands upstream. The fortress was re-constructed on the Kruglaya Mountain, at the approaches to the city of Kazan in 4 weeks. It was in 1551. The fortress, which became a military base during the successful siege and assault of Kazan, was built on a large scale. Its defensive bastions outmeasured ones of Novgorod, Pskov and even Moscow.

Successful taking Kazan by assault in 1552 was not the end of the story. After the storm the city became a base for Christianization of the local public, the Mari and the Tatars. The outstanding monuments of the Russian church architecture were being built in Sviyazhsk while partisan war was going on in the city of Kazan. Some of them have survived and they are actually the main tourists’ attractions of Kazan. I mean especially Uspensky monastery and John the Baptist nunnery (now both of them are combined into one monastery).

Leo Trotsky and Judas Iscariot
As for these guys, the Head quarters of Leo Trotsky were situated here during the Civil war. Trotsky was not yet recognized as an enemy of the proletariat. Sviyazhsk was more a settlement than a city. The fact of Trotsky’s presence in it has played a bad role in the fortune of Sviyazhsk. The monument to Judas appeared there approximately at the same time, in 1918. The Military mobile Fighting Literary train named after Lenin with Leo Trotsky, Vsevolod Vishnevsky, well-known Russian Revolutionary poet Demyan Bedny and little-known Danish writer and journalist Galling Keller on board delivered a sculpture to Sviyazhsk.

It was a sculpture with a fist up. There were other ideas towards the character, but Lucifer did not share the ideals of communism and the second pretender, Cain, was recognized as a too legendary person. So it was decided in favour of Judas, who was a historical character and was supposed to share ideas requested. Unfortunately, the monument was destroyed already in 1920-s.

What to see and how to get
Concerning sightseeing, the island of Sviyazhsk is picturesque on its own. The town on the island seems to be stuck between the centuries. The streets of Sviyazhsk avoided renaming in the Soviet time, so they are called after the churches: Uspenskaya, Nikolskaya, etc. There are no modern houses there and no industry. The sight of the Volga River with boats of fishermen and hills covered with forest on the brink far away. The Sviyazhsk sights are beautiful in all seasons.

The wooden fortress of Sviyazhsk is not survived on its own, but you can see it in the Trinity church in the John the Forerunner monastery. This wooden church was constructed from the timbers the fortress consisted of. It is the oldest Orthodox Church in the Lower Volga and the only one wooden church in Tatarstan. Unfortunately, the church was restored in 2002 and its image was disfigured in an annoying way. Other buildings of the monastery worth to take photo are Sergius of Radonezh church of 17th century and the church of The Virgin of Sorrowful, 1896 – 1906 built of red bricks. This church is a textbook example of the so-called Byzantine style.

Another monastery, Uspensky, is the main point of interest of Sviyazhsk. The ensemble was supposedly built in the middle of the 16th century by the same architects who had built the famous St Basil's cathedral in on the Red Square in Moscow and Beheading of St. John the Baptist church in Kolomenskoye. These buildings distinguish considerably from contemporaries. But the Uspensky cathedral is also remarkable by its frescoes, which have survived very good. The figure of St. Christopher is notable in these frescoes. This saint was usually presented with an animal’s head. According to one of the legends, the saint pleaded the God to make him ugly, and it was done. He received a head of a dog. On the fresco he looks more like a horse-headed man, but it doesn’t matter. In the monastery you can book a guided excursion these frescoes. The art historians were beating around the bush for a long time trying to find out when they were painted. Many guidebooks still affirm that it is 16th century, but in fact they rely to the early 17th century. This date is founded on the inscription next to the entrance. It contains the name of patriarch, which is unique.

The houses and civil architecture of Sviyazhsk are also old. It relays mainly to the 19th century

You can get to Sviyazhsk in a few ways. First one is by suburban train and taxi. You go to the Sviyazhsk station and than take a taxi. The island, which is situated in 6 kilometers from it, is connected with a mole with the shore. Second way is by boat, but it is rather long, although very good in summer time. The suburban trains go from the railway of Kazan, and the boats go from the Riverport of Kazan. The boats sail rather rare, so sometimes it is easier to come to agreement with the fishermen. They transport you from Sviyazhsk to the settlement of Vasilyevo, from which you get to Kazan without difficulties.

Travel along Russia by train. Have a nice trip!


Read more about Republic of Tatarstan


Yulia Buzykina



Tags: Kazan Republic of Tatarstan    

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