Surrounded by water on all sides, the fabulous island town of Sviyazhsk is a temple witness of five centuries of historical events. This amazing place is located 60 kilometers from Kazan and stands right on the waters where the rivers Sviyaga and Schuka merge into the great and mighty Volga. The city was built by order of Ivan the Terrible in just four weeks, as a fortress for an offensive against Kazan in 1552. For several centuries, it was an all-Russian Orthodox shrine that attracted many people from all over the country. It was from here that the spread of Orthodoxy in this region began.
Nowadays Sviyazhsk is one of the best travel destinations in Tatarstan. The main landmark of the island town is the snow-white complex of the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Assumption Bogoroditsky Monastery. The thing that makes the cathedral so unique is the well-preserved frescoes of 1561.
In May 1551, the troops of the Kasimov khan Shah-Ali sailed here on ships in order to build a military fortress by the will of the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Russia several times tried to take Kazan, but suffered defeats. Then the tsar decided to build a fortress near the city, and thereby support the Russian army. Thanks to the outpost, it would be easier to take Kazan – from the mouth of Sviyaga there was only a day’s journey to the capital of the Kazan Khanate. So that the enemies did not notice military preparations, island town was built from logs fused along the Volga from Uglich. In a short time, the soldiers cut down the whole forest on a hill and, under the leadership of the Russian architect Ivan Vyrodkov, erected wooden fortress walls. The settlement was called “Sviyazhsky Novograd.” It had 18 artillery towers, residential buildings and an Orthodox church.
The island town of Sviyazhsk was a trading Russian center for a century after the conquest of Kazan. Foreign ambassadors and foreign merchants came here. In 1781 the former citadel became a city of 10,000 people. However, gradually, as the influence of the Russians increased, government officials, military, merchants and artisans began to move to Kazan and active life in Sviyazhsk, literally, has died out. Only functioning monasteries remained here: the Assumption Bogoroditsky Monastery, a wooden Trinity church, Ioanno-Predtechensky Monastery, All the Sorrowful Joy’ Cathedral;тthey were all built to plant Christianity among the local population from the very beginning of the development of the region.
After the 1917 Revolution, Sviyazhsk had a tough period. Its monasteries were looted and transformed into warehouses and prisons of the NKVD and later into psychiatric hospitals. Due to its location on the island, the town was sometimes compared to the former U.S. prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco.
Since 2010, the island town of Sviyazhsk received the status of a Museum-Reserve, it began to revive: architectural monuments were restored and new objects were built; an excellent tourist infrastructure appeared here. In 2017, the pearl of the Volga region – the Assumption Bogoroditsky Monastery was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Today the magnificent architectural ensemble attracts tourists from all over the world. The preserved temples of the island town are being carefully restored, so most of the buildings you will see look the same as they did centuries ago.
The main landmark of Sviyazhsk is the beautiful Assumption Bogoroditsky Monastery, which has become the major center for the spread of Christianity in the Middle Volga region and one of the richest monasteries in Russia. The ensemble of the Monastery is represented by such remarkable architectural monuments as the Archimandrite Corps, the church of St Herman, St. Nicholas Church and the Assumption Cathedral with the 1,080 square metres of colorful completely preserved fresco wall paintings from 1561.
The following monuments make up the foundation of the architectural ensemble of Sviyazhsk:
The 450 year old wooden Church of the Holy Trinity. It is one of the buildings originally transported to the island by water. The church was built in 1551, at the same time with the fortress of Sviyazhsk. Recently the monument was returned to its original form, and nowadays the church looks almost the same as more than four centuries ago.
Ioanno-Predtechensky Monastery with its famous «All the Sorrowful Joy» Cathedral. The most impressive religious building on the island, decorated with a magnificent dome; the cathedral still rises above the ancient monastery buildings. Anyone entering it and looking up sees the beautiful ceiling decorated with paintings of faces of Saints. The style of the temple is Byzantine. This religious building has changed little in a hundred years.
The Church of St. Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine and Helena is one of the earliest buildings. It was built in 1551 and already at that time was the parish church of the island town of Sviyazhsk. The existing stone temple and a free-standing bell tower were built at the end of the 17th century.
Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh.
The church St. Sergius of Radonezh was built in 1604 on the site of an old wooden church. The main shrine of the temple was the miracle-working icon of St. Sergius of Radonezh. The icon was brought to Sviyazhsk in 1551. At present it is kept at the Church of the Miracle-Workers of Yaroslavl in Kazan.
You will see not only cathedrals all over the island, but also ruins. So that the travelers can feel as close as possible to the island’s history, the ruins were deliberately left without restoration during the reconstruction of Sviyazhsk,
On the island-town of Sviyazhsk there is a Horse Yard, where anyone who wishes has the opportunity to ride horses. There are various craft workshops, gift shops, a restaurant and a guest house. Children will enjoy the «Lazy Torzhok» cultural center, stylized as a medieval town. Here you can shoot archery and try on real armor, take part in various master classes, taste local yummy pancakes cooked in an oven and drink herbal tea from a samovar. On weekends and holidays, staged knight fights and spectacular shows are held on the territory of the center.
There are interesting museums in Sviyazhsk where you can learn more about the island.
Museum of the History of Sviyazhsk. The exhibits are dedicated to the history of the island town and the arts and crafts. Here visitors can see original documents, books of past centuries and even a wax figure of Ivan the Terrible.
The Museum of Archeological Wood stores artifacts found during archaeological excavations. The building has an area of 2500 square meters and looks like a green hill. The central part is occupied by an archaeological site. Tourists can see fragments of 40 wooden buildings, houses, fences, pavements and flooring found in Sviyazhsk in the 16-17th centuries as well as a collection of products made of leather, fabric, bast, wood, and other organic materials.
The Civil War Museum opened on the island recently – in 2016. It is housed in a beautiful building of the 19th century with columns – the house of the tradesman Medvedev. The halls of the museum tell about the history of the White Guard and the origin of the Red Army, a separate exposition is dedicated to Leo Trotsky.
-Many people are sure that the island of Sviyazhsk is the prototype of the fabulous island of Buyan, described by Pushkin in “The Tale of Tsar Saltan.”
-The legend about the monument to Jude discovered on the territory of Soviet Russia is connected with the island. The installation of the monument was allegedly personally controlled by Leon Trotsky.
-Sviyazhsk was visited by many famous people. Russian emperors Catherine 2, Paul 1 and Alexander 2 stayed here.
How to get there
You can get to Sviyazhsk Island from Kazan in the following ways:
By bus. Travel time is 1 hour 50 minutes. The bus leaves once a day, in the morning, and only on weekends. Tickets can be purchased at Kazan Yuzhny Bus Station.
By train. The island can also be reached by the Kazan-Sviyazhsk train. The travel time depends on the direction of the train (all of them passing) and ranges from 51 minutes to 1 hour 19 minutes. Trains leave from the central railway station and arrive at ‘Sviyazhsk’ station from which you will need to find transport to the island town 14 kilometres away.
On a boat. The ship Kazan-Sviyazhsk departs from the Kazan river port every day at 08:20, and arrives at the island’s pier. Traveling takes no more than two hours in one side. Tickets can be purchased at the river station.
By car. You can get to the island town by car moving along the M7 highway. You need to get to the village of Isakovo and then follow the sign to the city. The journey by private car will take about an hour.
If you are interested in the history of Sviyazhsk and want to learn more about the miracle island, let us organize your trip.