Friday, July 29, 2016
Sviyazhsk, Tatarstan, Russia, 422520
For the last two weeks I was working at a bootcamp for incoming students at Innopolis University. Since it was a bootcamp we were required to work every day, Monday-Saturday, with a day off on Sunday. One of the teachers who was working with me suggested we go to Sviyazhsk Island because it is a popular tourist destination for those visiting Kazan. It is outside of the city, so I thought it would be a good idea to go because I probably wouldn't visit if I were to come back to Kazan again. We had trouble getting a taxi to and from Innopolis because it is so far out of the city that taxi drivers don't want to make the trip out, even though Innopolis is closer to Sviyazhsk than Kazan. One finally agreed to take us, and ended up having to make two trips so all seven of us could go.
Sviyazhsk has been around since the 16th century when Ivan the Terrible asked for the construction of a military base near Kazan in his attempt to take over the region. The fortress was built some 700 km away, in the town of Uglich, and all the pieces were shipped downstream so the construction of the fortress would not bring attention to Ivan's plan. The name, Sviyazhsk, was given to the island by Ivan because of its location on the Volga and Sviyaga Rivers.
After Ivan defeated Kazan it was no longer needed as a base and was turned into a center of Orthodox Christianity and Russian influence in the area. Ivan asked Postnik Yakovlev to build the churches and monasteries at Sviyazhsk. Yakovlev is best known for his design of St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square. Today, Sviyazhsk is a livable city with a school and most of it's residents working in the cafes and shops on the island. I really enjoyed walking around the town and seeing the architecture of the houses. While many wooden towns are falling apart it seems the residents are trying to keep up the charm of the town. There was a lot of construction of many of the houses while I was there.
As I was walking around I noticed a lot of the Orthodox crosses (pictured above) in random spots around the island. While doing some research I learned that they mark the areas where churches used to stand. Unfortunately, during the Revolution, the Bolsheviks destroyed many of the churches on the island. The buildings that weren't destroyed still stand today. During Stalin's rule the island was turned into a Gulag and many of the buildings were turned into prison cells. The Monument to Victims of Political Repression (pictured below) stands at the front of the town in remembrance of the island's dark past.
There are several cafeteria style cafes, a restaurant, and plenty of places to buy souvenirs in addition to the historical sites. One of the teachers and I actually met each other while sitting on a bench and decided to get something to eat on the island. Keep in mind the restaurant near the front fills up pretty quickly and doesn't have many places to sit. I would recommend the cafeteria though. I believe there were also activities for young children, but I didn't get a good look because I was tired, hot, and hungry while I was walking around alone and just wanted somewhere to sit.
The island is definitely worth visiting. Entrance to the island is free, but you must get a ticket from the office to the right of the stairs leading up to the town. The also allow purchase of tickets for a guided tour and to the museums at a cost. Also, you should note that in the areas housing the monasteries (the areas surrounded by walls) will require you to wrap a long cloth around your waist if you are wearing shorts or pants. I learned this the hard way and was told by one of the priests to wrap it around my waist. The island provides them at the entrance to the monasteries. A lot of women were wearing head scarves which you should wear inside most Orthodox churches. I heard that they usually allow tourists to enter the churches without them, but I didn't even try because I didn't want to risk it. Plus, I hate getting yelled at in Russian. Would you add Sviyazhsk to your Kazan itinerary? Why or why not?