An island village with unique history is located on the Kuybyshev Reservoir. Sviyazhsk was founded in 1551 on the order of Ivan the Terrible as a fortified place for the campaign to conquer Kazan. The wooden fortress was first built in 1000 km from here in the woods near the ancient city of Uglich and later dismantled, relocated to Sviyazhsk and rebuilt only in a month. From that architectural ensemble the unique 16th century Holy Trinity Church built without a single nail preserved till modern times. The legend says, this is where Tzar Ivan the Terrible prayed before the Kazan campaign.
A Sviyazhskiy Holy Dormition Monastery with the Assumption Cathedral, where 16th century frescos whose non-canonical look astonishes is especially interesting. For example, Saint Christopher is depicted there with the horse head (according to a proverb, he asked the Christ to give him an animal look to avoid the temptation). Other churches, built later in the XVII-XVIII from white stone or red bricks are also worth visiting.
During the Soviet time the island was the place of one of the prison settlements of the GULAG – a system of unhappy memory. By hearsay, representatives of creative intelligence were exiled to Sviyazhsk.
And in 1957 the village on the hill was cut from the rest of the world only in one night: when the Kuybyshev Reservoir was filled, the territory surrounding Sviyazhsk went under the water. This caused a lot of trouble to its inhabitants and most of them moved to Kazan and other nearby cities and town, but “preserved” the wonder island for future generations.
5 years ago Sviyazhsk restored its link with the continent: a dam was built providing access to Sviyazhsk by land. However the island is still quiet and calm and the surrounding landscapes feel the soul with appeasement.
In recent years the number of tourists has been growing: they leisurely walk among the old buildings, visit the churches, the History Museum of Sviyazhsk, temporary exhibitions, and the stables.
How to get there:
There are only two boats per day to Sviyazhsk so you should do your best in order not to miss one of them. You should come to the River Port of Kazan one hour before departure – this is when the ticket sale starts.
The first motor ship leaves at 8:20 (in some years this time changes to 8:40), the second with an excursion – at 9:00. The travel time is 2 hours, but they will fly by quickly as on the way you will enjoy the incredible landscapes of the Volga River. There are also two motor boats back from Sviyazhsk – at 15:00 and 16-30. Don’t be afraid to miss them as a leisure walk around the island takes only 2 hours, so you will have them both for lunch at one of the local restaurants and for coming to the quay in time.
Going to Sviyazhsk by land is less convenient, but when the lake freezes up this is the only option. Take the suburban train from Kazan to the station “Sviyazhsk” located 16 km from the island village in settlement Nizhniye Vyazovye and afterwards take a taxi to Sviyazhsk that will cost approximately 300 roubles. The trip takes about one hour and a half.
Tickets: Entrance to the island territory is free. Tickets to the museums and temporary exhibitions cost from 50 to 150 roubles.
The Raifa Bogoroditsky Monastery
A phratry located 27 km from Kazan on the bank of the Raifa Lake. There you will find a well-preserved 17th-18th century architectural complex and an esteemed relic – icon of the Virgin of Georgia to which there is always a queue of pilgrims.
The white-stone churches are very photogenic and on the territory there is a beautiful garden with expressive wooden sculptures presented to the monastery by one of its parishioners – there is the all-knowing Cat of Kazan, nice hares, and one of the sculptures is dedicated to… frogs. And this is not by chance: according to a legend, the monks asked the God to release them from obtrusive quacking of surrounding frogs preventing them from thinking about the omnitemporal things. Nobody knows whether it was true or not, but since then no quacking has been heard around the monastery, though it is located near a bog. Nearby there is the Vosshko-Kamisky Nature Reserve, so silence, peaceful and beautiful landscapes are guaranteed.
How to get there: from Severny Station of Kazan take bus No 404 “Kazan – Kulbashi” (at 8:15, 9:10, 12:00, 13:05, and 17:30) or No406 “Kazan – Bishnya” (at 10:05 and 14:10) to the bus stop “Raifa”. The return buses leave at 7:00, 8:10, 9:55, 10:40, 12:50, 14:20, 15:00, 16:55, and 18:30. On Saturdays and Sundays there are additional buses at 9:10, 13:30 and 17:45.
Opening hours: 09:00-18:00 daily. Admission is free.
The city that used to be an important political and cultural center of the powerful Volga Bulgaria (a historical Muslim state of the IX-XIII) and then that of the Golden Horde – a kind of Tatar Pompeii. Destroyed by Russian troops in 1431 during a military campaign against the Volga Bulgarians (predecessors of modern Tatars), it has not been restored. But with picturesque ruins of the 13th-14th centuries, the image of the ancient city can be reconstructed.
The medieval minarets, the remains of ancient burial places (including the Khan’s table tomb), and baths are preserved in Bolgar. The most intact erection is the Black Chamber – a dark building with beautiful lancet windows that, according to a legend, served as a court house.
More “vivid” features to the image of the bygone state will be added by the Museum of the Volga Bulgaria located at the territory of the preserve. And those who like medieval crafts can visit the Museum of Bread and the village of craftsmen.
The area of the ancient Bolgar is large – almost 10 hectares, so guests can rent electric cars to get to the sights they would like to see.
How to get there: Getting to Bolgar is rather difficult because of the inconvenient bus schedule.
The bus “Kazan-Bolgar” leaves from the Central station of Kazan at 9:00 and 13:00. Buses from Bolgar leave at 6:00 and 14:40. The travel time is 4.5 hours. The detailed schedule stimulates the travelers to spend a night in the only hotel located near the museum preserve called Regina. The hotel is modest (two stars), guests often complain about breakfast that is not made of fresh products and shabby furnishing of the rooms.
The second (and of course much more picturesque) way to get to Bolgar is to take a hydrofoil “Meteor” boat, but it is accessible only in summer season. On weekdays the “Meteor” boat to Bolgar leaves from the River Port of Kazan at 08:00 and goes back at 15:40. The travel time is 2 hours 20 minutes. On weekends there is an additional boat at 09:00 to Bolgar that return at 15:30. With this schedule, chances to see the ancient town and not to stay there overnight considerably increase.
Opening hours and tickets:
In the summer period the museum works from 8:00 to 17:00 daily, in winter only on weekdays. The entrance to the territory of the reserve is free, but tickets are required to visit certain expositions. A ticket to the Museum of the Volga Bulgaria (also called the Museum of the Bulgarian Civilization) costs 150 roubles, tickets to other expositions – 30-100 roubles.