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Historic and scenic Sviyazhsk Island makes one of the best side trips from Kazan. If you start early enough, you can combine it with visiting Raifa Bohoroditskiy Monastery.

This year Russia considered submitting it to the UNESCO WHS list, but then decided to wait till its infrastructure is improved. But even now the island is an impressively visitor-friendly object with high potential.

It can be reached by road (there is a dam connecting the island with the mainland), by suburban train  plus a short bus ride, or, following the example of Russian Emperor Paul I, by boat. While going by car is the fastest and most flexible way, sailing along the Volga River is most scenic, but you are bound by the boats’ schedule. Boats for Sviyazhsk leave from Kazan River port when navigation is open; in summer – one or two lines a day, in the morning and afternoon.

I tried to pre-book a guided tour through the Sviyazhsk Reserve web-site. Sadly all guides were busy on the only day I could visit it, so I hired a taxi in Kazan and headed there. Lots of groups were shown around, so I couldn’t help but picking up some info.
But Sviyazhsk is easy to explore on your own. There is enough information on spot, including about each of its object: monasteries and churches, mansions and houses, schools and urban quarters, memorials etc.

Sviyazhsk is not too small, and although can be easily covered by walk, will take a few hours to deeply explore. Today it’s being carefully restored, and each piece tells its own story of the eventful history of this place. A picky me would say it lacks authenticity and is clearly a touristy spot today. But then you can equally treat it as an open air museum.

Due to its strategic location on the road from Moscow to Kazan, Sviyazhsk was launched as an island fortress and an outpost for seizure of Kazan in XVI by the troops of Ivan the Terrible. The original fortified city was built elsewhere, then marked, dissembled, loaded on ships and sailed down the Volga to Sviyazhsk, where it was re-assembled within the record timing of 24 days. Amazing wooden Trinity church of 1551 is the only remaining sample from that period.
Eventually the role of Sviyahsk as a military outpost was replaced by its significance as a religious centre in a small provincial town that it became by end-XVIII.

The most disturbing events of the island history were due in XX, when it faced the revolutionary changes and was turned into a lost village with penal colonies, retaliatory establishments (a prison), a collective farm and other institutions; and later an asylum. Since late 80ies, after an asylum was closed, there were attempts to revive it as an artistic colony. The scenic Volga landscapes and rural quietness were meant to be inspiring for the artists of all kinds.
By the way, if you are a keen on fishing, consider taking your tackle with you when heading to Sviyazhsk. There are lots of fish in the waters at the foot of the fortified city.

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