Sviyazhsk: reality of the magic Island.
Surely, almost all foreign travelers can say that Russia is well-known as a country of severe winters and dense forests. But this is the common opinion. What about discovering some new sides of Russia? I would like to tell you about a place, which is not crowded with tourists for ages, like Moscow or Saint-Petersburg. The story will be about Sviyazhsk, a town situated on the river Volga and permeated with the aesthetic cultural atmosphere.
Brief history of the magnificent island
Every Russian child surely has heard about the miraculous island Buyan from the fairytale of the famous Russian writer and poet Alexander Pushkin. And everyone wished to find this place someday, explore it and find wonderful treasures. The time of light-hearted dreams has passed, but the island remains! There is a suggestion that the island Buyan is actually the peninsula called Sviyazhsk. It is situated in the republic of Tatarstan, not far from Kazan. The town of Sviyazhsk was founded by Ivan the Terrible in 1551. In only four weeks, a wooden fortress was built on the hill called Kruglaya mountain. It became a large trade center and then turned into a monastic settlement. There are two monasteries in Sviyazhsk, and both of them are included into the World Heritage list. In the summertime here you can see as many tourists as fish during spawning. That’s why if I hadn’t jumped at the chance to visit Sviyazhsk in the early spring, when the town haven’t yet been dressed in its bright fair costume, I would have committed a crime.
First impression: a small friendly world
In fact, Sviyazhsk wasn’t an island until 2015, when the flood of the river Volga occurred. Residents of the town had to use boats. But soon the water level decreased, and now Sviyazhsk has the only one narrow stripe of land as a road, connecting this small town with the civilization. Usually, the weather on the island Sviyazhsk is nasty ( it is not surprising, because Sviyazhsk is surrounded by water), but the day of my arrival was warm and clear. “The reason for that is that today is a church holiday”, – the guide of my group said. At that moment I saw an old local man, who was passing us by. His huge grey beard looked like a lion’s mane. He stopped just to greet his fellow. “Hello, happy Lady Day to you (at that moment he was shaking hands with our guide)! By the way, when will you drop in? Looking forward to meeting. Well, take care”, – and he continued his way. I felt like all people here were familiar to each other.
Life in Sviyazhsk: happiness or difficulty?
On the way to the Uspensky monastery I decided to watch the process of the blacksmith’s working. All the walls in his workshop were covered with diverse flowers, leaves, plants made of metal. Here tourists can make an inscription on a horseshoe and then buy it. I asked the blacksmith how does he feel about living in Sviyazhsk. The answer was: “You know, I have nothing to compare with, so how can I judge? I would rather look at the subway in Moscow. Whatever, the thing is that here we don’t have so many fools (a grin appeared on his face). Well, I’m just kidding.” A saleswoman at the souvenir shop added: “There are no disadvantages here. The only one was a difficulty with transport during the flood, but it was earlier. Now we have new houses built, we are supplied with water and gas. That’s all. Our life is perfect”.
Unusual destiny of the usual building
Our excursion started in the yard of the Uspensky monastery. While the guide was telling us about the history of the priceless historical monuments, I noticed a thick tube sticking out of the gate church. Architectural details of the priceless historical monument were mercilessly smoking. “Earlier there was a psychiatric hospital inside the building where monks lived”, – the guide continued his story. – “We tried to lead tourist groups from this place as soon as possible in order not to show, who lived here. And the building itself was in an awful condition for a long time. But, fortunately, our last president made all the large companies, which were situated nearby, donate some money for the restoration. Specialists from Moscow and Saint-Petersburg arrived and did all the necessary work”.
The background of the picture of the town’s daily life
We continued our route. There was no sound and no people on the streets, that seemed quite strange to me. This town might be considered to be abandoned. I asked the guide where all the residents were hiding. “There are only 257 people living here. And they are generally pensioners, who can’t walk a lot,” – he answered. This fact can be easily understood. The road from Sviyazhsk is only 30 km long, so most of the youngsters move to the big city to get employed.
At last, people started to arrive near the local fair, which was at the same time the entertainment center for tourists. There aren’t only traditional magnets and mugs at the local souvenir shops. You can also see large dried fishes, which were caught by old women, who live here. Every time they go fishing they prepare for it like for a special secret mission. Otherwise, police can notice them and make them pay a fine.
I crossed the fair square and found myself on the border between upper and lower Sviyazhsk, at the foot of the Kruglaya mountain. From the highest point I could see rivers Volga and Sviyaga still covered with ice. In the lowlands of the opposite bank there was some still not melted sparkling snow. This snow and the bare land divided the hills into black-and-white stripes. Houses, which gathered on the slopes, seemed so tiny as if there were only small windows carved into the hills. And the main thing was the enormous, clear, blue sky above. When I went into the church of the Mother of God and Joy of all who Sorrow, I raised my head and saw the same sky. At that moment I realized that I saw veritable Russia.
To sum up, only nature in Sviyazhsk can be called miraculous. Life far from big cities has its own advantages on the one hand, but on the other hand, it doesn’t attract young people. The population of Sviyazhsk is getting older. This town lives its live quietly, and changes are perceptible only in the summer. In the summer youngsters arrive here to work, in the summer life is in full swing, in the summer fishing is more profitable. This mysterious island, like an actor in the theatre, wears a happy mask. Tourists will be glad to see this mask on the face of the town, and true travelers will uncover that under this mask and old, provincial, not very rich, but such a cozy and hospitable town is hiding.