Blog WHS Visits

WHS #722: Sviyazhsk

The Assumption Cathedral and Monastery of the town-island of Sviyazhsk is the most recent addition to the trio of WHS in and around Kazan. Probably because of that, a very low number of 20 community members so far have visited it before me (it ranks 961st out of the 1121 WHS based on visitor numbers). I went there on a half-day trip from Kazan by taxi – the drive there takes about an hour. I had arranged for a 2 hour waiting time so I could visit the site and return with the same driver.

The drive was quite uneventful and certainly not as scenic as the one to Bolgar. It lies in a much more built-up area near Kazan. Sviyazhsk itself is a former island which nowadays can be accessed via a bridge. It all ends at a large parking lot, from where a series of steeps stairs will take you up to the historic zone. But first you have to get yourself a free ticket at the desk of the Tourist Office, in the building to the right of the stairs. With that ticket the turnstiles will open that give entrance to the site.

The town-island of Sviyazhsk is a popular tourist get-away with bits of everything: there’s a museum, you can ride horses, taste the Sviyazhsk bread or just wander around in the village. The core zone of the WHS though is limited to the grounds of the Assumption Monastery, which lies directly to your left after having conquered the stairs from the parking lot. It is apparently considered holy enough to make you wear a skirt and headscarf (both provided at the entrance).

The whole monastic complex has been exquisitely restored, including some recent whitewashing of the bricks. At the ‘Brethren building’ (once used as prison and lunatic asylum) there’s a 'before' and 'after' photo, which shows how much especially that building had been ruined. The cathedral and the bell-tower are the most eye-catching monuments of the monastery. The cathedral is in the Pskov-architectural style – known because of this year’s new WHS Ancient Pskov.

The architecture of the buildings may be quite lovely, the OUV of this WHS solely lies with the Eastern Orthodox mural paintings inside the Cathedral. These are said to be part of a unique missionary program and “reflect the interaction of the Christian-Orthodox and Muslim cultures”. The only problem is: the interior of the Cathedral is closed to visitors! This seems to have been the case for years already. And so few photos of the mural paintings exist: the 376 page long nomination file has only 2! I tried to get a look at them via peeking through the windows and was successful with a glimpse via the door at the back (where I even managed to snap a photo of ‘a’ mural painting). I can’t really say however that the idea to convert Tatar Muslims to Christianity via paintings has become clear to me now.

To console myself a bit from this disappointment I paid the 100 ruble entrance fee to the bell-tower and church next door, reportedly the ‘second best’ part of the WHS. Even this mere sum was too much – the church was closed as well, you could only climb the bell tower and visit ‘Herman’s Cell’ – that’s where the monastery’s founder lived (the room is so fake that even an electric light switch is visible). On my way out I noticed a paper with time schedules posted at the gate church. A copy of it is here and if I translate it well it seems that there are specific opening hours for individual visitors to the Cathedral – but I was there at 15.00 for example and nothing happened... So the mystery remains and I hope this will be resolved by a future reviewer.

Els - 6 October 2019

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