In 1550, after a failed siege, the Russian army was resting near Kazan when the tsar’s attention was drawn to a hill at the confluence of the Volga and Sviyaga Rivers known as Kruglaya. Ivan decided to build a fortress there as part of his effort to seize the city. To keep his gambit secret, Ivan ordered that the fortress, along with towers, churches, and other buildings, be built in Uglich, hundreds of kilometers upstream. After construction was complete, each log was labeled, everything was disassembled, and, in the spring of 1551, it was all loaded on rafts and floated down the Volga. In preparation, Kruglaya had been cleared of trees so that when the rafts arrived, the structures could be reassembled. Just a month was needed to rebuild the fortress, which was named Sviyazhsk.
After Kazan fell in 1552, Ivan’s fortress became a major administrative and trade center. Still later, Sviyazhsk took on a religious character and became home for monks of the Trinity and Assumption monasteries as well as the sisters of the St. John the Baptist convent.
After 1917, the monasteries and convent were shut down, and most of the monks and priests were shot. Until 1948, the Assumption Monastery housed a political prison, and later a psychiatric hospital that held not only the mentally ill, but also political dissidents. In 1956, when the Kuibyshev Reservoir was first filled, much of Sviyazhsk was submerged, as the water level rose by more than 16 feet. The city then became a virtual island and its population began to decline. While in the sixteenth century the population had exceeded 4,000, after the waters rose just 500 permanent residents remained.
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