Sviyazhsk Island City

Egor Aleev/TASS
The drive from Kazan to Sviyazhsk is 67 kilometres (42 miles), although the actual distance between the two is much shorter. Travelling via the federal Trassa M7 (M7 Highway), take the exit left before the village of Isakovo, on a two-level junction, drive a further 10 kilometres (6 miles) towards the Volga River, and the road will bring you straight to the unique 16th-20th-century historical and architectural complex.

The fortress, built on the high bank at the confluence of the Sviyaga and Shchuka Rivers, was raised by Ivan the Terrible in just four weeks in 1551, as a forward staging post for the conquest of Kazan which stood 28 kilometres (17 miles) away. The plan worked, the Kazan Khanate fell, Kazan was sacked, and Sviyazhsk became the first Russian city and Christian Orthodox centre of the Middle Volga region. Two monasteries and a dozen churches were built here. In the 20th century, the Soviet authorities either demolished the churches or turned them into offices. In 1997, the remains of the Holy Dormition Monastery were returned to the Russian Orthodox Church and the complex took in its first dwellers. The large-scale reconstruction of the historical open-air museum in Sviyazhsk began in 2010.

The remains of public and church spaces built in the Middle Ages by Pskov architects Postnik Yakovlev and Ivan Shiryaj can still be found on the island. You can visit the Holy Dormition Monastery (which used to be the seventh most important of Russia's 1,105 monasteries) and John the Baptist Convent, see the Assumption Cathedral which houses the unique 16th-century frescos and relics of Saint Herman, and several other unique churches. The island has remained largely unchanged for half a millennium, and you can be transported back in time just by walking around.