Archaeological Studies of Sviyazhsk

The island of Sviyazhsk is a unique architectural heritage site, the formation of the historical and cultural landscape of which was taking place without any intervals starting from the ancient times. The rapid population of the area was explained by the unique river systems that attracted ma with their bio-resources. In the flood bed that adjoins the island there are known numerous archaeological monuments, the oldest of them dating back to the Stone Age. The initial colonization of the territory of the island of Sviyazhsk started at the period of the Ananyino archaeological culture (8th – 5th centuries B.C.). The archaeological excavations revealed in the re-deposited state the numerous artefacts related to this archaeological culture. Later on, the territory was populated many times, to which testify the archaeological findings from the excavations of the first half of the 1st millennium A.D., the articles of the first half of the second millennium A.D. These findings show that this place was attractive for people who were colonizing the estuary of the River Sviyaga at different periods. The rapid population of these lands was connected to the Middle Age. The development of regional and international trade via river routes contributed to the establishment of the riverside settlements. The estuary of the River Sviyaga was, undoubtedly, an attractive trade point situated on the transcontinental Volga route connecting the East and the West. To this testify the Boulgar settlements of the 10th – 11th centuries, located near Sviyazhsk. From that period on, this place was actively populated by the Boulgars, which is evidenced by findings dating back to the Boulgar period (11th – 15th centuries) that were found in the territory of the town itself and its trade quarter. By the time a fortress was built here in 1551, the hill and the adjacent area have already been populated by the Boulgar-Tatars and Volga-Finns. The subsequent development of the town became the next stage in the history of the long-term development of the estuary of the Sviyaga.

Starting from the second half of the 16th – 17th centuries, the area saw the rapid growth of the town, which reflected in the vigorous formation of the archaeological heritage of the monument. The pace of development of the trade quarter lead to the formation of a unique wet cultural layer, which ensured safety of the organic articles (wooden houses, household structures and appliances, articles made of leather, fabrics, yarn, etc.). The archaeological protective and rescue work performed in recent years along the destructing river shore line made it possible to reveal the numerous structures of the 16th – 18th centuries. It also became possible to reconstruct the planigraphy of the mediaeval town with the traces of streets and mansion houses. The original historical articles found in the course of the excavations can become valuable exhibits at the newly established museum-reserve. Also important for archaeologisation of cultural remains is the period of the 19th and 20th centuries. The structure of the town of Sviyazhsk had shaped in the 19th – early 20th centuries, with its monasteries, temples, public buildings, and the paved streets. Later on, as a result of the policy aimed at fighting the religion, many cult buildings were ruined. The construction of the Kuibyshev water reservoir became another important factor for changing the life of the town, which turned into an island. A significant portion of its trade quarter was flooded. All these events became the reasons for changes in the development of the town and its further degradation, as well as a stage in the appearance of new archaeological items. In 2010 – 2012, the archaeological work was carried out to implement a programme adopted in the Republic of Tatarstan that was aimed at the revival of the island town of Sviyazhsk. This work contributed to the holding of the large-scale protective archaeological surveys on the places of the restoration works, construction of dwelling houses, projects of area development, and the laying of utilities. All in all, over a short period, studied were over 20 000 sq. m. of the cultural layer in the territory of the island.

The large-scale work was carried out with the help of specialists from Moscow, Zelenodolsk, Kirov, Yoshkar-Ola and other cities of Russia. Important results were obtained in the course of archaeological excavations performed on the place of construction of new dwelling and other structures in the territory of the island. For example, found on the place of the construction of a utility unit of the Ioanno-Predtechensky Convent were the cellars and the utility pits of a mansion house that were in use until this site was added to the area of the Ioanno-Predtechensky Convent in the early 19th century. Studied in this area were the mansion house structures and changes in such over the period from th1 17th – 19th centuries. The excavations were started in the Rozhdestvenskaya, Uspenskaya, and Moskovskaya streets when performing the works related to the development of the town and the construction of new dwelling houses. Studied were the early structures related to the colonization of the territory of Sviyazhsk in the second half of the 16th century. An interesting material related to the history of development of Sviyazhsk was obtained in the course of excavations on the Yeleninskaya Street, which formed an estate that functioned, with certain changes, for almost three centuries. The research conducted in the territory of Sviyazhsk helped reveal the burial grounds dating back to the late 16th – 18th centuries that were located near the Nicholas the Wonderworker church (Nikolskaya Street), the Sofia church (Troitskaya Street), and the Ioanno-Predtechensky Convent, which was situated, until 1795, in the area of the present-day Rozhdestvensky Pereulok (lane). Connected to the first third of the 20th century are two communal graves in the area of the Uspensky Monastery. Their appearance, most probably, is connected to the dramatic periods of the Civil War and the period of political repressions. Of great importance for further study of Sviyazhsk is the research conducted in the lower section of the hill on the side of the river boat station construction site.

A mighty, in archaeological aspect, wet cultural layer has formed in this area as a result of the long-term formation of cultural layers. Peculiarity of such deposits ensures the high level of preservation of organic matters. A large excavation was started on the river boat station construction site, in which, at the level of 2 m., there have been found the horizons of the wooden structures dating back to the 19th – early 18th centuries. The earlier layers were not studied in the course of this year. Selected in the course of the excavations were additional saw cuts of the logs, which made it possible to clarify the dendrochronological scale of the Kazan Volga region of the 16th – 18th centuries. The cultural deposits were dated accurately with the help of rich numismatic material. Also available are the items dating back to the Boulgar-Tatar period extending from the 13th to 15th centuries, such as, for example, the fragments of the earthenware glazed vessels, potter’s red-clay tableware made in the Boulgar traditions. Also interesting is the availability of findings that date back to even earlier periods. A number of findings show that the hill was developed at the period of the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. The archaeological collections that became a result of the research from the closed complexes (cellars, basements, utility pits), the time of use of which is established by the dating findings, will make it possible to create a picture of changes in the town material culture of the Middle Volga Region in general. The archaeological protective research in the area of holding the construction works in the territory of Sviyazhsk made it possible to collect new information on the pre-regular development of the late mediaeval and the district town of the second half of the 16th – 19th centuries. The excavations helped establish the vectors of the early streets and the lay-outs of mansion houses. Over the centuries-old existence of Sviyazhsk, the thick cultural layer preserved the remains of ancient structures represented both by wooden and stone ones that had public, dwelling or utility purposes, and various utility pits. Continuation of the research provides for the resolution of issues related to the early history of the island: localisation of the fortress fortifications of Sviyazhsk of the 16th century, the initial planning of the streets, since the location of the sites are known from written sources. One of the promising areas of research is the clearance of the stone ruins of the churches, which were blasted at the Soviet period, for their further museification and inclusion on the list of tourist routes.

Last updated: Apr, 12, 2013, 15:17
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