''In the 19th century, the Assumption Cathedral's priest asked to destroy this painting…''

Uneasy fate of Sviyazhsk: on way to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List

One month left to the 41 st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee where the fate of the island-city of Sviyazhsk as world cultural and natural heritage site will be decided. This time the submissions to include new sites to the UNESCO list will be in Kraków from 2 to 12 June. Vice-Rector of the Kazan State Institute of Culture, Director of World Cultural Heritage resource centre of the Kazan Federal University, Chairman of Tatarstan office of ICOMOS Rafael Valeyev tells about all the nuances of the done job.

First submission denied

The job on the introduction of Sviyazhsk to the List of World Cultural Heritage Site began in 1998. Then Tatarstan fielded three places as potential world heritage sites – the Kazan Kremlin, Bolgarian Historical and Architectural Complex (Author's Note: as it was called before) and island-city of Sviyazhsk. The offer was approved by First President of the republic Mintimer Shaimiev and sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation to include the monuments to the preliminary list of Russian world heritage sites. As it is known, the Kazan Kremlin was chosen as priority. Documentation on Bolgar (Author's Note: the Bolgarian Historical and Architectural Complex was first considered by the UNESCO committee during the 25 th session of the World Heritage Committee). A nomination on Sviyazhsk was simultaneously prepared and sent to Moscow. However, according to the rules on how to present materials of a scientific nomination, these documents were not sent to UNESCO to Paris.

We needed to find out which sites of the island-city had an outstanding universal value. Photo: nkza.ru

It became possible to return to the creation of a nomination dossier in relation to the island-city only in 2010 when Renascence fund was created in the republic. The job was done on two sites at the same time – the Bolgarian complex and the island-city of Sviyazhsk. Obstacles that arose on the way of preparation of the Bolgarian complex are well known – the authenticity of the Big Minaret was questioned, there were problems linked with the necessity to include the history of the migration of people and search of the answer to the question why they settled down in Bolgar and why nomadic empires became sedentary. As a result, it made us change the concept and present this site not as historical and architectural but as historical and archaeological because the process of appearance of states of the Volga Bolgaria and Golden Horde states was possible through archaeological research and written sources only.

As for Sviyazhsk, we had to change to approach to define the nomination's criterion several times. Initially, the island-city was nominated as urban historical construction. However, when we returned to the creation of the nomination dossier, it was decided to form a submission of Sviyazhsk as historical, architectural, natural and landscape complex. All the necessary documentation was sent to ICOMOS for consideration in February 2012. In 2013, we got an answer that the site could not be included in the World Heritage List. It turned out it was not enough to include the territory of the very island-city while choosing the category ''natural and landscape complex''. We needed to include everything what surrounds Sviyazhsk to the territory of the nominated site. As for cultural criteria, there were problems because the Sviyazhsk fortress stopped existing in the 18 th century because it was wooden. Authenticity was a logical question – we needed to find out which sites of the island-city had an outstanding universal value.

Obliged to become more transparent

We invited an advisory group from ICOMOS to Sviyazhsk to define areas of work. It would enable international experts to give a more objective estimation of the sites, which would be compatible with the real state of affairs to avoid the situation we faced during the nomination of the Bolgarian complex when experts decided the modern-time sites were built precisely on its territory, though they are 1,5 km far from the historical and archaeological complex.

We managed to invite two ICOMOS experts from Greece and Great Britain. Initially, during the negotiations with them, we chose two sites that would have an outstanding universal value – the Assumption Cathedral and Trinity Church. However, it was decided to focus on the Assumption Cathedral and the monastery – those world heritage sites of the island-city of Sviyazhsk that are potential indicators and characteristics of this complex and the site of world importance.

It was decided to focus on the Assumption Cathedral and the monastery – those world heritage sites of the island-city of Sviyazhsk that are potential indicators and characteristics of this complex. Photo: tatarstan-mitropolia.ru

After the discussion, we created a programme of preparation to include Sviyazhsk to the List of UNESCO World Heritage Site for 2014-2016. We managed to do a lot of research during the two years, first of all, a dendrochronological analysis of the Assumption Cathedral (Author's Note: one of the most reliable methods of absolute dating in archaeology based on analysis of tree rings). We also needed to find out the age of the fresco in the church and focus on scientific methods including radiocarbon dating and synthesis of art, cultural, historical, genetic, architectural, urban engineering and other inter-disciplinary approaches and methods. It was decided to hold several international seminars, conferences and congresses to analyse all that huge scientific, conservation, restoration or another practical material designed to solve all the integrated problems and goals to prepare for including the island-city of Sviyazhsk to the List of UNESCO World Heritage Site. For instance, we staged an international seminar in 2014. As a result, a programme of actions was chosen. In 2015, there was a Historical, Cultural and Religious Heritage of Sviyazhsk international congress and two international seminars to define the outstanding universal value of the Assumption Cathedral and other sites of Sviyazhsk. An international seminar whose goal was to create a management programme of world heritage sites of the island-city of Sviyazhsk took place in 2016.

In 2015, we completely finished to prepare the documentation and presented it to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2016. Earlier, in September 2015, we successfully passed a UNESCO test on the integrity of the documentation – there were just small technical remarks that were corrected on time.

By the way, while including the Bolgarian Historical and Archaeological Complex to the UNESCO list, we managed to prove ICOMOS experts and UNESCO, in general, they didn't have the right to work behind closed doors but were obliged to discuss debatable issues arising while considering the documents with representatives of the country that sent a submission and work in cooperation with them, in general. So, we directly participated in the consideration of the submission. We were invited first during the consultation as early as 2015. Then solving several technical problems together in November 2016, we heard ICOMOS experts admitted we managed to prove the outstanding universal value of the Assumption Cathedral, and the preparation of the documentation was great. Questions that arose on creation of security system of the world cultural heritage site, conservation of Sviyazhsk, construction only according to the management plan of the world heritage site and the ban on reconstruction of Sviyazhsk houses that preserve the urban historical landscape.

Scientific conservations methods of this painting were applied precisely here in the Assumption Cathedral in the late 19 th century. Photo: oldsyzran.livejournal.com (General view of Sviyazhsk,1894)

How Sviyazhsk almost lost a unique painting in the 19th century

There were many debatable moments concerning the choice of criteria of the Assumption Cathedral and the monastery's nominations while preparing the nomination dossier. At first sight, the definition of the cathedral as a religious site was the most suitable option. However, we perfectly understood that the Assumption Cathedral could not be compared with other Russian sites that had been included in the UNESCO list according to this criterion – Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius and Novodevichy Convent and others. In the end, it was decided to define it as intercultural cooperation centre. What was at the heart of this definition was that during comparative research of the fresco on the church's walls, it turned out that iconographic programmes of this painting set by very Ivan the Terrible and plots pictured on the cathedral's walls corresponded to both Biblical motifs and some surahs of Quran. It was done for the appearance of Christian Orthodoxy in a place that had been a Muslim cultural centre for centuries, that is to say, for the appearance of elements of cultural diversity that would increase in the future. In addition, the Assumption Cathedral and the monastery are a place where missionary work began in different forms: forced, economic, educational, etc. If the Finno-Ugric peoples adopted Christianity, the majority of the Tatars continued following Muslims canons and be in the bosom of Muslim culture. So, the second criterion set by the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, according to which the world heritage site proves a considerable inter-influence of human values, became decisive while nominating the Assumption Cathedral.

However, the fourth cultural criterion was not forgotten. According to it, the site is a unique example of constructions, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape that illustrates an important period of human history. I am talking about architectural peculiarities of the Assumption Cathedral. The 16 th century is not only the blossom of Pskov architecture, though its principles were important then. It is not difficult to find features of Moscow architecture, architecture of Volga cities in the appearance of the Assumption Cathedral. Its totality allowed to create a unique architectural appearance of the cathedral that doesn't look like anything else. What is more, during the reconstruction of the cathedral in the 18th century, elements of Moscow Barocco appeared in the appearance of the cathedral that did not destroy the 16th century architecture but complemented it.

Considering the peculiarities of the fresco here, we managed to prove it has certain development stages, and scientific conservation methods of this painting were applied precisely here in the Assumption Cathedral in the late 19 th century. The priest of the cathedral addressed the Holy Synod asking to destroy this painting and paint the cathedral from the beginning. However, the Holy Synod made a wise decision saying the painting needed to be restored. This job was done under professor, member of the Society of Archaeology, History and Ethnography of the Kazan University Dmitry Aynalov. Unfortunately, it was not completed. Nevertheless, its performance played quite an important role – a fresco painting sample of the 16th — early 17th centuries. Moreover, only the address of scientists of Kazan and Tatar ASSR to USSR officials in the 30sof the 20th century helped to save the Assumption Cathedral from destruction because they managed to deliver them they site was unique.

Seven sites of the monastery of the 16-19 th centuries, Trinity Church (photo), Ivanovsky Convent and other cultural heritage sites are those indicators that emphasise the outstanding universal value of the Assumption Cathedral. Photo: tatarstan-mitropolia.ru

Generally speaking, the collective of scientists who created the nomination dossier to include the Assumption Cathedral to the List of World Heritage Site with representatives of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, Renascence fund, Kazan Federal University, Kazan State Institute of Culture, Kazan State University of Architecture and Engineering, Tatarstan Ministry of Culture did a great job. For instance, six volumes of documents were prepared to prove the outstanding universal value.

After solving all the debatable moments and final consideration of the documentation, in May this year, ICOMOS recommended the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to add the Assumption Cathedral and the monastery to the List of World Heritage Site. Seven sites of the monastery of the 16-19 th centuries, Trinity Church, Ivanovsky Convent and other cultural heritage sites of the island-city of Sviyazhsk, cultural and natural surrounding as UNESCO's reserve, Volga-Kama Nature-Reserve and buffer zone with a capacity of 12,000 ha are those indicators that emphasise the outstanding universal value of the Assumption Cathedral. Now the UNESCO World Heritage Committee needs to make a decision.

If it is affirmative, it will do justice to the labour of a big group of scientists who are representatives of Renascence fund, Kazan State Institute of Culture, Kazan Federal University, Institute of Archaeology of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, Kazan State University of Architecture and Engineering, Tatarstan Ministry of Culture, Tatarstan office of the All-Russian Historical and Cultural Site Protection Community, Russian Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), Russian Ministry of Culture, Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO, Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

By Rafael Valeyev