“Big crowds used to go in there!”: why the Assumption Cathedral in Sviyazhsk begins to count visitors

No more than 40 people can’t enter the cathedral at the same time, and 400 people a day is the cap

“Big crowds used to go in there!”: why the Assumption Cathedral in Sviyazhsk begins to count visitors Photo: Maksim Platonov

As Realnoe Vremya learnt, new rules of admission of the Assumption Cathedral had been introduced in Sviyazhsk. Visitors are handed out free tickets at the entrance — according to the official version, to count tourist traffic. According to the unofficial version, an entrance fee to the restored temple is going to become charged soon, though this wasn’t supposed earlier. The Assumption Cathedral and the Kazan Eparchy confirmed the introduction of free tickets but assured that they did it under UNESCO’s pressure. The reason is that crowds of tourists have already done significant damage to the site for 1,5 months of free entrance.

Nikolskaya Church — already with entrance fee

The Sviyazhsk Assumption Monastery was founded in 1555. The relics of its first hegumen, Archimandrite German who was beatified are kept here. The monastery blossomed till the 19th century and was one of the most important and richest monasteries in the Russian Empire. In the 18th century, it was ranked as the first-class monastery — the highest one. After the decay, by the early 20th century, the monastery’s brethren totalled 20-25 monks.

Today the Nikolskaya Church (built in 1556) and the Assumption Cathedral (built in 1561) are considered one of the oldest churches in the Volga region. The Assumption Cathedral walls still have 16th-century frescos. And it is important in the context of reasons for limiting the entrance.

It is noteworthy that an entrance fee is already charged in the Sviyazhsk Nikolskaya Church’s 43-metre bell tower in the form of voluntary donation of 100 rubles.

UNESCO and its rules had made the cathedral introduce free tickets. Photo: Mikhail Kozlovsky

Kazan Eparchy: strict UNESCO rules made introduce tickets

Not the Ministry of Culture of Tatarstan is responsible for the introduction of free tickets, as the Assumption Cathedral is a part of the Assumption Monastery, which is in the custody of the Kazan Eparchy of the Tatarstan Metropolis. We were said there that UNESCO and its rules had made the cathedral introduce free tickets.

Press Secretary of the Kazan Eparchy of the Tatarstan Metropolis, Deacon Dmitry Alikin told Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent that UNESCO introduced certain rules, as the Assumption Cathedral is a protected site:

“In particular, only a certain number of visitors can enter there. To conserve the temperature and the humidity and so on. Tickets are needed to understand how many people have already entered and how many can be allowed in,” he explained.

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As the Assumption Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO and Russian authorities protecting culture quite strictly regulate the attendance of the cathedral to save restored ancient and unique frescos. Photo: Maksim Platonov

“This is exclusively requirements of protection organisations”

Vicar of the Assumption Male Monastery in Sviyazhsk Father Simeon (Kulagin) confirmed the information about free tickets but denied the rumours that there was an intention to charge an entrance fee in the future.

“As the Assumption Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO and Russian authorities protecting culture quite strictly regulate the attendance of the cathedral to save restored ancient and unique frescos. This is why there are rules according to which only a certain number of people can enter the cathedral. And the total amount during the day can be limited. Due to this, we introduced time intervals when the cathedral can be visited: people get free tickets and go in. This is exclusively requirements of protection organisations and has nothing to do with the intentions to impose an entrance fee, with a desire to make money, far from it,” he assures.

Damage for 1,5 months of “free admission”

According to the monastery’s hegumen, if the admission isn’t limited, guests will damage the frescos. There were 1,5 months of the free admission from the moment when the cathedral opened for visitors in late April at Easter and till the moment in early June when the new restrictions were introduced.

“Some damage was done during this time, big crowds used to go in there! And we had to listen to UNESCO’s recommendations. The entrance rules were developed by specialists.”

“It seems to me personally that they will have to be changed, it turns out not very convenient for visitors,” Father Simeon admitted

Now no more than 40 people can enter the cathedral at the same time, and the total number of visitors can’t exceed 400 people a day. The site is open for tourists from 9.00 to 18.00. A part of the time was given for individual visits, and the other part was for group excursions. It is said in the cathedral says that the rules have been introduced recently, “the rules are complicated”, they raise a lot of questions. It is not excluded that they will consequently “corrected”, nowadays “the rules are just tested”.

“It seems to me personally that they will have to be changed, it turns out not very convenient for visitors,” Father Simeon admitted in the talk with Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent. “Taking advantage of the occasion, I invite all citizens of Kazan and residents of Tatarstan to the Assumption Cathedral on 28 August, the Dormition of the Mother of God, it is our patron’s day, the most important day for our cathedral. Great consecration of the cathedral will take place on this day, now it is open but it hasn’t been consecrated, it doesn’t host services. Metropolitan of Kazan Feofan will consecrate it, numerous guests from the republic, Moscow and other Russian regions will come.”

Cathedral’s attendance regulation was developed by the Tatarstan Ministry of Culture too

Last February when the restoration of the Assumption Cathedral’s frescos was coming to an end, Deputy Minister of Culture of the Republic of Tatarstan Svetlana Persova said that the ministry was developing an attendance regulation of the Assumption Cathedral in Sviyazhsk:

“After the restoration, the Assumption Cathedral will be open for visitors, moreover, it will function as both a religious facility and museum. So church services will be held there, but only at times. The frescos require a certain temperature and humidity, and the more visitors the more the impact on the microclimate. Now we are developing admission regulations, specialists are doing all the necessary calculations,” she explained.

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Last February Svetlana Persova said that the ministry was developing an admission regulation of the Assumption Cathedral in Sviyazhsk. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

At that moment Director of Island City of Sviyazhsk museum-reserve Artyom Silkin claimed that the Assumption Cathedral wouldn’t become just a museum. But the rules of use and access to it as a UNESCO site are “defined by ICOMOS — International Council on Monuments and Sites — and will be approved with interested sides, first of all, with the Orthodox Church and the Ministry of Culture.”

“There will be charged no entrance fee for visiting the museum and the cathedral — it is the monastery’s position”

The solemn opening of the Assumption Cathedral in the Dormition Assumption Male Monastery in Sviyazhsk took place on 28 April, and the restoration works hadn’t finished yet. The metropolis noted during the opening that considering the special status of the church, services would be held rarely, and it would be open for visitors in summer, as “the Assumption Cathedral is summery, this is why it doesn’t have a heating system”. It was claimed at the opening that “since the cathedral was granted the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site, it can be visited only several times a day strictly at a certain time”: the special admission regime approved by the Tatarstan Committee for Protection of Cultural Heritage Sites was imposed to provide the conservation of the fresco. But, as the monastery’s hegumen admitted, the restrictions weren’t imposed during the first 1,5 months. It is also important that it was said on the website of the Tatarstan metropolis: “There will be charged no entrance fee for visiting the museum and the cathedral — it is the monastery’s position”.

The new admission rules came into force on 20 June 2019 with publication on the metropolis’s website. According to these rules, the Assumption Cathedral is open from 1 May to 30 September 2019 every day from 9.00 to 18.00, the access to the cathedral can be denied in case of unfavourable temperature and humidity conditions (“for instance, during the rain”). It was indicated on the website that when visiting the cathedral, individuals visitors should go to the church shop of the Assumption Monastery’s museum, which is on the first floor of the Nikolksaya Church, and “get a free ticket to visit the cathedral by choosing time for a visit (11.30, 15.00, 17.00). Free tickets are given an hour before the chosen time of the visit. A ticket per person is given.”

Position of new Tatarstan culture minister’s team — trends for free visit to museums

If we consider that both religious (Kazan Eparchy of the Tatarstan Metropolis) and secular (the Tatarstan Ministry of Culture) are responsible for the restoration of the Assumption Cathedral, and the cathedral’s position is known, we could assume that secular authorities are intending to impose a fee.

But this is not true. Since the beginning of the year, Irada Ayupova’s team, the Tatarstan culture minister, has twice announced free visits to Tatarstan museums, for everyone first, then for children.

So all categories of citizens can go to state museums, museum-reserves and municipal museums in Tatarstan on the first Tuesday each month in 2019 since 1 April 2019 by the Tatarstan Ministry of Culture’s order.

First Deputy Minister of Culture of the Republic of Tatarstan Yulia Adgamova explained then this order with an attempt to perform two key tasks the ministry has this year: “To increase the share of the population visiting events linked with culture and art from 60 to 65% and increase the attendance of museums by schoolchildren from 17 to 20%. And on 1 June, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Tatarstan announced the readiness of all state museums of Tatarstan (not municipal) to accept visitors under 18 years — that’s to say, children and teenagers — free.

Since the beginning of the year, Irada Ayupova’s team, the Tatarstan culture minister, has twice announced free visits to Tatarstan museums, for everyone first, then for children. Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov

Explaining this novelty, Irada Ayupova noted that “the interest in learning can be educated only by inculcating cultural and historical values, this is why the museum must become an accessible site”. So the Tatarstan culture ministry’s trend is designed for accessibility of visits to museums, not an attempt to make money.

“It is a religious and cult site, too, how can it have an entrance fee?”

The ministry’s current position confirms it, too, which suggests that they aren’t responsible for the monastery and the cathedral any more.

“Yes, indeed, we were responsible for the restoration of the cathedral together with the patriarchy, but now the Assumption Cathedral is in custody of the eparchy. We have an agreement with them that indicates that the museum-reserve provides excursions, takes tourists there. Of course, we wouldn’t like the cathedral to have an entrance fee,” Deputy Minister of Culture of Tatarstan Damir Natfullin told Realnoe Vremya. “Are they going to impose an entrance fee? Perhaps, a fee is charged for an excursion to the museum-reserve, which will include a visit to the cathedral as well, but it would be strange to impose an entrance fee in the cathedral — it is a religious and cult site, too.”

By Sergey Afanasyev
Tatarstan