After an eleven day siege on the Kazan Kremlin Ivan Grozny (Ivan the Terrible) was forced to retreat. The retreat itself took place on February 12, 1550. Grozny (which means inspiring fear or terror) more than likely wasn’t pleased that he was put into the position of having to back down regrouped his troops a days march away from Kazan. It would be during this bivouac that Grozny would envision building a fortress settlement at the confluence of the Sviyaga and Volga. He understood that the island was perfectly located to control the river routes, land routes and Kazan itself.
Unlike Ivan we were able to leave Kazan in comfort on a tour boat. We got to see the city from the water, the modern-day city, a place he could never have imagined back then. We got to watch men fishing from their boats, or from the bank of the river. Even the Kremlin itself was visible during our early morning ride, which has changed from his time. Now that there’s a Mosque inside the fortress’ walls. Slowly as our trip progresses we begin to see what the countryside used to look like. Our first stop was across the river.
Once across the river it doesn’t immediately begin to show times past, but one does get the sense that the pace of life here is a bit different. After we unloaded those who were only looking for passage, we turned and began our journey away from Nizhniy Uslori to the north. I can only imagine the march Ivan Grozny led his men on through countryside, it had to have been a bit formidable, marshes and swamps dot the landscape. It had to have been grueling. My mind passes over these thoughts as I look to the east bank of the river and see the temple dedicated to many religions. Oh, how different things could have been.
The mighty Volga river begins to change at this point. The west bank of the river appears to become wilder, every once in a while a small town or enclave of dachas appear on the bank of the river. I think to myself does anyone remember what path Ivan Grozny took? What were his thoughts as he retreated? Then I look up and see relics of the past standing like citadels, markers of ages gone by. I see boats lined on the shore, campers enjoying themselves amidst this wilderness and wonder what we have forgotten. Visions dance in my head seeing thousands of men moving through these forests following a defeated Tsar. How would he change the morale of his men, what could he do to turn the tides in this war against the Kazan Khanate. It was then we caught our first glimpse of the island. Within four weeks he would build a fortress and city…………… to be continued.