The Trans-Siberian Express winds through a bevvy of mystical towns and cities throughout Russia, China, and Mongolia. Some have amazing, tongue-twister style names – like Uyarspasopreobrazhenskoye – which, for obvious reasons, is shortened Uyar. Some have more straightforward titles directly inspired by their surroundings. But there’s one place that’s more cryptic than them all…
Kitezh is a legendary Russian city. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to marvel at its ruins in person. But the tale of this sunken site, which is thought to be located under Lake Svetloyar in central Russia, is fascinating. Here, we discover more about the legendary lost city of the Trans-Siberian.
The legend of Kitezh
has been a story told by locals to visitors for as long as we can remember. It’s thought to originate from the early 13th century, when Grand Prince of Vladimir Georgy II commanded the building of a small settlement after falling in love with the beauty of Lake Svetloyar.
The town and its advantageous spot didn’t last long, however. It is said to have become a target of Mongolian ruler Batu Khan, who ordered his armies to advance on both Little Kitezh on the Volga River and Big Kitezh on Lake Svetloyar.
The taking of Little Kitezh by Batu Khan’s army was simple, unlike the attack on Big Kitezh. Upon arrival at Big Kitezh, the army wasn’t greeted by soldiers defending the city, but by praying citizens asking God for salvation.
This didn’t deter the Mongols from striking. Upon approach however huge fountains of water sprung from the ground, causing the attackers to fall back and the city to become submerged.
Some say that everyone who is pure in their heart and soul will find Kitezh once again. Other legends speak of still hearing the chiming church bells and the singing from the lake.
The truth behind the legend
The legend of Kitezh is more than just a story. Known by many as the Russian Atlantis, Kitezh has fascinated archaeologists for a number of years with a variety of discoveries made on the shores – and underneath the surface of Lake Svetloyar. Remnants of this lost medieval settlement include shards of pottery, millstone, iron knives, and tinderboxes. Scientists have even found remains of log cabins in the lake itself.
Discoveries have pointed to the presence of a small settlement, so could there be some truth to the legend? Here Evgeny Chetvertakov, head of the Vetluzhsky archaeological expedition, reveals more about recent findings:
“Most likely, this was not a city but an odnodvorka – a house with outbuildings that housed 10-15 people. Perhaps, in reality, this settlement was larger, but then part of it was taken by landslides into Svetloyar, and that formed the basis of legends about the mysterious disappearance of the city of Kitezh.”
Visiting the Russian Atlantis
Like all legends, seeing the site where the story was born is recommended. No matter what you believe, a trip to Lake Svetloyar offers a great way to connect with local customs. Many believe that the lake and its water have special spiritual power and can even heal. Many more believe that the sunken city will rise again.
Discover more about the legend of Kitezh in person by booking your very own Trans-Siberian trip with us. Contact our friendly team of travel experts to get begin.