Kalyazin’s Flooded Belfry: The Bell Tower of St. Nicholas Church


Source: A. Volykhov, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Bell_tower_in_Kalyazin.jpg. Used under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

When reservoirs are created, they come at a cost that isn’t just natural and environmental, but social and cultural as well, especially in areas where settlement is well-established. The landscape is irreparably altered. Because of the fluctuations inherent in reservoir due to the controlled storage and release of water, remnants of the previous landscape occasionally re-emerge to remind us of its existence: a building foundation, an old roadbed, old artefacts buried seasonally by water. In most modern projects, the reservoir bed is cleared away prior to dam construction. In other cases, it isn’t cleared, and everything is swallowed by the rising waters as it stands. Such was the case in 1939 when Stalin ordered the construction of a hydroelectric reservoir on the Volga River, one of what would be many on a river that soon became essentially a chain of man-made lakes. Among the towns swallowed in part or in whole by the new Uglich Reservoir was the old city of Kalyazin. Dating back at least to the 12th century, the city contained many impressive structures of historical value (some of which escaped the flood and are still in use today).The most prominent of these was the Saint Nicholas (Russian Orthodox) Church, constructed in 1696. The church is the most recent edifice on a site, Nikolo-Zhabensky (St. Nicholas-on-Zhabna) that had been in religious use as a monastery since the 11th century.


The tower before flooding.

What makes the church so unique is the belfry attached to the church in 1800. The bell tower still ranks among the thirty tallest Orthodox churches in the world. And it is that height that makes it so interesting, for when the call came to flood the valley for the reservoir, the monastery and church below were flooded, but the tower remained 75 metres above the water line.


Source: M. Clarke, http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelclarke/4090067254/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

The flooded belfry quickly turned into a tourist attraction (and an impromptu navigational beacon), as boaters sailed up to the tower to explore inside. Realising the attraction the flooded tower was becoming, the government reinforced the tower’s foundation so that it wouldn’t crumble away into the lake, building a small artificial island around the belfry (which you can see in the photo above) that tourists could sail up to and dock at while exploring.


The tower in winter. Source; Snowgrove, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c5/Kalyazin_winter_2005.jpg. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Not only is it used by tourists, the belfry is structurally sound enough that it is still in use for Orthodox divine services several times a year. That’s quite the testament to a building that has withstood 70 years of communist rule and a permanent flooding.

You can view more photos of the tower at Wow!Travel and Russia Travel Blog.

Further Reading

Buzykina, Y.(2010). Kalyazin: monument to human blindness. Russia-InfoCentre, 28 September 2010. Available at http://www.russia-ic.com/travel/places/1166/. Accessed 11 December 2010.

Freeman, S. (2009). Bell Tower of St. Nicholas Church, Kalyazin, Russia. Wow!Travel, October 2009. Available at http://wowtravelblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/bell-tower-of-st-nicholas-church.html. Accessed 11 December 2010.

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