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Kitezh-grad – A legend about Russian Atlantis

A long time ago, an entire city named Kitezh-grad disappeared from the face of the Russian land. A beautiful and rich city simply disappeared like Atlantis having left behind only legends. But what exactly happened, and where was this mythical city? Learn more about it from today’s article.

Unlike many legends that were passed through word of mouth, from generation to generation, the legend of Kitezh-grad was long forgotten, and the first memories of it began to appear only in the 17th century, when one of Novgorod chroniclers wrote the history of this city.

In 1168, Prince George Vsevolodovich Vladimirsky was returning from his march back to the city of Novgorod and stopped to rest at Svetloyar lake which struck the prince with its beauty and picturesque look. Without thinking twice, George Vsevolodovich commanded to build on the shore of this lake a new city – Kitezh.

Work has begun. From Novgorod and Vladimir, the prince convened the best craftsmen and builders, the city was built easily and quickly. Kitezh-grad became the most ideally planned city of that time – its length was 200 sazhens (straight sazhen is the distance between the ends of the fingers of two hands spread out in opposite directions, about 1.6 meters), and its width was 100 sazhens. The appearance of the city was also striking in its beauty: the white-stone walls of the Kremlin and churches, the golden-domed temples, monasteries, patterned princely chambers, boyar’s stone chambers, chopped houses from the non-rotting wood. The city flourished and grew, but one day this tale ended.

Kitezh by I.Ya. Bilibin
Kitezh by I.Ya. Bilibin. Source: Wikipedia.

Those were times far from peaceful and idyllic. The discord between the principalities, forest predators, raids of different tribes threatened each Russian city. And in 1237, the Mongol-Tatars under the leadership of Khan Batu invaded Russia, and this was the beginning of a long and exhausting Mongol-Tatar yoke on the Russian soil.

Khan Batu and his well-trained army quickly moved from city to city, destroying one after another. Ryazan, Vladimir, Suzdal quickly fell, and Prince Georgy Vsevolodovich, who loved Kitezh city tenderly, was killed, and his city was left without his protection and patronage.

Mongolian army on the move
Mongolian army on the move

That’s where the facts confirmed by scientists end. From that point on it’s only the legend.

After having heard about the beautiful and rich Kitezh-city, Khan Batu decided to capture it as well. On his way to the city, Baty met bogatyrs (Russian warriors), who fell in a hard fight. The city was besieged. The inhabitants of Kitezh-Grad understood that their further fate was sad – the peaceful people did not know the military affairs, and the number of the Batu army exceeded the inhabitants. But people decided not to lose heart and not to give up. They came to the walls of the city with weapons, as well as icons and crosses in their hands. People prayed all the evening and all night long. The Tatars were waiting for the morning to launch an attack. But suddenly, to the great surprise of the Mongols, high fountains of water poured out of the ground, and the city suddenly began to submerge under water, along with its inhabitants and protectors.

Fight on the Kulikovo Field by M.I. Avilov
Fight on the Kulikovo Field by M.I. Avilov. Source: Wikipedia.

The amazed and frightened Tatars tried to flee but God’s wrath overtook them all. Some were torn to pieces by forest beasts, some got lost in the forest and could no longer find their way out, and others just disappeared.

Kitezh-grad disappeared forever from the Russian land. However, according to the legend, it is still possible to find it. A person with a heart free from sin and anger can see the reflection of church domes and white-stone walls in the waters of Svetloyar lake. They say that the water taken from Svetloyar does not deteriorate for a long time, and if you go around the lake three times in a clockwise direction, your wish will come true. Pilgrims come to Svetloyar to pray.

Svetloyar lake our days
Svetloyar lake our days. Source: Wikipedia.

Scientists have repeatedly explored this lake and found a lot of mysteries. Scuba divers discovered that there are underwater terraces at the bottom of Svetloyar, the coast goes under the water like a staircase. It was concluded that the lake was formed in a few stages and the upper part is relatively recent, only a few centuries old. At the bottom of the lake a large number of objects of the XIII century were found.

This beautiful, sad, and mystical legend about the disappeared city still remains one of the least known legends about Russian cities.

Do you know any legends about Russian cities? Share them with us in the comments!

Author: Aleksandra Shilovskaia

Culturologist, Master student of Herzen University, teacher of Russian as a foreign language and popularizer of the Russian culture. More articles of Aleksandra