20 years of raiding!
Please note that his article belongs to a series in celebration of the forthcoming 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider.
By now we know that Lara goes to Siberia in pursuit of the lost city of Kitezh (Russian: Ки́теж) However, did you know that the actual Lake Svetloyar where the city is supposedly located is not in Siberia but western Russia? It is not a BIG deal, for it is obvious the writers and researchers are taking artistic license with the legend. It has a lot of tangible elements mixed with caprice, and I love that appeal. It is another thing that makes Tomb Raider a favourite game.
In this video, Lara mentions the city being under a glacier instead of the lake.
The legend Steeped in Russian Religious Folklore
This commentary above from Rise of the Tomb Raider is something to listen to as well as read and is well done in naming the actual lake where the legend of the sunken, ancient city of Kitezh disappeared under the engulfing waters. Legend tells this occurred before the eyes of Batu Khan and company. According to legend, there was a big Kitezh (Bolshoy Kitezh) and a small Kitezh (Maly Kitezh). The smaller town located on the Volga river was not as spectacular as its larger counterpart along nearby Lake Svetloyar.
It was when Batu Khan learned about the majesty of Kitzeh that he ventured forward on a search for the noteworthy paradise. However, he didn’t intend to shake the inhabitants’ hands for creating such a legendary town. He wanted to own it as he and his hordes had caused destruction throughout the Russian lands already, and he’d planned on gaining Kitezh as another conquest.
When dear Batu Khan and his hordes reached the fabled town, they found no fortifications. No guards, artillery nothing for defence. Figuring this invasion should be a cake walk; they marched on through the gates and soon found the townsfolk praying passionately for protection. Unexpectantly, water began to spout up from around the town from Lake Svetloyar and the Kitezh sunk to the bottom.
The fable says the people still live there in the holy town of Kitzeh and on a clear, calm day you can hear singing from the many people below as well as church bells ringing. It is also said that only the pure in heart may visit Kitzeh and gaze upon its beauty. According to popular belief, the sound of the people under the water accompanied by music and bells drove some crazy. Who knows for legends are subject to altering over time.
An interesting note: The road to Lake Svetloyar is still called “Батыева тропа”, or the Path of Batu
About Lake Svetloyar
Located in Western Russia near the Volga River, Lake Svetloyer has long been the center of legends. It has a striking shape that is nearly perfectly oval, and its unique form stands out among the local terrain.
It is a broad speculation among scientists of how the unusual lake formed. The thinking ranges from an earthquake to a primitive meteorite forming the crater that the present day lake resides.
The local populace of the Nizhny Novgorod region is certain that the legend of the lost city dates back to the earliest of times. However, the first mention of the fabled Kitezh in the contemporary period wasn’t until the 1780’s with the death of Prince Georgy Vsevolodovich under the walls of Kitezh. His death became outlined in a publication known as: “The Kitezh Chronicle” written by Old Believers. This fascinating book states that the City of Kitezh was founded by Prince Georgy. The Chronicle additionally mentions small Kitezh as well as its larger counterpart being destroyed.
The Old Believers are not your usual assemblage. They are a group of nonconformists that never became part of the Russian Orthodox Church during the reform of the 17th century.
The Old Believers were mesmerised with the legend of Kitezh due to the fact it told of a city where the righteous life was engaged and steeped in prayer and good works, and only a chosen few may cross its threshold. It is thought that from that ideology, the legend of Kitezh grew into a myth connected to immortality and purity.
It wasn’t until 1968 that a scientific team headed by archaeologists Mark Barinov and Tatiana Makarova explored every area of Lake Svetloyar. Unfortunately, they found nothing not even by the topographical research of the lake floor. Though there were some artefacts found, nothing dated back further than the 19th century.
However, not all is lost for the explorer to hang on. Another archaeological expedition took place several short years ago. Unlike the previous expedition that examined the lake shore and bottom of the lake, this exploratory mission centered on a chapel on a nearby hill called: Krestovozdvizhensky Hill.
“We read the reports of previous expeditions, and we feel that something is not stated there,” said Chetvertakov. “I wanted to double-check everything myself.”
Fascinating comment indeed, and opens a few more speculative doors. It was in 2011 that scientists found the remains of what could have been a settlement. There were even shards of Russian pottery found on a path from the lake to the church. Perhaps they found something in the water? Hmm, anyway, the settlement is believed to be a lot larger than once thought, and there shall be more excavating in the site for further research. Who knows what they may uncover.
Of course, the hill the church and part of the settlement reside upon is believed to be prone to landslides and may have buried the city that was there and helped give birth to the legend of Kitezh.
Scientists also believe that the ancient settlement was abandoned for an unknown reason. Of course, the contemplative nature of that idea leads us back to the Mongol Khan known as Khan Yedigei. He and his Horde came and devastated Nizhny Novgorod principality in 1408. After this had happened the principality suffered an economic decline. The settlement could have been abandoned for those reasons. Of course, all of this is speculative, but the theory is relatively stable and, therefore, could be a high probability.
Either way, true or untrue the legend of Kitezh is a romantic perspective to cling and ponder.
You can read more about the legend Here:
- Filmmaker Werner Herzog went in search of Kitezh in his short documentary Bells from the Deep (1993).
- Kitezh is the childhood nickname of Tilda Swinton‘s character Emma Recchi (Another reason for my pseudonym) in the film I Am Love (2009, Luca Guadagnino).
- Kitezh is mentioned in Kraken by China Miéville. “Marge read of their utopias, sunk not in ruination but reward: Kitezh, Atlantis, Tyno Helig.”
- Tunturia’s album “Invisible City” (2012) is an instrumental concept album that follows six stages of the rise and fall of Kitezh.
- A theme in Anna Akhmatova‘s poem “The Way of All the Earth” or “Woman of Kitezh” (Kitezhanka or Китежанка).