Raifskiy Bohorodskiy Monastery makes one of the best side trips from Tatarstan capital city of Kazan. It’s in a short 25-km drive away from it and, if you start early, can be combined with visiting the island of Sviyazhsk (please see my separate review) in one day trip. I didn’t order any tours, just hired a taxi in Kazan.
The Monastery has a very informative web-site (incl. in English), so I won’t tell its eventful and tragic history in my review. If you decide to go with no guides, I recommend to at least study its web-site; it even has a short virtual 3D-tour (the full one is paid for). There are also guided tours on the territory of the monastery, but I’m not sure if available in English, too.
Depending on what kind of experience you seek, you might want to be careful with selecting your visiting dates. On religious holidays (I was there on Holy Trinity) this highly respected sanctuary gets extremely crowded with pilgrims. So not only it changes its usual spirit of isolation and peace to animation and buzz, but also can be uncomfortable for an average tourist to get around among the pilgrims. On the other hand, it’s a wonderful time for people watching.
Raifa is an acting monastery, so better mind the dress-code. But there are skirts and headscarves on loan (for free) at the entrance to the churches, in case you failed to take yours.
Out of all amasing things about Raifa, I was particularly impressed with Georgian Church that has a magnificent copy of Georgian Virgin icon.
Among other, Raifa is also famous for its holy springs. But get ready that at times the line to get to the spring can be tremendous. There is no glass or cup by the spring, so if you want to drink its water, take a portable cup with you.
Apart from visiting the monastery complex itself, make sure to get to the lake Raifa is standing by to enjoy scenic views over the monastery across the lake.
And in the forest on approach to the monastery, there is a memorial to those killed here. In the Soviet times it was presented as a memorial to the communists killed by the monks. These days the sign says «To all murdered, no matter how».
Even if you are not too religious, a visit to Raifa monastery is a fascinating experience not to be missed. Its territory is very well kept, with lots of flowers. And the forests surrounding it as well as the lake ensure lovely urban getaway.
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