Kazan (meaning a cooking pot in Tatar) is the Istanbul of the Volga, is a place where Europe and Asia curiously inspect each other from the tops of church belfries and minarets. Kazan is an ancient place, about 150 years older than Moscow . Its millennium was celebrated with much pomp in 2005.
The city, with 1.1 million inhabitants is the capital of the Tatarstan Republic. It's the land of the Volga Tatars, a Turkic people commonly associated with Chinggis Khaan’s hordes. They prefer to see themselves with the ancient state of Volga Bulgaria, devastated by the Mongols. Tatar autonomy is not just about bilingual street signs . The Tatar on top of Russian to make the point. It also ensures that much of the profit from vast oil reserves stays in the republic, which has an economy that is quite visibly booming.
The post-Soviet cultural revival, manifested by popular modern Muslim fashions and Tatar language literature, is watched warily by Moscow, which has recently blocked the much desired switch from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. Tatar nationalism is strong but not radical, and the local version of Islam is super moderate. Ethnic Russians make up about a half of the population, but tensions along ethnic lines are generally uncommon. After all, as the old saying goes, scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tatar. It is also true the other way round.
History of Kazan
There is a general agreement that the city was founded as a northeastern outpost of Volga Bulgaria around 1000 AD. (The choice by modern Kazan of 1005 AD as the city’s birthday was political.) After the Tatar Mongols flattened Great Bulgar, it became the capital of the region incorporated in the Golden Horde. The independent Kazan khanate was created in 1438. Ivan the Terrible’s troops and his Tatar allies from Kasimov ravaged the city in 1552. Tsar Ivan was quick to build a new – Russian – city on the ruins. Architects responsible for St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow (which honors the seizure of Kazan) were employed to plan the kremlin.
Tatars were banished from the eastern side of the Bulak Canal until the enlightened age of Catherine the Great. But the division of the city into the Russian and Tatar parts is still quite visible. The only centrally located mosque north of the canal is Kul Sharif, inside the kremlin. Kazan grew into one of Russia’s economic and cultural capitals, with the country’s third university opening here in 1804. Its alumni include Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin), who stirred up political trouble, for which he was expelled. In Soviet times, Kazan became the capital of the Tatar autonomous republic and a major center of the aviation industry.
Orientation of Kazan
In the north, the Kazanka River flanks Kazan’s city center and in the west the Volga River. The train station is on the east bank of the Volga. About 500 meters east of the Volga shore, the Bulak Canal bisects the town center. It separates the train station and surrounding former Tatar suburbs from the center. The main pedestrian drag, ul Baumana, is just east of the canal. It runs from the Kremlin in the north-west down to the busy pl Tukaya.
Kremlin of Kazan - Tatarstan
Declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2000, Kazan’s striking kremlin is the focal point of the city’s historic center. It’s home to government offices, pleasant parks and a few religious buildings that are usually open and operating. Some of the white limestone walls date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Annunciation Cathedral was built on the foundations of a razed mosque with 8 minarets by Postnik Yakovlev. He is also responsible for St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Ironically, the enormous Kul Sharif Mosque (completed in 2005) overshadows it. The latter's name refers to the imam who died defending the city against the troops of Ivan the Terrible in 1552.
Beside the cathedral, the 59 meters high leaning Syuyumbike Tower is the subject of the most romantic of Kazan’s legends. Nearby, a former cadet school building now houses the Hermitage Center. It runs rotating exhibitions from the collection of St Petersburg’s Hermitage. In front of the kremlin, the striking bronze figure of a man tearing barbed wire is Musa Dzhalil’s monument. This monument honors the Tatar poet, executed by the Nazis in Berlin’s Moabit prison in 1944. He left a notebook full of poems to a Belgian friend.
Kazan Federal University
The Kazan Federal University is the only university in Russia that possesses a unique combination of different museums. The University's Royal Charter of the 5th of November 1804 established the Cabinet for Natural History and the Mineral Cabinet, the foundations for the present day Mineral-Geological, Zoological and Botanical Museums. The Cabinet of Rarities, the foundation for the Ethnographic and Archaeological Museums, was established in 1815. The foundation of the present day Museum of the History of Kazan University was laid when a 'memorial zone' was created in 1948. Kazan University has around 45,000 students.
|Address||Kremlyovskaya St, 18, Kazan, Russia|