The city of Kazan embodies a mix of Russian and Tatar cultures, boasting a fascinating East-meets-West history and unique architecture.
Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, a semi-autonomous republic in Russia, is the center of the thousand-year-old Tatar culture. The origin of the city’s name has long perplexed researchers. The word “kazan” means “cauldron,” and one myth goes that a sorcerer made a prophesy: he told settlers to pour water into a small cauldron and bury it deep within the ground. Wherever the water boiled without fire would be the site for the new city.
The heart of Kazan, which is set in southwest Russia on the banks of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers, is its Kremlin. One misconception that many tourists to Russia have is that the Kremlin is unique to Moscow. In fact, in Russian, “Kremlin” means “citadel,” and every Russian city has its own Kremlin. Kazan’s Kremlin was built during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, on the ruins of Kazan’s old castle, and it has been included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 2000.
Within the Kremlin, you’ll find structures such as the “leaning” tower of Söyembikä, which was named after the last queen of Kazan. Here, you can hear the legend of Ivan the Terrible, who demanded to wed Queen Söyembikä after conquering the city, or else he would massacre all of its residents. The Queen agreed to his request, but asked him to build a seven-story tower symbolizing the days of the week. When the tower was completed, Queen Söyembikä threw herself down from its highest point after admiring her beloved city for the last time.
In Tatarstan, Islamic and Russian Orthodox architecture have mingled over the centuries, making Kazan one of Russia’s most visually striking and vibrantly multicultural cities. Within the Kremlin, there is a Church of Annunciation and the Kul-Sharif mosque. Built in 2005 on the occasion of Kazan’s 1000th anniversary, Kul-Sharif mosque boasts a modern design yet maintains a mysterious aura.
Surrounding Kazan’s Kremlin are other unique architectural sites, one of which is the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Tatarstan, dubbed “The Palace of Farmers.” The building’s highlight is a giant bronze tree, 20 meters in height, at the center of the building as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Between Kazan’s Kremlin and Tukay square is Bauman Walking Street, where the majority of tourists shop and enjoy local cuisine. Not so far from the walking street is Kazan’s Family Center, a building in the shape of a giant pot, surrounded by four leopard statues (symbols of the republic) and zilants, the mythical dragon-like creature that has been the official symbol of Kazan for over 300 years.
The final place that visitors should not miss is the Temple of All Religions, which was created by painter and philanthropist Ildar Khanov. He held a firm belief that all religions are equal and can exist together under one roof. The temple’s design draws on a wide range of architectural influences from 16 different religions, with domes and pillars representing everything from Islamic mosques to Jewish synagogues to Russian Orthodox churches.
The interplay between Russia and the Tatars makes Kazan a unique city steeped in culture and history with a poetic beauty that is sure to leave a lasting impression on any visitor.