Kazan Travel Guide
Kazan is one of the most amazing cities in Russia with its rich history and culture. Kazan is a city of two religions, two cultures, a place where the West blends with the East. Many legends and myths have been told about Kazan, the memory of which can be found on the city’s streets, in its fountains, monuments and parks. Locals love and appreciate their past and continue to develop the present appearance of the city.
According to one story, the city was founded more than 1000 years ago, as the northern outpost of that time, the Volga Bulgaria. The truth of this theory is found in the archaeological excavations carried out within the Kazan Kremlin, dating back to the 10th century.
Volga Bulgaria was a prosperous trading state. Its convenient location on the Great Volga Route allowed it to trade with the countries of Scandinavia and southern neighbours. At the time, the city of Bulgar was the largest city in Europe.
The Mongol troops under the command of Genghis Khan appeared at the beginning of the 13th century. The Bulgars repulsed the first invasion in 1223, but the second one in 1236, led by Khan Baty, caused considerable damage to this prosperous trading state, and many towns and villages were completely burnt. Part of the population was enslaved, while others fled to the north. In the occupied territories, the Mongols began to form the new state of Ulus Juchi, or the Golden Horde.
The cities which had fallen gradually began to rebuild. But the constant wars with the Golden Horde forced the population of Bulgaria to leave the capital cities and move north to Kazan.
The 13th-14th centuries were a time of rapid growth for the city. The production of earthenware, leather goods and weapons was developed, and due to its convenient location at the intersection of several trade routes, trade relations developed with the West and East, North and South. By the time of the collapse of the Golden Horde, Kazan became the capital of the Kazan Khanate. However, relations between Kazan and Russia quickly deteriorated. In 1547, ambitious Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible tried to attack Kazan. Three consecutive years of attempts to take the impregnable Kremlin ended in failure. Then, Ivan the Terrible erected a fortified city on the banks of the Sviyaga River, 30 km from Kazan. This allowed thousands of Russian soldiers to be stationed in close proximity to the protected city.
In 1708, according to the decree of Peter I, Kazan became the capital city of the Kazan province. The province was huge, stretching from Ufa to Astrakhan. At that time, various manufactories opened up in the city, a shipyard (the Admiralty) began to operate, and the first schools were opened.
In 1782, Empress Catherine II approved the general plan for the construction of Kazan’s streets, which determined the further direction of the city’s development for a century-and-a-half to come.
The 19th century was a time of rapid growth for the city. The first theatre and the university were opened, gas and electric lighting appeared on the streets, as did one of the first Russian electric trams, a city newspaper, the telegraph and telephones.
A scientific breakthrough occurred in 1844 with the discovery of a chemical element, ruthenium, by a professor at Kazan University. It was the only chemical element discovered during the times of tsarist Russia and the USSR.
In 2005, Kazan celebrated its 1000th anniversary. Once a rich capital of the Kazan Khanate, in the 21st century, it regained its proud name as a capital – the third capital of Russia. And in 2000, the Kazan Kremlin was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Today, Kazan is one of the largest religious, economic, political, scientific, educational, cultural and sport centres in Russia, with a population of just over 1.2 million people. Recently, the capital of Tatarstan has been developing very actively. New city blocks and entire districts are being built, and new roads and subway lines laid. In addition, great progress is also being made in the sphere of tourism. Modern Kazan is visited by more than a million people a year.
Where to Stay
In Kazan, there are plenty of sleeping options for any budget to choose from.
The most popular central district is Vakhitovsky, where most tourists look for accommodation. You can book one of the following reasonably priced hotels: Guiseppe Hotel, Mini Hotel Kolibri, Volga Hotel or TatarInn Hotel.
Novo-Savinovsky district on the opposite side of the Kazanka River is another pleasant option if you want to book an apartment.
Bars and Restaurants
The Tatars are one of the largest ethnic groups in Russia, with their own cuisine and culinary traditions. Kazan offers a mixture of Eastern, Russian and European delicacies. At Pashmir, you can smoke hookah and try the local cuisine with a European touch. Charming Dom Tatarskoi Kulinarii offers classic dishes and plenty of pastries. At Rubai, there is a good selection of kebabs and belly dancing. At the Central Market, you can try Belish, Chak Chak and Gubadiya. Family Cake Skazka, Itle, Uryuk and Dobraya Stolovaya are also highly recommended.
What to See
- The Kazan Kremlin is the main attraction in Tatarstan. It’s a huge complex with a mixture of Russian and Tatar cultural traditions. The Kremlin includes several historical and architectural complexes covering a territory of 1500 square metres. Explore its defensive structures, the Governor’s Palace, the Saviour Transfiguration Monastery, the Museum of Islam and other sights.
- The Qolsafif Mosque is the main mosque of Tatarstan and one of the largest Muslim buildings in Europe, which is located on the site of the Kazan Kremlin. Its reconstruction continued for almost ten years, from 1996 to 2005. This most beautiful architectural complex was erected on the site of the legendary mosque of the Kazan Khanate, which was destroyed during the attack on Kazan by the troops of Ivan the Terrible in 1552. The mosque was named after the last Imam of the ruined church.
- Another colourful religious complex is the Temple of All Religions. It embodies the combination of Islamic, Jewish, Russian and other cultures.
- It’s not just Pisa in Italy that has a leaning tower. Russia has its own, Soyumbike watch tower. The spire of the structure deviates from the vertical by 1.98 metres. Historians still argue about its exact year of construction, agreeing that it was built between 1645 and 1650. The tower is located in the northern part of the Kazan Kremlin. The total height of the building is 58 metres.
- One of the ambiguous, but extremely spectacular, modern attractions of the centre of Kazan is the Landowners Palace built in 2010. From the northern wall of the Kazan Kremlin, the panoramic view of the Palace and the embankment of the Kazanka River is amazing.
- Zakabannaya Mosque is dedicated to the adoption of Islam. Despite the fact that it was erected during the period of progressive atheism during the days of the USSR, it became the place where the Tatars united.
You can get to Kazan from different cities of Central, Northern and Southern Russia, and even the Far East. The city has two railway stations. Kazan-1 is located in the heart of the city, while the second one is in its northern part. To get around Kazan, use the metro, buses, trams and minibuses. The metro consists of 10 stations and runs from 6.00 am till midnight. There are also 61 bus routes, so you won’t have any problems getting to where you need. If you visit the city in summer, it’s a good idea to rent a bicycle.