I have been living in Kazan now for over three months, and you’d probably swear from my radio silence that there isn’t anything worth seeing in Kazan. I gave my excuses last post, but I’m happy to report that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Kazan is regarded as the third most culturally significant city in the whole of Russia, after St. Petersburg and Moscow. Part of this may be due to its University, one of the oldest in the nation, boasting Tolstoy and Lenin (well, almost) as alumni. Kazan also boasts one of the more intriguing ethnic mixes in Russia, as its native Muslim Tartar population has peacefully with its Russian Orthodox neighbors for centuries, producing a mix of art, cuisine, and architecture that is quite unique.
For the last part of that (don’t worry, I’ll tackle the other two in the future), the best place to head is Kazan’s touristic centerpiece, the Kazan Kremlin. Within its white Volga River-overlooking walls are a number of buildings from various time periods, both Russian and Tartar.
The most striking of these, and the first place most people head, is the Kul Sharif Mosque. It’s ivory-white arches and bright teal rooftops and minarets look like something out of Arabian Nights.
Inside, once you’ve put protective covers on your shoes and fastened your headscarf if you’re female, lies even more beauty to discover. There’s a small museum at the bottom full of gorgeous centuries-old copies of the Koran, as well as a shop with many examples of beautiful Arabic calligraphy, but the main spectacle is the worship hall, which you can view from a balcony. Pictures do this stained glass-lit, intricately decorated, and multicolored room little justice, but here they are.
Across the Kremlin from Kul Sharif is the typically onion-domed Annunciation Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church proving a very different experience from the Mosque. Like the mosque, it must have been heavily renovated or even rebuilt after Soviet times, giving it a more polished, less aged feel, almost like it must have had centuries ago when it was new.
Pictures aren’t allowed inside, although below is something akin to the decor I saw.
Shiny golden fixtures and brightly painted icons and Biblical scenes cover every surface inside the church, a gaudy yet undeniably impressive display. On the patio outside, you can enjoy a wide vista of the Volga and a broad swathe of Kazan.
The green, white-trimmed, quite classical Palace of the President of Tartarstan is next to the Cathedral, and while you can’t go inside, there is a small museum full of archaelogical finds, Presidential memoribilia, and a range of dioramas and displays spanning from ancient to Mongol Empire to Soviet times. Even without speaking Russian, it’s quite informative.
Our last stop was the Syuyumbike Tower.
The legend is that Ivan the Terrible craved the hand of the beautiful Queen Syuyumbike in marriage, and conquered Kazan when she refused him. After he did so, she consented to marry him if he could build the highest tower in Kazan in only seven days. At the end of the week this seven-storey tower stood, and as a last request before agreeing she asked that she be allowed to climb to the top and see all of her city. Of course, she jumped off…
True or not (no question really, it isn’t), the Tower is an iconic landmark which must compete for attention in a place replete with them.