Welcome to Kazan!
Kazan – in the west hardly known is the beautiful capital of the semi-autonomous Republic of Tatarstan with its more than one million inhabitants after Moscow and St. Petersburg one of the most important tourist cities in Russia. The city at the Volga became better known for its role as the venue of the 2018 World Cup, but in my opinion, it should become even better known because there is something that makes the capital unique and special. More about that later, because first of all there is some background information about the history of Kazan.
One day a rich, fleeing lord made a rest at the place where today’s Kazan lies. Since he had only golden objects with him, he sent his servant with a golden bowl to fetch water – but it fell into the Volga. The servant had to confess the misfortune to his master and expected a terrible punishment. Surprisingly, however, the prince saw an omen in it and thereupon built the city of Kazan, which he called so because “Kazan” translated means “bowl”. This is a nice fairy tale told by the inhabitants of the city. The real story of its creation was probably a little different.
In fact, Kazan was founded around 1005 by the Volga Bulgarians and was an important base of the Mongolian Golden Horde Empire until the middle of the 16th century and an important trading and craft centre. It was famous for its magnificent palaces and mosques, leather goods and goldsmith’s work. Tsar Ivan the Terrible conquered the city in 1552 and made the area a part of Russia. Thus Kazan was the first non-Russian city to be incorporated into the Russian Empire by the Tsar and was considered the source of the Russian multi-ethnic state. After being completely burned down, it was rebuilt and developed into an economic centre. In 1708 Peter the First declared Kazan the capital of the governorate, making it a trading centre for porcelain, ceramics, spices, fabrics, leather goods, wine and fruit, which greatly contributed to the city’s prosperity. A further 100 years later it had also developed into the cultural centre of the Volga region and become an important Russian university city, as great personalities such as Lenin and Tolstoy studied at Kazan University – one of the oldest in the country. With the foundation of the Tatar ASSR on 27 May 1920, Kazan became its capital and had a prisoner-of-war camp for German war prisoners of the Second World War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazan became the capital of the autonomous republic of Tatarstan, which has not changed until today.
In Kazan Islam still has a great influence today, but the Muslims living there see themselves as citizens of the Russian Federation and live peacefully together with their Orthodox fellow citizens. That is the special thing I mentioned earlier: In the Tatar capital Russians, Tatars, Jews, Russian-Germans, Ukrainians or even Chuvashes have been living side by side and above all together for centuries – on an equal footing and in harmony. This peace is reflected in the culture and everyday life, but also in the architecture of the city. The Kremlin in Kazan symbolises the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians, because next to the Kul-Sharif Mosque that was built in 2005, there is also the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. The churches of both faiths stand remarkably peacefully side by side in other places in Kazan as well. But since the Kremlin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the most important sight of the city and the Kul-Sharif Mosque is even the second largest mosque in Russia. The spires of the mosques reflect the domes of the cathedral and express the coexistence of the two religions even in the harmony of their colours.
When you travel to Kazan, don’t worry about communicating with the people there: over 97% of Tatarstan’s population speak Russian. But in the 1990s the local government took great and above all successful steps towards a revitalization of the Tatar language. In 2010, more than 92% of Tatars and about 4% of Russians in Tatarstan stated that they could speak Tatar. The third largest population group is the Chuvash, which, like the Tatars, belongs to a Turkic ethnic group. Their language is one of the last living Bulgarian Turkic languages and is based on the Cyrillic alphabet. While the Volgatarians of Tatarstan are predominantly followers of Sunni Islam, the Chuvashes are confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church. Also interesting is the example of the Kryashenians: For a long time they were counted to the Tatars, who speak the middle dialect of the Tatar language, but mostly profess the Russian Orthodox faith.
Since the turn of the millennium, Kazan has undergone a major transformation and is now considered the most important sports city in the country – but also one of the most important sports cities in the world. In 2013, it hosted the World University Sport Championship, the “Universiade”, which is very important in Russia. In addition, the capital city of Tatarstan hosted the World Swimming, Weightlifting and Fencing Championships, as well as a famous tennis tournament every year. Not to forget, of course, the 2018 Football World Cup, for which Kazan was also a venue.
All the major sporting events have resulted in a real construction boom in Kazan – the city shines with accurately mown lawns and diverse cultural monuments in new splendour. I was able to see this with my own eyes during my stay in this wonderful city of Tatarstan. One Saturday morning I went to the airport Moscow-Domodedovo and flew a little over an hour to Kazan. If you don’t like flying, you can also travel about 12 hours by train. Since I only wanted to spend two days in Tatarstan, I decided to travel by plane. With about 120 Euro for the return flight including one night in a nice but cheap hotel, a trip from Moscow to Kazan is quite affordable – and above all worthwhile. I have experienced the city as clean, modern and above all with warm and loving inhabitants. Next to the magnificent villas on Bauman Boulevard, there are restored wooden Tatar houses. Unusual new buildings such as the registry office in the form of a huge bowl stand next to new sports stadiums and monuments to Lenin. In my opinion, it is not for nothing that Kazan is considered by surveys to be Russia’s most liveable city and a metropolis of national importance. Quite rightly, the capital of Tatarstan is often called ” Russia’s third capital ” after Moscow and St. Petersburg by its inhabitants.