Kazan is not the first city that comes to mind when you think of Russia. Most people can only think of Moscow or Saint Petersburg, the two well-known attractions of Russia. But the world’s largest country has more beautiful cities to offer and one of them is Kazan. Kazan is 719 kilometer to the east of Moscow and it is often called the third capital of Russia. With a history of more than 1.000 years this city has a lot to offer for the culture lovers. Moreover, Kazan is the capital of the remarkable republic of Tatarstan and has functioned as a crossroad between east and west. The name Kazan means ‘cooking pot’ in Tatar and it refer to the melting pot of cultures. In this article I will tell why you need to put Kazan on your travel list.
Also read: 4 highlights in St Petersburg.
One of the reasons why I recommend visiting Kazan is because of the beautiful architecture. This city is stunning! Take for example the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. It is situated in a huge palace with a row of pillars in the front and a bronze tree in the middle of the entry. The construction cost 1 billion rubles and the result is a true eyecatcher at the banks of the Volga river. I also recommend taking a walk there in the evening, because the leaves of the tree are beautifully lit. Another architectoral highlight is the Gostiny Dvor. Built from 1800 to 1803 on the spot where there used to be a caravanserai (a courtyard where travelers could stay and rest). With a location at the Volga medieval Kazan was an important stop on the traffic routes. Today the National Museum of the Republic Tatarstan is situated here.
Colorful promenade: Bouman Street
Right through the heart of Kazan you will find the Bouman Street, a long pedestrian street with boutiques, restaurants and souvenir shops. This street already exists since the fifteenth century and has functioned as a trade centre. Throughout history the street has had different names until it was called Bouman Street in 1930, named after the local Bolshevik hero Nikolay Bauman. The Bauman Street is nice place for lunch or coffee and offers lots of colorful buildings and churches. Even the local MacDonalds is beautiful!
A glamorous Kremlin with an oriental twist
When you think of the Kremlin you immediately think of Moscow, right? But did you know a lot of Russian cities have their own Kremlins. A Kremlin is an old fortified city centre with palaces and churches. Also Kazan has its very own Kremlin with an impressive location at the banks of the Volga. The white walls contain a colorful collection of buildings such as the official residence of the Tatar president, Kazan’s very own leaning tower the Söyembikä Tower and the oriental gem Qol Sharif Mosque. This mosque was the pride of the medieval Khanate of Kazan, the Islamic republic which was conquered by the Russian empire in 1552. During the invasion tsar Ivan the Terrible demolished the mosque. What you see now is a replica opened in 2005. The current Qol Sharif Mosque is seen as the largest mosque in Europe.
Kremlin of Kazan by day.
Kazan Kremlin by night.
Istanbul at the Volga: multicultural city
Russia has 22 autonomous republics. Kazan belongs to one of these republics: Tatarstan. Tatarstan is one of the richest areas of Russia and has a lot of oil and gas reserves. More than halve of the population is Islamic Tatar, followed by a large group of orthodox Russians. Who are these Tatars? Tatars are a Turkic population that came in the thirteenth century to Europe after Mongol ruler Genghis Khan expanded his empire into Russia. Today, there are millions of Tatars living in Russia and Asia. One of these areas is Tatarstan with the capital Kazan.
Because of this cultural background, Kazan is not your everyday Russian city. For instance, every street sign has two languages: Russian and Tatar. And there is also surprisingly a lot of English available in Kazan. In public transport the stops are communicated in three languages: Tatar, Russian and English. Kazan is here much more advanced than Moscow where the public transport is still a drama for foreign tourists.
A various selection of cafes
Kazan is known as a Russian business city. There are expensive hotels and large banks in the city center. Even the restaurants offer special business menu for the visitors. Luckily, there are also cafes focusing on the tourists. From a Flemish beer café called ‘Leuven’ to a Syrian hummus restaurant. My favorite was Koffein, a beautifully decorated café with big couches, good tea and coffee and special cakes. Of course, there are also typical Tatar restaurants with dishes as Öçpoçmaq (triangle pastry with beef, onion and potatoes) and Çäkçäk (dough balls with honey). Definitelly worth trying!
The quirky side of Kazan
In Kazan you will not only find beautiful churches and mosques, this city also has a quirky side. In the area of Staroye Arkchino you will find the famous Temple of All Religions (take bus 2 from the city centre). A building that literally represents the main religions of the world. The construction of the temple started in 1994 and is still under construction. The architect behind this temple, Ildar Khanov, wanted to show a peaceful combination of different cultures. This also reflects Tatarstan a bit, a place where Islamic Tatars and Orthodox Russians live together in one big republic.
Another quirky building in Kazan is the Kazan Family Center. This building has the shape of a pot, which represents the burning heart of the city center according to the architect. The unique feature of this building is that it can host up to 100 weddings at the same time. Looking from the outside I would not have guessed that. And is that why it’s called Family Center? Unfortunatelly, I could not visit the amazing Family Center because the door was locked and I wanted to get out of there, because the cold Volga wind was freezing.
- It is possible to fly from the Netherlands to Kazan. The flight takes a total of 5 hours. Usually there is a stop in Moscow which takes some transfer time. Of course, there is also the option of the train from Moscow (travel time 11 hours). You can also make a stop in Kazan on the route of the Trans Siberian Express.
- The airport of Kazan is a bit far outside the city Kazan (26 kilometers). Fortunatelly, there is an Aeroexpress train that takes you to the city centre within 20 minutes.