Sharon Young discusses her trip to Kazan while on the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program in Moscow as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient.
I traveled to Kazan during winter break. I decided to travel first class on the Russian railway system since the trip was twelve hours. Travel there and back was very pleasant and relaxing. While in Kazan I decided to stay at an old renovated classic hotel, Hotel Giuseppe. The hotel had old world charm and was quiet. I try to avoid large commercial hotel chains as they’re very impersonal and noisy. The hotel was within walking distance of Kazan’s Kremlin. I choose to go on private tours so I could absorb the history and interact with the tour guide on a one on one basis. This proved to be very beneficial.
Brief history of Kazan: Kazan was founded in the late 13th century by the Mongols (Tatars) of the Golden Horde after the overthrow of the Bulgar kingdom. It is the capital city of the Tatarstan republic in western Russia. It lies north of the Samara Reservoir on the Volga River. In 1552 Ivan IV (the Terrible) captured Kazan. The old Tatar fortress was rebuilt as a Russian Kremlin, with its white walls and towers. In 1773-74, there was a revolt and much of the city was burned to the ground. Catherine II the Great rebuilt the city.
In 1900, Kazan was one of the chief manufacturing cities of Russia. Here, soap making, leather working, shoemaking and fur preparation still flourish today. New industries include oil refining, electrical and precision engineering and chemical production. Also, Kazan is a major cultural and educational center. Kazan State University was founded in 1804. Among those who studied there were writer Leo Tolstoy, composer M.A. Balakirev and Vladimir Lenin. There are other institutions of higher learning. Kazan has a theater of Tatar opera and ballet, a philharmonic society and Tatar museum. A branch of the Academy of Sciences is here, as well.
The population of Kazan is mostly Moslem and Russian Orthodox. The Kul Sharif mosque was originally built in the 16th century. In1552 during the siege of Kazan, Ivan the Terrible destroyed the mosque. Construction of a new Kul Sharif mosque began in 1996 and completed in 2005. It is located in the Kazan Kremlin. While I was there, I was able to witness a prayer session and appreciate the beautiful architecture of the mosque.
Raifa Monastery of Kazan is situated approximately 27 km northwest from Kazan. It was founded in the early 17th century and was an important pilgrimage direction for the Orthodox Christians. Believers from all over Russia came there to pray and still do today for the Georgian icon of Godmother. The cloister was built on territory which since olden times had been pagan and later Islamic. It became one of the earliest Orthodox monasteries to appear there after the siege of Kazan.
Temple of All Religions is an interesting concept conceived by a visionary artist Ildar Khanov in 1992. The site is not actually a chapel but instead is meant to stand as a symbol for religious unity. Khanov was an active proponent of drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. He built the center with the help of patients he met through his work. The exterior of the temple is most colorful and looks like something that Disney would have used in Disney World. The architecture is a meld of Greek Orthodox, Islamic mosques and Jewish synagogues. The temple incorporates architectural influences from 16 separate religions. Khanov and his assistants lived at the site until his death in 2013. His brother, sister and assistants still reside there and continue his work on the center.
Kazan Kremlin today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As stated earlier in the text, the Kremlin was the center of the Kazan principality. Since 1922 it the state center of the the Republic of Tatarstan within the Russian Federation. The President of Tatarstan resides here. Also, within the walls of the Kremlin is one of the oldest preserved monuments of history and architecture of Kazan- the Annunciation Cathedral. The Kremlin has several museums including the Museum of Natural History, History of Statehood of Tatarstan and the Museum of Islamic Culture to name a few.
Sujumbike Tower has an interesting story associated with it. According to legend, Ivan IV (Terrible) fell in love with the beautiful Sujumbike and invited her to become his queen in Moscow. She rejected his offer. Ivan IV came to the city with his army, so she agreed to marry him, provided he would build the highest tower in seven days. The tower was built in seven days. Sujumbike is said to have climbed the to the top of the tower look at the city for the last time. According to legend, she jumped off it, thus staying loyal to herself and people. The tower today is leaning about 2 meters off axis in a northeast direction. The real history of the tower’s construction is unknown.
In addition to learning about the history of Kazan, I was able to sample the many different culinary delights of the region and purchased goods here that are not found elsewhere. What an amazing adventure.
About Fulbright-Hays Scholarships from American Councils
American Councils for International Education has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, to provide scholarships for advanced overseas Russian and Persian language study. Learn more about the eligibility requirements here.
About Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad
The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, commonly referred to as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was made law by the 87th U.S. Congress under President John F. Kennedy on September 21, 1961. Senator J. William Fulbright and Representative Wayne Hays introduced the legislation, which represents the basic charter for U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchange. 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of this landmark legislation. More information about Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad can be found here.