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On Kazan: Russia's "Sporty" City

The Kazan Kremlin
The Kazan Kremlin via our partners at Gelio Vostok

Kazan is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia. With a population of 1,143,535, it is also the eighth most populated city in Russia. The city is located at the convergence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers, and stands as the “third capital” of the Federation by most accounts. The city was also named “Sports Capital of Russia” back in 2009, for its hosting of such events as; the 2013 Summer Universiade, the 2014 World Fencing Championships and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. Kazan is also slated to host the 2017 WRG Championships, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup as well. Despite the metropolis’ new found prominence though, residents and visitors often revel at Kazan’s colorful history. The city truly is, one of those rare place where the distant past and futuristic possibility coincide.

The Park \"Black lake\"
The Park "Black Lake" in central Kazan - Via Gelio Vostok

History - The Middle Ages

There is a dispute on over whether the Bulgars in the early Middle Ages, or the Tatars of the mid-15th century, built Kazan. Written records before the latter period are sparse. However, if there was a Bulgar city on the site, it must have been dated from the early 11th century to the late 13th centuries. Early Kazan was a border post between Volga Bulgaria and two Finnic tribes, the Mari and the Udmurt we know. Regardless of when the city was actually founded, the questions arising from latter archaeological explorations have produced evidence of urban settlement in parts of the modern city. In the Kremlin; in Bisbalta at the site of the modern Zilantaw monastery; and near the Qaban lake. The oldest of these seems to be the city’s Kremlin site. It does seem certain that if Kazan existed in the 11th and 12th centuries, it could have been a port on a trade route from Scandinavia to Baghdad. It was a trade center, and a major city for Bulgar settlers in the Kazan region.

In 1438, after the destruction of the Golden Horde, Kazan became the capital of the Khanate of Kazan. The city bazaar, Taş Ayaq (Stone Leg) became an important trade center in the region. Craft-based manufacturing also thrived,the city gained a reputation for its leather and gold goods. The citadel and Bolaq channel were built to give the city a strong defensive capacity, which early Russians managed to take advantage of many times.

Tatar state theatre \"Ekiyat\"
Tatar state theatre "Ekiyat" - Via our partners at Gelio Vostok

Under the Czars

In 1708, the Tsardom of Kazan was abolished. This is when Kazan became the seat of Kazan Governorate. After Peter the Great's visit, the city became a center of shipbuilding for the Caspian fleet. The famous Russian poet, Gavrila Derzhavin is one of the most prominent notables born in the mid 1700s here. The son of a poor country squire of Tatar ancestry, Derzhavin would end up a thoroughly Russian identity.

Railway station \"Kazan-1\"
Railway station "Kazan-1" - Via Gelio Vostok

Destroyed in 1774 during the Pugachev revolt (1774–1776), Kazan was soon rebuilt during the reign of Catherine the Great. It was this famous Russian leader who decreed that mosques could again be built in Kazan, the first of which was Marjani Mosque.

By the beginning of the 19th century Kazan State University was founded by Alexander I. The university later became an important center for Oriental Studies in Russia. The Qur'an was first printed here in 1801, and the city was to become a key industrial center for peasants migrating to find work. In 1875, a horse tramway was started, and later finished by 1899. After the Russian Revolution of 1905, Tatars were allowed to revive the Tatar cultural center here. The first Tatar theater and the first Tatar newspaper appeared.

In 2005 was celebrated the Millennium of Kazan
In 2005 was celebrated the Millennium of Kazan - Via our partners at Gelio Vostok

The Soviet Period

Back In 1917 Kazan was one of the revolution centers, the later capital of the Idel-Ural State. It was here that the Bolshevist government subjugated the city during the Kazan Operation of August 1918. The region was also briefly occupied by Czechoslovak Legions. Then in 1920, Kazan became the center of Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. It was during the decade following that most of the city's mosques and churches were destroyed, as was the case accross the breadth of the newly formed USSR. During World War II, many of the nation’s key industrial plants and factories supporting the war effort were located in Kaza. The city was a vital industrial center of the military effort against the Nazis, where thousands of tanks and aircraft were produced. Kazan’s population blossomed after the war, reaching one million citizens by 1979.

The Park of the 1000th anniversary of Kazan
The Park of the 1000th anniversary of Kazan from above - Via our partners at Gelio Vostok

Modern Times

Fast forwarding to the late 1980s and in the 1990s, Kazan again became the center of Tatar culture and identity. Kazan became one of the most important centers of the Russian Federation. The city went from 10th to 8th position in population ranking of Russian cities. In the late 2000s, the city earned the right to host both the 2013 Summer Universiade and 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Since 2000, the city has been undergoing a total renovation. The historical center, the Kremlin, has been rebuilt, yet many of the city districts were demolished. Kazan celebrated its millennium in 2005, after a historical commission settled on 1005. During the millennium celebrations, the Qolsharif was dedicated to the Kazan Kremlin. The holiest copy of Our Lady of Kazan was returned to the city. The "Millennium Bridge" was inaugurated that year, as well as the Kazan Metro.  In 2010, Kazan began even more renovation. By modernizing its airport, fixing the streets, enhancing public transport, and adopting the Russian, English, and Tatar languages in all transportation, large stores, and shopping centers.

Kazan Wedding Palace
Kazan Wedding Palace - Via Gelio Vostok

More About the City

Kazan consists of 7 districts, all with an average of near 200 thousand citizens. The districts are: Aviastroitelny, Vakhitovsky, Kirovsky, Moskovsky, Novo-Savinovsky, Privolzhsky, and Sovetsky. The largest of these districts being Sovetsky, by square meters, as well as populace. In Kazan, many cultures mix and meld with one another. The Sunni Muslims live in peace with the Orthodox and Catholic Christians. Everyone understands one another through the common language of Russian.  The populace is almost 50/50 Russian and Tartar ethnicity.

Football stadium \"Kazan-arena\"
Football stadium "Kazan-arena" - Via Gelio Vostok

The city has a multitude of learning centers for children and adults, including the 5 universities of Kazan. Alongside the universities, Kazan is a major hub for Russian Science. Home of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as the Tartarstan Academy of Sciences. Aside from academics, Kazan is the host of 9 of the best sports teams in Soccer, Water polo, Ice Hockey, and Basketball. Most of their men's teams rating #1 in their leagues or divisions. For example, their Soccer Club, Rubin Kazan. Founded in 1936, and has been in the Russian Premier League for soccer, is ranked #1 in all Russia.

Railway station \"Kazan-1\"
Railway station "Kazan-1" - Via our partners Gelio Vostok

With a population of almost 1.2 million people, and a multitude of religions living peacefully amongst one another, Kazan in over 1000 years of heritage, remains a remarkable city to visit, or live in. Some key touristic attractions that should not be missed include; the city's citadel, or the Kremlin, the Posad, the Wooden Kazan, Kazan town hall (before 1917 - the Hall of Nobility), the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, and the Shalyapin Palace Hotel, to name but a few.

Key Points of Contact

Good sources of further information on Kazan include; the official website of the city of Kazan, the Wiki Voyage Kazan pages, the Kazan Kremlin site, and Volga Tour travel agency’s site here.

Photo credits: As always, many thanks to our partners Gelio Vostok, the most technically advanced photographic operation in the Russian Federation. 

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