By Katrina Eastgate
I must admit - I had never heard of Kazan until I chose to study here. Neither had anyone I spoke to apart from those who said “like Rubin Kazan?” But after having spent a fortnight here, I know more about this incredible city than I do about most cities in the UK. Mostly because everyone here (tour guides, lecturers and people I meet) is so proud of their city and can’t wait to tell you about it.
Kazan is often referred to as the third capital of Russia, though it is only the eighth largest city at a population of just over 1.1 million. It is also the regional capital of the Republic of Tatarstan which is one of the few self-governing Russian federal states. Its position on the Volga and Kazanka rivers as well as Lake Kaban not only makes it beautiful but also a historic centre of trade and commerce - which brings with it a whole lot of history. The fusion, contrast and clashes between the Tatar and Russian influences gives the city diversity in culture, religion, architecture, language and many other things. Kazan and Tatarstan celebrate both Russian/Orthodox occasions and Tatar/Muslim ones - which makes for quite a few праздники! It’s also got a huge number of universities making it a very student friendly city.
Kazan is home to some incredible tourist sights and things to do. A city tour is a must just to get a vague idea of everything that has ever happened there because there’s no way you could work it all out otherwise - whether that be a sightseeing tour or a trip round town with a local. Try out a столовая or a traditional serving of чак чак (which is basically cereal stuck together). The city’s architecture is incredibly diverse and awe-inspiring - the Qol Sharif Mosque in the Kremlin is particularly impressive, while the unfinished Храм всех религий (the Temple of All Religions) just outside the city looks more like something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory than a temple. Kazan Federal University has architecture impressive enough to make up for the three days of queueing it took me to register, while buildings like the Palace of Agriculture are weirdly grand. There is also modern development, such as the набержная where you can walk, cycle, skate or even ice-skate (in winter) along the riverside under a canopy of lights.
As for things to do, Kazan does not disappoint. For the cultured among you, there is a plethora of ways to explore Russian and Tatar culture. Museums abound, including the Museum of Soviet Lifestyle which counts as the single best museum I have ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot). There, you can look at, play with and try on relics of the Soviet era - by far the best were the USSR Olympic team jackets. There are many theatres which put on plays, operas and ballets for very reasonable prices. If you fancy challenging yourself, there is a Tatar theatre which shows plays in the Tatar language with Russian translation - the joke goes that the audience laughs three times - once for the Tatars, then the Russians hear the joke, then the Tatars laugh at the Russians. For the less cultured side, Kazan boasts a fun park, a water park (unusually), pretty decent shopping and plenty of cheap bars, clubs and трактиры. There is also the football stadium, where tickets are surprisingly cheap, and all manner of boat-related excursions on the rivers and lake. And if (somehow) you run out of things to do in Kazan, there are affordable trips to nearby destinations by boat, rail and road.
I hope to be able to write much more about all of this in the future when I’ve had a chance to experience more of Kazan, but for now this should give you an idea of why everyone here is so proud of their city!
Words & Images © Katrina Eastgate