Kazan

Located on the banks of the majestic Volga River about 800 km east of Moscow, Kazan was founded in 1005 by the Bulgarians as a fortress and trading hub. After the invasion of the Mongols, Kazan was the capital of a principality within the dominions of the Golden Horde, after which it became the seat of the Tatar Khanate. The city was conquered by Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1552 and today it is one of the most prosperous cities in Russia and the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, with a high degree of autonomy within the Russian Federation. Many of its inhabitants communicate in their own language and maintain their religion, culture, traditions, and customs, while Kazan is officially called the “Third Capital of Russia,” following Moscow and St. Petersburg. Though its university has been home to such well-known historical figures as Lenin and Tolstoy, Kazan is a meeting point of the Western and Eastern worlds and is the confluence of Tatar, Russian, and European cultures and traditions. The city is divided into two main districts, Russian and Tatar, which are separated by Qaban Lake and the Bolaq Canal. The contrast of the domes crowning Russian Orthodox churches with the mosques’ minarets gives the city a unique atmosphere and character, the mix of cultures developed over centuries making up the uniqueness of Kazan. The city is an important cultural and educational center, featuring theaters, museums, music halls, international festivals, and business events, in addition to libraries and universities. Kazan is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Panoramic tour of Kazan. During the tour we will discover the amazing history of Kazan, complete with the old mansions, trading houses, and 19th and 20th century industrial and cultural buildings that form the historical city center. We will stroll along pedestrian Bauman Street, home to the Russian Baroque-styled Peter and Paul Cathedral, which rises in harmony with the neighboring classicist building of Kazan State University. Kremlyovskaya Street is the cultural heart of the city, with the Bolshoi Drama Theatre, the Kazan Opera House, the National Library, and Town Hall nearby. Across the Bolaq Canal and Qaban Lake, we will enter the old Tatar district of the city, where Tatars were forced to live after the Russian conquest of Kazan. Mardzhani Mosque, Azimov Mosque, and many others raise their minarets in this historically Muslim area, and where the Kazanka River meets the powerful Volga River we will admire the Monument to the Fallen Soldiers, the Agricultural Palace, and the modern, hi-tech building of the Kazan circus. We will end our tour with a visit to the Kazan Kremlin.

Visit to the Kazan Kremlin. The ancient Kremlin towers over the city and impresses with its scale and might. At the mouth of the Kazanka on the Volga River the 12th century wooden Bulgarian fort, destroyed by the Mongols, was reconstructed by the Tatars as a stronghold protecting their principality. After conquering the city, Ivan the Terrible ordered the reconstruction of the Kazan Kremlin following the same model, and it was completed between 1556 and 1562 by masters from Pskov. Within its walls there are many historical buildings, the most important of them being the Cathedral of the Annunciation (1561-62). Like many other buildings of that period in Kazan, it was built using the traditional local sandstone instead of brick, a material used throughout most of the rest of Russia. Next to it is the Bishop House (1829), while another major landmark is Qol Sharif Mosque, recently rebuilt inside the Kremlin. The Governor’s Palace (1845-1848), built on the site of the former Khan’s Palace, is now the Presidential Palace, and next to Spasskaya Tower is the Monastery of Our Saviour, which dates back to 1557, being the main Christian missionary focus in these predominantly Muslim lands. Among the many military buildings are the Guard House, the Cadet’s School, the Riding School and the Artillery Cannon Foundry, and inside the imposing Kremlin walls towers the highest structure of the Kazan Kremlin, the Soyembika Leaning Tower, named after the last Tatar tsarina. The Kazan Kremlin was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Visit to Raifa Monastery. Situated 30 km northwest of Kazan, the monastery was founded in 1613 by Filaret, a monk, and 30 other eremites in the middle of pine forests by a beautiful lake. One of the first churches built within the monastery’s walls was dedicated to the orthodox monks martyred in Sinai and Raithu (Raifa in Russian), and in 1670 the Georgian Icon of the Mother of God was installed in the monastery, at which point a number of miracles were said to happen. Today we can admire a copy in the Cathedral of the Mother of God of Georgia. Among its main buildings are also the Belltower and Over-the-Gate Church of the Archangel Michael, through which we will enter the monastery. The Holy Trinity Cathedral has excellent acoustics: four monks singing in its gallery can be heard from two kilometers away. The monastery was closed by the Soviets in 1928, though several monks kept on coming to pray clandestinely, and on January 27th, 1930, when monks and believers gathered here to pray on the day of the martyrs of Raithu they were rounded up by the communist police to be tortured and executed. The monastery then served as a prison and military camp until after the fall of the Soviet regime, when it was given back to the church and completely restored.

Visit to Sviyazhsk. Sviyazhsk is situated at the confluence of the rivers Volga and Sviyaga. In 1551, during the siege of Kazan by the Russian armies and after many painful setbacks, Ivan the Terrible realized that if he wanted to defeat Kazan he would need a fortified place next to it. He had his military architects build an impressive wooden fortress in Uglich, about 100 km north of Moscow, where it was then taken apart and shipped on rafts 1500 km down the Volga River to be re-erected atop Kruglaya Mountain. In only 24 days a strong new fortress grew up in the enemy’s rear to become the main stronghold of the Russian assailants of Kazan. It was named first Ivangorod, in honor of Ivan IV, and was later renamed as Sviyazhsk. After the conquest of Kazan the fortress became a prosperous monastery, one of the first places in Russia to start printing, and a main hub from which the region was evangelized. During the revolution Sviyazhsk was the focal point of fierce fights between the White troops, loyal to the tsar, and the Bolsheviks. After that, the Soviets closed the monastery, destroyed many churches, and installed a prison and then a psychiatric hospital. In 1957 the construction of the Kuybyshev Reservoir, the largest in Europe and third largest in the world, transformed Kruglaya Mountain into an island with Sviyazhsk on its peak. After the fall of communism, Sviyazhsk was restored and now is a candidate site for UNESCO’s World Heritage List. We will see the Monastery of the Rest of the Virgin (Bogoroditse-Uspenskiy) with its Dormition Cathedral (1556-1561), the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, the Cathedral of the Mother of God, Trinity Monastery, St. Sergius Church (16th century), and wooden Trinity Church (1551).

Boat trip on the Volga River. We will take a little trip on the majestic Volga River, the largest in Europe and one of the largest in Russia, which runs from north to south along the European part of Russia, beginning between Moscow and St. Petersburg in the Valdai Hills and flowing into the Caspian Sea at the city of Astrakhan. From the river we can enjoy an unforgettable view of Kazan, its Kremlin and walls, the blue and golden domes of the cathedral, and the imposing minarets of Kazan’s mosques.