Орел и Решка
Kazan is the city that is officially considered to be the third capital of Russia. The knowledge of tourists about the capital of Tatarstan (autonomous republic within Russian Federation) is very scarce though modern Kazan can amaze you: nowadays it is a European level city that has many places of interest and everything is rather cheap. It is better to visit Tatarstan in the end of spring when all the country celebrates its seasonal event – sabantuy.
We all got used to the fact that Kremlin is located in Moscow, but in fact “kremlin” – is an old Tatar word that stands for the central part of the city surrounded by high defense walls. The Kazan Kremlin is a white stone complex of buildings, cathedrals, towers and other constructions that are architectural monuments remaining from XII century. UNESCO included the Kazan Kremlin into World Heritage List.
The watchtower – Sujumbike Tower – at Kazan Kremlin deserves special mentioning. It is also called “falling tower”. It slightly deviates aside, now the deviation of the tower spire is about 2 meters. There are no documents of tower construction left as the archive, where these documents were kept, was destroyed in 1701 during the fire in Moscow. This is the reason why argues on the age of the tower are still acute: some date its foundation to the period of Kazan Khanate.
There are many Muslims in Kazan, but the most famous architectural monument on the territory of Kazan Kremlin is the Annunciation Cathedral, dated XVI century. It is the most ancient of the remaining buildings in architectural ensemble. Ivan the Terrible is considered to have chosen the place for the Cathedral to be built. The appearance of the building is quite interesting: it is an example of Pskov architectural school, very few works of which are left nowadays. It is worth entering inside the Cathedral to see the amazingly beautiful icons at close range.
The most notable construction on the territory of Kazan Kremlin is a big mosque Kul Sharif. It can contain one thousand and a half people inside and 10 thousand on the square in front of it. When the mosque was built, the authorities proclaimed it the largest one in Europe, but were totally wrong: it was not true on all parameters. The mosque is divided into zone for men and zone for women: men pray on the first floor, women – on the second one; the tourists are allowed inside only on special balconies. There is even a special person who controls all these rules. In other countries you have to take off your shoes before entering mosque, but here you have to buy booties for 3 Russian rubles. But it is really worth going inside: the floor is covered with Iranian handmade carpets, the ceiling is marked with a large colored chandelier made of bohemian glass, everywhere you can see stain-glass windows, stucco molding, amazing mosaic and gilding.
The Baroque Cathedral, built in the times of Peter the Great, is a unique building for Kazan and one of the most important architectural monuments. Right from the entrance an amazing view over the city opens. There is also an observation deck on the roof. The inner décor of the Cathedral is also quite unusual: stucco work in the form of bunch of grapes and other redundancies of baroque architecture, but the main attraction is, of course, stained glass windows with crosses. The altar part still keeps the old murals including a not renewed image of saint Peter and Paul; many old icons are stored in the Cathedral as well.
It is worth walking from Kremlin along one of the main historic streets of the city – local Arbat. It is here where you can feel the atmosphere of Kazan: the street is all pedestrian, there are several cultural points located on it – for example, The Monastery of Saint John and the theatre named after Kachalov. Here you can also find some other places of interest: carriage of Catherine the Great, monument to the Cat of Kazan (Elizabeth, Empress of Russia, glorified this representative of local fauna, when having asked why there were no mice in Kazan, found out about specially trained “fight” cats-mousers). And in case you are not in a mood of sightseeing, you can go shopping (here you will also find several boutiques) or have lunch in any of numerous cafes.
In case you happen to be in Kazan in the end of spring and beginning of summer, you just can’t miss sabantuy. In Russian language “sabantuy” means a rowdy party, feast and bacchanal with crockery breaking. But in reality, it is a sown ending celebration. People gather on the wooded meadow, dance, sing songs and organize various games and competitions. It all looks like traditional Russian amusement: fighting with pillows on a log, running with yoke, tug of war and jumping in bags. After eight hundred years no one remembers who borrowed the games from whom. Who came up with the idea of breaking the pot blindfold? But keep in mind that the queues to this event are bigger than for the slides in some water parks. The main contest during sabantuy – is a traditional wrestling on belts – kurash. The aim is to knock down your opponent using the belt. Local wrestlers train for the whole year to win in this competition and get the first prize – a car and a lamb. After all the entertainment is finished, the sabantuy participants sit on the grass, spread their carpets and take out all homemade supplies – sitting on the grass they eat and relax with their families. It is interesting to know that you will not see anyone drunk here; people drink only water as Islam doesn’t allow drinking alcohol.
Go down the Volga river – is an essential part of sightseeing. It can be done here even by a thrifty tourist – only for 200 Russian rubles you can take the ferry that will take you up the river. The views are not really astonishing there, but the fact of such trip is worth making it.