Most of us have at least some memories from our school lessons of hearing the word ‘Tatarstan.’ Indeed, the history of the Republic of Tatarstan is closely connected with the history of the whole Russian Federation. Volga Bulgaria was the first state in the territory of the Volga Region. The Golden Horde and the Khanate of Kazan were tied to the Grand Duchy of Moscovy by a difficult relationship. However, Tatarstan also gave us Boris Godunov, Ivan Turgenev, Nikolay Karamzin, Gavrila Derzhavin, and many others who made up the political and intellectual elite of Russia. They gave birth to the modern Tatarstan where different ethnic groups and religions live in harmony by enriching and supporting each other.
The Kazan Kremlin is the spiritual, political, and cultural heart of Kazan and the whole republic. It is no wonder that tourists usually begin their acquaintance with Tatarstan from the white walls of the Kazan Kremlin. Here, in the former governor’s palace, is the residence of the president of the republic. A short distance away you can find the ancient Blagoveshchensky Cathedral and Qol Sharif Mosque, the latter being a symbol of the revival of Islam. Here one can see what has remained in Kazan since the splendid khan period: a burial-vault of the Kazan khans and mysterious falling Suyumbike tower. In 2000, the Kazan Kremlin was added to the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites as a unique monument of Russian and Tatar architecture.
If you visit Kazan for the first time, your impressions of the city would not be complete without visiting Bauman Street, a hieratic place where the past and the present are intertwined. Famous, well-maintained houses, banks, shining gold churches, and cast-iron lamps and benches line the street. Most importantly, the spirit of carefree, celebration, and fun can be found all around you. The street is famous for its unusual fountains that are ready to fulfill your wishes. You can also ask other monuments to make your dreams come true, such as the monument of Elizabeth's II carriage, the bronze Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin, and the plump Kazan Cat.
To feel the national color of Kazan, you should visit the Staro-Tatarskaya Sloboda village located between the Nizhny Kaban Lake and Bolaq Canal. Until 1917, this village was a social and religious center for the Tatar citizens. Admire the ornate wooden and stone houses. Visit the Gabdula Tuqay Literary Museum that is located in a castle-like house of Shamil. Visit ancient mosques, like Aponayevskaya Mosque, Yunusovskaya Mosque, Blue Mosque, and, of course, Al-Marjani Mosque, the first stone mosque built since the times of Ivan the Terrible.
Your familiarity with the capital of the Republic would be incomplete without a visit to the museums as they help to frame your impressions with facts. In the National Tatarstan Republic Museum, you will learn the history of the land and its inhabitants from ancient times up to the 20th century. In the Museum of Fine Arts, you will be able to see icons from Sviyazhsk, the works of Shishkin, a native of Yelabuga, and the works of Russian artists, such as Levitsky and Kandinsky.
To learn more about the controversial figure of Russian history, Vladimir Ulyanov-Lenin, you can visit his memorial house. To learn about the consequences of the revolutionary leader's teeming activity and feel nostalgic you can visit the unusual Museum of the Socialistic Life, whose exhibition can be called ‘Welcome to the USSR’.
The Great Bolghar
More than a thousand years ago the Bulgars settled at the place where the Volga and the Kama merge. They created a powerful state, with a capital called the Great Bolghar, which was on par with Kievan Russia and Khazar Kaganate. The age of prosperity was interrupted with the arrival of the Mongols. The Great Bolghar, and other cities were destroyed, and the Volga Bulgaria became a part of the Golden Horde. However, the Bulgarian civilization did not disappear. The Khanate of Kazan became the Bulgarian successor, and the Bulgar people took part in the formation of modern Tatars and Chuvash people. Nowadays, the Great Bolghar is included on the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites and has become a real Mecca. People come to this place to see the ancient Bulgarian civilization and to turn a dry page of a textbook into a full life picture of the past.
There is not much left of the Volga Bulgarian capital, but, even in ruins, it leaves a lasting impression. Tough times did not have mercy on the grand Bolghar mosque, built in the age of the Golden Horde. One can see how impressive it was when one looks at the ruins of its massive walls and the reconstructed Big Minaret. The East Mausoleum, one of the Bolghar best remaining monuments, and the White Chamber, the remains of the city bath-house with a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and a complicated water distribution system, are situated nearby. Beyond the site of the ancient settlement there is a small minaret, which you can climb, combining the business with pleasure: from there you see splendid views of Bolghar and the Volga, and your soul will be released from forty sins, according to the forty steps leading upward.
Museum of the Bulgar Civilization
The Bread Museum Historical and Ethnographic Complex
Where the Sviyaga flows into the Volga River sits Sviyazhsk, an amazing island-city where the past is not covered with dust and history lives. In 1551, the wooden fortress of Sviyazhsk was founded on the orders of Ivan the Terrible. It served as a base for the Russian forces during the fifth and final siege of Kazan that ended with the conquest of the city and collapse of the Khanate of Kazan. Only Troitskaya Church, the first orthodox temple in the land of Tatarstan, remains from those glorious days.
The fortress of Sviyazhsk grew into a large trading town but then it gradually lost its status as a center of the province, to the center of the district, and afterwards it was downgraded to a village. It seems that time stopped here since the Kuybyshev Reservoir was created, cutting off Sviyazhsk from the main land. As a result, the island-city looks exactly as it did a hundred years ago, and, at the same time, it continues to live a full life. All guests have a unique opportunity to see the true living history.
Small houses built in the 19th and early 20th centuries, massive public buildings, horse-drawn carts, and the mellow chime of the church bells allow you to see a Russian classical provincial town. To dive even deeper into the past you should visit the workshops where real blacksmiths, tanners, potters, and wood carvers work. Right before your eyes the skilled craftsmen create not just beautiful craft items, but they also symbolize the link of time and the continuity of traditions.
The Sviyazhsk History Museum
In ancient times, on the place of Yelabuga, there was a Bulgarian fortress called Chertovo Gorodishche (Devil's Site of the Ancient Settlement). The only remaining building is the stone tower, a symbol of Yelabuga, which is in ward of UNESCO. According to legend, if you touch the tower with your left hand and make a wish it will come true.
In the 17th century, life returned to this land. There appeared a village that became a city at the reign of Catherine II of Russia. The city became a place of vibrant trading life. With the money came prosperity, and Yelabuga became the place that we know today: a merhcant’s coziness with ancient houses that continue to exist mixing the past and the present.
Yelabuga gave the world Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin, the artist who taught us to appreciate discreet and familiar beauty of the life in the temperate zone. Here lived Nadezhda Durova, a famous cavalrywoman, until the end of her life. On August 31, 1941 Marina Tsvetaeva committed suicide in Yelabuga. She came here with other poets during the war and lived for only two weeks in a house that today is remains part of the unique memorial complex of Marina Tsvetaeva. Also included are the literature museum, the Silver Age library, and the poet's grave on the Petropavlovskoye Cemetery.
The Portomoynya Museum
Chistopol has existed on the Kama River for centuries already. Formerly known as Chistoye Pole Village, it was founded by peasants who ran away from slavery. Even earlier, a Bulgar town was situated here, and later the Golden Horde town of Juketau, whose remains you can still see in the surroundings of Chistopol. The city received the status of a city in 1761 as a result of trading grain, which helped it become richer and grow. High-quality houses and churches were built, streets were paved, and innovations, such as water pipes and streets lights, were introduced. Modern Chistopol inherited a unique merchant estate, Skaryatinsky Garden, which was a gift to the citizens from the governor of Skaryatin, a grand Nikolsky Cathedral, and one of the oldest wooden mosques in Tatarstan.
During World War II, Chistopol sheltered over 200 writers and poets, including Leonov, Aseev, Paustovsky, Tarkovsky, Akhmatova, Pasternak, Chukovsky. It was here that Pasternak started collecting materials for his novel, ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ Famous songs, like Siniy Platochek and Zemlyanka, were born here, as well. Pasternak had a special relationship with Chistopol. In 1990, country’s first Pasternak Memorial Museum opened in the house where the writer once lived. The exhibition shows us not only the Chistopol period but also an entire life and works of the famed Nobel prizewinner.
The Chief Town of the District Museum
The museum has a rich collection of artifacts, which shows us the history of Chistopol and the life and traditions of its people - Russians, Tatars and Chuvashes. Two wooden bicycles made by a local self-taught master are very popular among visitors. The museum is located in merchant Poduruyev's elegant estate, which was built at the end of the 19th century and is in the register of Tatarstan landmarks.
The town with a funny name was founded as a fortress to protect the region from unchecked cavalry of the Crimean khans in the time of Ivan the Terrible. As time passed, and the tsardom of Russia became the Russian Empire, Tetyushy turned from a fortress into a prosperous chief town of the district. The town remains as such today. Perfect ancient buildings and uncrowded streets make you feel peaceful and calm while walking through the town. Before the revolution, the town had mosques and churches, but they were all destroyed during the Soviet period. Only the smart-looking white and red Troitsky Cathedral has survived, which was one of the first stone building of the town built in the 18th century.
The castle-like brick mansion of Peter Serebryakov is now the Tetyushy History Museum. Here one can learn about this wonderful place and about the people who once lived on this land. The main place of interest, however, is the Volga River. You can admire it from the top of Vshikha Mountain. Your experience will be truly memorable if you decide to climb up to the observation desk. There are 370 wooden steps to take you from the observation deck to the pier, making it the longest staircase in the Volga harbor. Another interesting place connected to the river is a monument to the beluga sturgeon. The huge copper fish looks exactly like the one that was caught here in 1921. It weighed 960 kg.
Both lovers of antiques and hunters of the supernatural come to the estate of the former noble, Molostovy. The estate is located in an anomalous zone. Here, electronic appliances go out of order, but people, on the contrary, start feeling better. It is believed that the Bulgarian khans already knew about the healing power of these places and they came here to recharge and heal themselves.
Are you still thinking where to go for your next holiday? Come to us just as thousands of travelers have already done. Thanks to them Tatarstan has ranked first, along with St. Petersburg, in the category of Russian Excursion Holiday by the National Geographic Traveler Awards.