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In the footsteps of great writers and poets. A guide to literary Tatarstan

The mansion where Leo Tolstoy spent his student years, the desk at which Pushkin worked, the last refuge of Marina Tsvetaeva: Tatarstan very dearly holds on to the memory of the geniuses who have visited this land. Here we will tell you about the region that inspired poets, tested the character of writers and became a place of drama for writers who later went on to become world classics.

Author — Ivan Banderov

Kazan

Alexander Herzen

political writer, philosopher and founder of the Free Russian Printing Office in London in 1853

“The veiled faces of the Tatar women, the high cheekbones of their husbands, the mosques of true believers standing side by side with the churches of the Orthodox faith – it all reminds one of the East” wrote Alexander Herzen about his unplanned visit to Kazan in 1835, and later added: “The significance of Kazan is very great: it is where two worlds meet. It has two origins, the West and the East, and you can see them at every crossroad; here they lived in amity as a result of continuous interaction and began to create something quite original.” 

Kazan has two beginnings: the West and the East, and you can see them at every crossroad Alexander Herzen
Musa Dzhalil

Tatar poet and author of the famous “Moabit Notebook” - a collection of poems written during his time in fascist captivity

The meeting of the two worlds, which the Russian writer magnificently described, continues. You can easily see the beauty of this union just by looking at the streets of Kazan through the eyes of the writer and visiting the literary “places of power” of Tatarstan.

A visit to the Republic most often begins with Kazan, and a visit to the capital of Tatarstan begins with the Kremlin. Right outside the Spassky Tower stands a monument to the Tatar poet and hero of the Soviet Union - Musa Dzhalil. During World War II, the writer was drafted into the Red Army and was subsequently seriously wounded. He was taken prisoner, where he managed to become a member of an underground group, arranging prisoner escapes.

For you, oh my homeland, For the great truth I'm dying! Musa Dzhalil

During his time in the concentration camp, Musa Dzhalil wrote a collection of poems – the “Moabit Notebook”, for which he was posthumously awarded the Lenin Prize. The poet was executed by guillotine in Berlin in 1944. Near the monument of the poet, you’ll see a memorial with the names of members of the underground group, among which, another Tatar writer Abdulla Alish, was also sentenced to death.

Leo Tolstoy

writer, thinker, political writer, and author of the great novels “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”

The Tolstoy Museum (15 Yapeev Street) is located in the centre of the city not far from the Kremlin, the building of which was the writer’s first house during his time in Kazan. Here, you’ll find the biographical exhibition called “Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy and Kazan”.

Follow Kremlevskaya Street towards Kazan University, where in the 1840's Leo Tolstoy was a student of the Faculty of Philosophy. The writer passed his first winter exams, however unfortunately was not admitted into the spring semester, which prompted him to transfer to the Law Faculty. The change of major did not change the situation: Tolstoy did not become an exemplary student, moreover, this prompted his critical attitude towards the sciences. He later left his studies and moved to Yasnaya Polyana. In the Museum of History of Kazan University, a small showcase is devoted to Tolstoy's student years.

The further you advance in self-perfection, the more you see your own shortcomings... Leo Tolstoy
Yevgeny Baratynsky

was a lyric poet, and one of the most enigmatic authors of the Pushkin era

Tolstoy’s “Kazan period” is a significant one in the biography of the writer: the experiences of these years formed the foundation for his works “Adolescence”, “Youth”, “After the Ball”, and “The Morning of the Landowner”. During his time when he was admitted to Kazan Hospital, the future philosopher kept a diary, in which he continued to make entries throughout his life. Near the house where Tolstoy lived during his student years, there is a square named in his honour. A bronze bust of the writer can be found here, on which his signature is engraved with gold.

A three-minute walk away from the Tolstoy Square in the old noble manor, you’ll find the only museum in Russia dedicated to Yevgeny Baratynsky who lived in Kazan in the 1830s. This building (27 Gorky Street) later belonged to three generations of the poet’s descendants.

A three minute walk away from the Tolstoy Square in the old noble manor house, you’ll find the only museum in Russia dedicated to Yevgeny Baratynsky who lived in Kazan in the 1830s. This building (27 Gorky Street) later belonged to three generations of the poet’s descendants.

I will return to you, the fields of my fathers. The peaceful woods, shelter sacred to the heart! Yevgeny Baratynsky

The museum contains items that tell a detailed story about the poet’s creative path, spiritual searches and the history of his family. You’ll see his lifetime publications and a collection of his personal belongings, as well as a desk, which, according to his relatives, Alexander Pushkin worked at during his time in Kazan.

Gavrila Derzhavin

was a poet of the Age of Enlightenment and a civil servant - a senator and secret councilor

As you stroll down Gorky Street, be sure to visit the monument to Gavrila Derzhavin at the entrance to Lyadsky Garden. The future poet and statesman was born in the village of Sokuru, in the Laishevsky district of Tatarstan. However, there is also an opposing belief that he was actually born in Kazan. After finishing school, Derzhavin went to work in St Petersburg, but did not break off his connection with his hometown, and regularly came back to visit.

Walking through Lyadsky Garden, you can plan a visit to the museum of the Laishevsky region named in honour of Derzhavin (Laishevo is 55 kilometres from Kazan). Only one of the four exhibit sections of the museum are dedicated to the poet's life, which includes Derzhavin’s lifetime publications and a collection of his books. The rest of the exhibition consists of materials about the ethnic history of the region, paleontological exhibits and rare finds of the period of the Bolgar state.

 

Kazan, my native city with the best schools of literature, [you] compare and deserve, to the likes of Athens, immortal glory to you ... Gavrila Derzhavin

Take a look inside the apartment-museum of Musa Dzhalil, who’s name kicked off literary tourism to Tatarstan. It’s located at 17 Gorky Street next to Lyadsky Garden. The Tatar poet lived in apartment #28 of this very house with his family in the early 1940s. During those years the author worked in the nearby opera house, which now bears his name. In the museum exhibition in addition to biographical details, his translation of “The Marriage of Figaro” opera in Tatar is on display, along with a recreated workspace of the poet and even the mandolin which Musa Dzhalil liked to play.

Karim Tinchurin

was a writer, actor, and one of the founders of professional Tatar theatre

Near the apartment-museum of Musa Dzhalil is a building that is a great example of a theatrical structure (13 Gorky Street). The architectural and historical monument is the Theatre named after Karim Tinchurin, founded based on his initiative in 1933. Today, the theatre is the guardian of Tatar art and actively participates in the cultural life of the republic.

Opposite the Tinchurin Theatre you’ll find the Maxim Gorky and Feodor Chaliapin Museum. The mid-19th century building which once housed a bakery where Alexey Peshkov (Gorky’s real name) worked between 1886-1887 is a historical monument of federal significance. The exhibition here is devoted to the creative path of Maxim Gorky as well as the life of the famous singer Feodor Chaliapin in Kazan.

Physically, I was born in Nizhny Novgorod, spiritually - in Kazan. Kazan is the favourite of my universities Maxim Gorky
Maxim Gorky

was a writer and five-time nominee of the Nobel Prize in Literature

The Gorky and Chaliapin exhibit sections of the museum uncover interesting facts and stories about their lives, friendship, and the city that united them. Gorky’s four years in Kazan (1884-1888) were not easy. Exhausting manual labour, Spartan living conditions and spiritual anxieties pushed the future writer to suicide. His attempt failed and all his Kazan experiences were subsequently re-evaluated and channeled into his writing. His urban memories helped form the plots of works such as “My Universities”, “The Master”, “Konovalov”, “The Case from the Life of Makar”, “Twenty-Six and One”.

Alexander Pushkin

was a poet, prose writer, playwright, and the founder of modern Russian language

Stroll down to Pushkin Street and then head towards “Ploschad Svobody” (“Freedom Square”). Near the Tatar Academic Theatre named after Musa Dzhalil, you’ll see the Alexander Pushkin monument, where the poet stands, sternly observing the city. It was here in Kazan where Pushkin collected materials for his work “A History of Pugachev”.

During his stay in the city, the writer met Professor Karl Fuchs, poet Yevgeny Baratynsky and political writer Erast Pertsov. Pushkin’s research in Kazan during his 1833 visit also proved useful when he was writing “The Captain's Daughter”.
I have been busy here with old men, contemporaries of my hero. I rode round the outskirts of the town, went over the fields of battle, asked questions, took notes, and am very pleased that I did not visit these parts in vain Alexander Pushkin
Gabdulla Tukay

was a poet, known as the “Tatar Pushkin”, and laid the foundations of national literature and criticism

On the opposite side of the building of the opera house, stands a monument to the poet Gabdulla Tukay - one of the founders of Tatar literature and modern Tatar language. In 1907, a young Tukay arrived in Kazan to devote his life to writing, quickly entering the literary circles, he became intensely engaged in journalism and poetry. In 1913, the author died at the age of 26 after battling tuberculosis. For the small, as it would seem, period of creativity, Gabdulla Tukay became a defender of the people and a language reformer, who created an entire literary tradition.

Oh Kazan, my sadness and cheerfulness! Radiant Kazan! Here are all the solemn places and deeds of our ancestors, Here are all the beauties and the paradise of the yearning soul! Gabdulla Tukay

Heading down Pushkin Street, to the “Ploshchad Tukaya” ("Tukay Square”) metro station, be sure to plan a trip to the village of Novy Kyrlay, where the great future Tatar poet spent his childhood. The Tukay Museum complex contains numerous literary and art expositions, and a collection of paintings dedicated to the writer's work. The tales of the Tatar poet are also illustrated within the mosaic panels on the walls of the central metro station of Kazan.

Lev Gumilev

was a writer, scientist-ethnologist, and researcher of history and archeology

At the entrance to the “Ploshchad Tukaya” metro station, on the side of Peterburgskaya Street stands a monument to Lev Gumilev. Although the researcher did not visit Kazan, the sculpture symbolizes the ideas of tolerance and interethnic harmony. The engraved words read “To the Russian citizen who defended Tatars from slander all his [/her] life" - a reference to the author's works in the field of ethnology.

For the sake of truth, instead of for the sake of pseudo-science, politics or any other conjuncture, I, a Russian person, all my life protect Tatars from slander. Lev Gumilev

The nearby Tukay park is home to the monument dedicated to the Tatar writer (and this is not the last time you will see the poet). And across the road - Lake Kaban and the Tatar Academic Theatre, bearing the name of one of the founders of the Tatar art of drama Galiassgar Kamal, is a kind of entrance to the Old Tatar Quarter. Take a stroll through the streets named after Tatar writer Kayum Nasyri and poet Fatykh Karim, and pay attention to the Shamil House - an architectural monument of the 19th–20th centuries. Here, you’ll find the literary museum of Gabdulla Tukay, which contains personal belongings of the author, lifetime publications and photographs.

Chistopol

Boris Pasternak

was a writer, and one of the most important poets of the 20th century, as well as a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature

100 kilometers outside of Kazan in the city of Chistopol, Boris Pasternak spent one of the most difficult periods of his life. During the wartime evacuation in 1941-1943, the writer rented a room in the house of the Vavilovs, where the museum is now located (75 Volodarsky Street), dedicated to the Nobel Prize laureate. Memorial rooms are recreated based on the memories of Pasternak's guests and the apartment landlords. Here you’ll be able to find items that were in the writer's room, letters, diary entries and photographs. The museum illustrates not only the Chistopol period of the writer's life, but also his artistic life path.

I have always loved our wilderness, small towns and rural areas over capitals, and dear to my heart is Chistopol, and the winters in it, both the inhabitants and the houses, as I saw them in the winter of 1941, when I arrived to an evacuated family Boris Pasternak

Pasternak had to work in almost extreme conditions - for example, one of his jobs was loading firewood in negative thirty-degree (Celsius) weather. However, this only tempered the spirit: “Here we are closer to the fundamental foundations of life. During the war, everyone should live like this, especially artists,” considered the writer. During the war, the author was also engaged in literary translations (among them - translations of Shakespeare’s work), wrote poetry (included in the 1943 collection), and began writing the play “In this world”, which he later destroyed.

On your way to Chistopol, you can also visit Laishevo, take a look around the Derzhavin Regional Museum, and then head over to Yelabuga (265 km from Kazan, and 160 km from Chistopol along the highway) where in 1941, Marina Tsvetaeva and her son arrived right on the Yelabuga coast.

Yelabuga

Marina Tsvetaeva

was a poetess of the Silver Age of Russian Poetry, as well as a translator and prose writer

The city that stands on Kama River was the last place of residence in the biography of the poetess. Here, in the little house of the Brodelshchikovs, she committed suicide. Today it is the House of Memory of Tsvetaeva, where her mid-20th century environment has been fully recreated. It may seem as if Marina Tsvetaeva was in her room just recently and will return soon. Here is her beret, a knitted throw, and even her notebook which was found in the pocket of her apron after her tragic death.

Yelabuga is a city that very lovingly keeps the memory of Tsvetaeva alive. The exposition of the literary museum holds a lock of her hair alongside her personal items - teaspoons, her daughter’s makeup powder box, note paper, and her jewelry. To mark the 110th anniversary of her birth, the city of Yelabuga opened a memorial square with a bronze bust of Marina Tsvetaeva.

These places of memory are contained within the only memorial complex of Marina Tsvetaeva in the world, which also includes the Silver Age library, the Portomoinya Museum, the Silver Age cafe and the guarded cemetery – the final resting place of the poetess. Every year on August 31, the locals bring flowers here and recall the poems of Tsvetaeva, while the Intercession Church serves an annual requiem.

But do not stand sullenly, With a drooping head on your chest, It's easy to think of me, It's easy to forget me. Marina Tsvetaeva

The literary tour of Tatarstan, which will take several days, still cannot be considered fully complete even if you visit all these places; the streets bearing the names of geniuses, memorial plaques, monuments to writers – with each one you uncover, you will continue to find proof that the republic has long been a place for artists' insights and the land of fateful trials.

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