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A Guide to Orthodox Sights of Tatarstan

Tatarstan attracts tourists not only with its large number of mosques and their rich architectural decor, but also with various monuments of Orthodox culture. Here is a round-up of the main cathedrals, churches and monasteries, in no way inferior in their historical value to the likes of famous Moscow and Novgorod equivalents.

Bogoroditsky Monastery 

The cathedral was founded in 1579 and is associated with the icon of the Kazan Mother of God. According to records of the future patriarch Germogen, a girl called Matrona was visited by the Virgin in a dream, guiding her to the whereabouts of an icon. On 8 June 1579, Matrona discovered the icon of the Virgin on the site of a burned down house.

The Bogoroditsky Monastery for many centuries remained the largest and most famous in the Volga region. It was a unique architectural complex that occupied several hectares of land and included churches, cathedrals, chapels, a bell tower, residential buildings and a parish school in its own building. Over time various kinds of destruction have left the complex badly damaged, but today you can see the restored 19th century Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Sofia Gate Church. A copy of the lost icon of the Kazan Mother of God donated by the Pope is also kept here in this complex.

The best time to visit is in the mornings, before the large crowds come to see the most revered icon. If you do come early, don’t miss the opportunity to have some fresh pastries for breakfast from the bakery located at the temple.

Location: 5 Bolshaya Krasnaya St

Cathedral of the Annunciation

This is the oldest building of the entire Kazan Kremlin complex, as well as a unique example of the Pskov Architectural School. In December 1552, builder Yakovlev Postnik and bricklayer Ivan Shiryaev who built St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow were summoned by Ivan the Terrible to travel to Kazan in order to construct a stone Kremlin and this cathedral. The temple was built by 80 Pskov masters between 1556 and 1562. Initially, it was a white-stone cross-domed church, however due to numerous fires the old building was not preserved and was shut down in 1925. The cathedral did not restart operating until much later, on 21 July 2005 - the day when the Kazan diocese marked its 450th anniversary.

Despite a large number of reconstructions, the temple managed to preserve the original Pskov style and unique decorative elements. Also the Cathedral is home to one of the most famous shrines - the monastic cell of Archbishop Gury with an old 16th century icon depicting the Miraculous Saviour. This temple is also unique because you can truly feel the close interweaving of cultures and religions, since the Muslim Kul Sharif Mosque stands right next door. Such a harmonious inter-existence characterizes not only the Kazan Kremlin, but the culture of the Republic as a whole.

Location: Bldg. 2, Kazan Kremlin, Kazan

The Zilant Holy Assumption Monastery 

This is another monastery built by order of Ivan the Terrible on 15 October 1552 - the day of the capture of Kazan, and is the oldest of all surviving monasteries of the Volga region. Initially it was located near the mass grave of Russian soldiers who fell during the capture of Kazan, but due to constant floods in 1559, it was transferred to Mount Zilant. It was here in the 7th century that the main monastery complex took shape, including the Assumption Cathedral, the church in the name of Alexey Metropolit of Moscow and Prince Vladimir Church. The monastery currently houses a female commune, where the sisters engage in needlework, restore icons and conduct tours for pilgrims.

The monastery is located in the Kirovsky district of Kazan, on the other side of the bustling centre, so you can easily settle into the unique spiritual atmosphere and continue a leisurely walk along the quiet streets of the city. The most beautiful view of the monastery can be seen from the Volga or if you’re going by via train.

Location: 1 Arkhangelskiy Pereulok


Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral 

The Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral is one of the main spiritual symbols of Kazan, and is a most valuable monument of the "Russian", or the so-called "Naryshkin" baroque style of the first half of the 18th century. It was built in 1723-1726 by Kazan merchant Ivan Mikhlyaev in memory of the visit of Peter the Great to Kazan. The cathedral’s architecture and decorative elements are unique and are unlike any other architectural monument in existence. The 52 metre high two-story temple stands on a mountain, making it clearly visible even from afar. Inside it is decorated with stucco moulding with plant motifs, hence why locals lovingly call it the city’s ‘hanging garden [made of stone]’. Also, this is the only temple in Kazan where you will find the only preserved large unique ancient tiles of this kind, located on the mezzanine floor.

It is not surprising that not only statesmen and public figures but all Russian Emperors and Empresses made the trip to admire this temple, beginning with Catherine II. Scientist, naturalist and traveler Alexander Humboldt described the cathedral in his notes during his trip to Russia in 1829, Alexander Dumas wrote about it in his book “The Fencing Master”, and Feodor Chaliapin often sang in the cathedral during worship. In such a place you can truly sense the atmosphere of past centuries and take solace from the hustle and bustle of the city. The observation deck outside is also worth stopping at – even if it’s just for a second to take a look at the historical centre of Kazan from another angle, overlooking the Kremlin and Bauman Street.

Location: 21 Musa Dzhalil St


Sviyazhsk Bogoroditse-Uspensky Monastery 

This UNESCO World Heritage Site happens to be the most important base for the spread of Orthodoxy in the Volga region. The monastery was built in 1555 - simultaneously with the establishment of the Kazan diocese. Buildings of different ages have survived on its territory, which together form an impressive architectural ensemble. The most valuable of them are the Assumption Cathedral and the Church of St Nicholas the Wonderworker. They are the oldest buildings here and are recognized as masterpieces of Russian architecture of the 16th century.

The Assumption Cathedral was built in 1561 in a Pskov-Novgorod style. In the 18th century it received a new dome in a Ukrainian baroque style and 12 patterned baroque style ornaments around the top, which made the strict structure slightly more approachable. The unique frescoes that decorate the 1,080 square metres of the temple inside, express the complete cycle of colourful wall painting styles of the Ivan the Terrible era.

Another valuable monument of the monastery is the Church of St Nicholas the Wonderworker. The church is a place of pilgrimage for Orthodox believers from all over Russia. It was built in 1556 under the leadership of architect Ivan Shirya, who contributed with the strong traditional architectural features of 16th century Pskov masters. Initially, the walls of the temple were covered with unique frescoes, however only one fragment has survived to this day: a fragment of the face of St Nichola Mozhaiskogo on the eastern facade in a small nook. During the time of Ivan the Terrible, the basement of the bell tower near the church had an underground passage that led to Lake Shuchye, which was the secret source of water during the siege. As a result of additional building add-ons, the height of this bell tower reached 43 metres, and is now the tallest building in Sviyazhsk.

The most beautiful photographs of the complex can be taken from the parking lot and the helipad at the entrance to the island from which you can see the skyline of the main monastery buildings. And on the way back, have your camera ready by the monastery gates where you will see a beautiful view of the Sviyaga River and nearest islands.

Location: Zelenodolskiy district, Sviyazhsk village


St Abraham Church

The church is located near the ruins of the famous Bulgarian settlement and is a pilgrimage centre for Orthodox believers from all over Tatarstan.

St Abraham Church was built in Porfirovka village in 1895. The rural wooden architecture style building was designed by Kazan architect Malinovsky. After some time, the village emptied out, so at the request of Bolgar residents, the temple was moved to the city in 1988 during an anniversary year of the Baptism of Russia. The temple was named in honour of the holy martyr Abraham of Bolgar, who in the 13th century lived in these parts and sacrificed himself for the Orthodox faith.

Today it is a blue building with silver-plated domes near a birch grove. Unique Orthodox paintings and icons can be found inside the church, and the main shrines of the temple are the reliquary with relics of Abraham of Bolgar and a healing spring that runs through the site of death of the church’s patron Saint.

Be sure to also visit the courtyard of the church where you can find small-scale models of different types of churches which doubles as a great opportunity to take photos with different sights all in one place.

Location: 144 Likhacheva St, Bolgar


Bogoroditskiy Monastery of Raifa 

This monastery is a famous pilgrimage centre for Orthodox believers and is the largest of the existing monasteries of Tatarstan.

The wooden monastery was built in the middle of the 17th century by hermit Filaret, however after the 1689 fire, a stone ensemble began to take shape in the 17th-18th centuries. Having been restored after numerous fires, the monastery complex is now one of the most magnificent in the central Volga region, made especially picturesque with the surrounding pine forest reserve and Lake Raif at its doorstep. There are four churches on the territory of the monastery: a cathedral in honour of the Georgian Icon of the Mother of God, a church in honour of the venerated fathers in Raif and Sinai of the beaten, a cathedral in the name of the Life-Giving Trinity and a gate church. The main shrine of the Raifa Monastery is the Georgian Icon of the Mother of God, which was returned from Kazan on 14 August 1992.

Location: Zelenodolskiy region, Raifa village


St Nicholas Cathedral

The cathedral is one of the main architectural decorations and the dominant centre of Chistopol.

One of the most valuable architectural monuments in the Kazan region - St Nicholas Cathedral was built in 1838 by architect Peter Pyatnitsky, who was famous for the construction of Kazan University. The cathedral is located on a high bank of the Kama River at the entrance to the old city and is a vivid example of late classicism. Given its status, naturally, most of the city sightseeing tours begin here. The interior of the church has preserved a unique fresco of the Romanov family created before their canonization, while the floor still contains old tiles dating back to pre-revolution times.

Location: 2 K Marksa St, Chistopol 


Cathedral of the Protection of the Holy Virgin

This church has high architectural value as a unique building with complex shapes. Its design combines elements of late baroque, empire and early classicism, while the turquoise walls with white decorative elements give the building a very special festive feel.

The cathedral was built in 1820 on the site of two old wooden churches and was consecrated in honour of the Protection of the Holy Virgin and the prophet Elijah. The gate was painted by two outstanding artists - Carl Gun and Vasily Vereshchagin. The church patrons were wealthy Yelabuga merchants, therefore the church’s decorative features were considered luxurious for its time - the altar with rich detailing and gilded royal gates especially always attracted the attention of visitors. The main shrine of the temple is an ancient icon of the Three Hierarchs - Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian.

Location: 42 Bolshaya Pokrovskaya St, Yelabuga


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