Ask many overseas visitors to Russia to list the country’s great cities and you’ll be hard pushed to find Kazan on a list. That’s not because Kazan isn’t great. It’s because, despite receiving 2.1 million tourists last year, Kazan is perhaps the greatest Russian city you’ve never heard of. Movie fans will know it, however – it featured at the end of the 2008 Bond film Quantum of Solace when Bond visits Yusef Kabira, Vesper Lynd’s former lover. Here’s the lowdown on this sometimes overlooked gem.
Officially Russia’s third capital
Kazan has been branding itself “Russia’s third capital” since 2007 but it’s officially been entitled to do so since 2009 after being awarded a formal patent. After Moscow and St Petersburg, this makes it the third most important city in the country, despite it coming eighth in terms of population. In 2005, Kazan celebrated its 1000th birthday with a number of landmark projects including a rebuild of the city’s historic heart. That year, the newly rebuilt Qolşärif mosque inside Kazan Kremlin was dedicated, the Millennium Bridge was opened and so was the city’s brand new metro.
And it’s also Russia’s sports capital
A few years later, the city was branded Russia’s sports capital, hosting a number of important events. It was the setting for the 2013 Summer Universiade, 2014’s World Fencing Championships and the World Aquatics Championship a year later. In 2018, it will play an important role in the 2018 FIFA World Cup All of these events have given the city yet more reasons to spruce itself up, so there’s never been a better time to visit.
A unique ethnic mix
One thing visitors soon notice on arriving in Kazan is that much of the signage is in Tatar as well as Russian. It’s the capital of ancient Tatarstan, but the city was conquered by Russia in the reign of Ivan the Terrible. These days the numbers of Russians and Tatars are largely equal, with most practising either Eastern Orthodox Christianity or Sunni Islam. It’s this melting pot heritage that makes Kazan special and much beloved of those who make the effort to visit.
Break your Trans-Siberian journey in Kazan
Lying at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers, this is a city with an impressive location, but the fact that it sits almost equidistant between Moscow and Yekaterinburg on the Trans-Siberian route makes it a very tempting stop-off. The UNESCO-listed Kazan Kremlin is the city’s main attraction, containing the spectacular five-domed Annunciation Cathedral, the Spasskaya Tower, which forms the main entrance to the citadel and the leaning Söyembikä Tower, the city’s most recognisable landmark. Also, don’t miss the Peter and Paul Cathedral and the 19th century mansions which line Kremlevskaya Ulitsa. At the end of the day, Ulitsa Baumana is the place where you’ll find Kazan’s best selection of cafes, bars and restaurants. There’s so much to see, in fact, you’ll hope your train is late so you can hang around a while longer.