If you ask the average English speaking person to name a city where Asia meets Europe they will probably say Istanbul – if you mention Kazan the response is often, where? Standing on the banks of the Volga and astride the Kazanka rivers the thousand year old city of Kazan in Tatarstan was founded on the a junction of the northern silk road. Kazan is still a vibrant example of eastern and western cultures meeting and mixing in harmony; even the name means cooking pot or cauldron in the native Tatar language.
Fifty percent of the 1.3 million population are Tatar, most of whom are Muslim and approximately forty percent are ethnic Russian many of whom are Orthodox Christians. If you are wondering about the remaining ten percent they are from over a hundred different ethnic groups.
The main language spoken is Russian but you will see bilingual street names in Tatar and Russian and the announcements on the single line metro are in Russian, Tatar and English; although the doors are often closing by the time the announcer completes all three. This is probably the only time you will hear English spoken so it pays to learn a little Russian even if it is only hello, please and thank you Здравствуйте (pronounced Zdravstvuyte), пожалуйста (pozhaluysta) and Спасибо (Spasiba).
Kazan boasts several modern hotels but if you want to experience a flashback to Soviet life, including temperamental plumbing and a worrying amount of bank vault style security doors, apartments in Khrushchev era blocks are available via Airbnb.
Unless you are traveling with a Russian speaker it is advisable to make sure your host speaks some English. As your taxi swerves round potholes in the road it may look like you are entering a sink estate where the lift doesn’t work (there isn’t one so it makes no difference) but the areas are generally safe and the apartments are basic but comfortable. Apart from the cheap price Airbnb can also provide the appropriate invitation documents to enable you to obtain a visa.
The Kremlin (yes other cities apart from Moscow have them) is a UNESCO world heritage site and contains the recently built Qolsharif Mosque and the Annunciation Cathedral. It is rumoured that the call to prayer and the cathedral bells only sound inside the respective buildings out of respect for the different religions. Within the Kremlin walls you will also find the leaning Syuyumbik tower which is the subject of the romantic legend that Tatar Queen Soyembika threw herself from the top tier on its completion to avoid the advances of Ivan the Terrible. Although the date of the construction of the tower is not definitely known the legend is untrue as the Queen was forcibly removed to Moscow and married to the Russian imposed Khan. The Kremlin also houses several art galleries and museums including the Kazan Hermitage which displays exhibitions from the St Petersburg Hermitage.
The renovated multicultural city of Kazan is a fascinating, clean and safe place to visit. If you explore you will find a multitude of cafes and restaurants offering a range of cuisines ranging from traditional Tatar with its Turkic origins, Uzbek and Russian scattered amongst the historic buildings and Soviet era apartment blocks. Most of the million tourists who visit are from within the Russian Federation but as Kazan develops as a venue for international sporting events you will find English menus are appearing in restaurants and multilingual tourist guides are appearing as the city welcomes visitors from all over the world.