Blog WHS Visits

WHS #720: Kazan Kremlin

Kazan had been on my travel radar for quite a few years, so I knew I had to make a southern detour there during my Russia-by-Rail trip. Not only is it a mini-hotspot with 3 WHS within easy reach, it is also the capital of the Federal Republic of Tatarstan (which sounds kind of exotic). In reality it is a modern, Russified city. It is very clean and I liked that every car stopped in front of zebra crossings when a pedestrian approached! I stayed for 3 days and started my explorations with the oldest Tartar fortress that still exists in Russia: the Kazan Kremlin.


From the Kazan railway station it is only a 20 minute walk to the Kremlin. It is not difficult to find the fortress: there are signposts everywhere, also in English. Kazan was one of the host cities of the Football World Cup last year, and they have retained an international touch. This year they organized the World Skills Games: an international competition among young artisans, from gardeners to tilers. The logos of these Games, which ended late August, can still be seen everywhere in the city.

Just like the Kremlin in Moscow, the Kremlin in Kazan is the place where you will find the important and oldest buildings of the city. The slightly leaning, brick Söyembikä tower for example. The President of Tatarstan lives in the green palace next door. Federal republics like Tatarstan have their own constitution, their own president and may also use their own language in addition to Russian. Official inscriptions here in Kazan are mostly both in Russian and Tartar.

Inside the mosque

In the streets of the Kremlin there are also a few small museums in addition to government buildings. I visited an exhibition about the Golden Horde in the Hermitage Kazan for example - a (very small) branch of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

The most striking building within the walls of the Kremlin today is the Qolşärif Mosque. It was opened in 2005 and is the largest mosque in Russia. It stands on the site of Kazan’s most important mosque of the 16th century. As a tourist you are not allowed to enter the prayer area, but there is a special balcony on the second floor from which you have a nice overview. The mosque has room for 6,000 believers, but the question is whether there will ever be so many. When I visited, a cleric was giving a tour to a group of local women and you can see from the wear of the carpet that it is in use. Its presence seems to be mostly symbolic though – for a more authentic Islamic feel in Kazan you need to go to the area around the central market, on the road between the train station and the river port. The Islamic Volga Tatars make up just over half of the current population of Tatarstan and even they have been Russified for centuries.

Spasskaya Tower, the main gate

During my stay I walked through the Kremlin every day. It is beautifully illuminated at sunset and the whole architectural composition within the fully rebuilt fortification walls, towering above the modern city, is its particular strength. There’s not much to linger on though and within an hour you will have seen most of it. None of the times when I visited it was busy with tourists.

Els - 22 September 2019

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Jay T 22 September 2019

Wow, Kazan sounds fascinating. I really like the pictures of the mosque interior and sunset over Kazan. Hope you enjoyed your Trans-Siberian trip, and I look forward to seeing more of your reviews from this adventure!