Introduction: Sam Nelson is a History instructor at Ridgewater College. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant for the 2012-13 academic year to teach at the Institute of Economics, Management and Law in Kazan, Russia. His wife, Sandra, is on leave from her position as an elementary teacher in the Willmar Public Schools.
Disclaimer: The views and information expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Program, officially or unofficially.
Kazan, Russia (Part 1/2):
What city is the first one that comes to your mind when you think of Russia? Probably Moscow, right? Maybe St. Petersburg? But Kazan? Probably not. However, Kazan is known as Russia’s third capital. It’s a city of 1.2 million people, is over 1,000(!) years old, and serves as the point where the European half of Russia (West) meets the Asian half (East). Geographically, it’s located about 500 miles east of Moscow on the Volga River (Europe’s longest…their Mississippi River).
Note: Although it appears that Kazan is southeast of Moscow, it lies on the same line of latitude as Moscow (55 degrees). By comparison, Willmar is on the 45th parallel.
Our first impression of Kazan was that it’s a city on the move. The construction and renovation that is taking place here is phenomenal! Since we don’t have a car, we have walked everywhere and I can state without exaggeration that there is not a street we have been on where some kind of construction isn’t occurring. We often walk under sidewalk shelters that can be nearly a block long!
Why the huge infrastructure investment? The short answer is “sports!” Kazan will be hosting the University Games (“Universiade”) next summer. Twelve thousand athletes from around the world will make Kazan their home for ten days in July and compete in everything from traditional events like swimming to less widely known competitions like “Sambo,” a martial art invented in the former Soviet Union in 1938 that combines judo and wrestling. Kazan is considered second only to Moscow as the country’s sports center.
Kazan’s identification as the city “Where East Meets West” is born of a long intermixing of cultures, most prominently the state of Volga Bulgaria (Tatars) dating to the 7th century and the khanate of the Mongol empire builder, Genghis Khan (ca. 13th century). As with many things in history, where the city got its name depends on whose legend you choose to believe. The name Kazan, however, means “kettle” or “pot” and is memorialized in the millennium park photo below.
Next post: Kazan’s signature attraction…its Kremlin.