The signature attraction in Kazan is its fantastic Kremlin. The word “kremlin” is used to describe the citadel or walled fortress characteristic of major Russian cities, the most famous of which is in Moscow. Kremlins are usually located on high ground above the major waterway of the city and Kazan’s is no exception, overlooking the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers. Today it is a complex of restored government buildings, museums, libraries, and historic and religious buildings.
Just outside the Kremlin entrance is an arresting sculpture to honor Musa Dzhalil, a Tatar poet who was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis in 1944 for organizing resistance agains the Germans. The lyrical beauty of his poetry is well-captured in this excerpt from a poem dedicated to his daughter:
…If I were a swift horse,
In an hour, when with living fire
Dew shines on the grass,
And wind blows my mane,
Daughter of mine, my star,
I would run to you….
Kremlins feature towers spaced at regular intervals around the fortress from which the surrounding area can be surveyed for enemies. Not all of the Kazan Kremlin towers have survived, but the main entrance tower is nearly 500 years old (the clock was added in 1963).
The three prominent buildings within the Kremlin walls are the Syuyumbike Tower, the Blagoveshchensky Cathedral, and the Kul-Sharif Mosque.
Syuyumbike Tower is named after a 16th century princess. Legend has it that when Ivan the Terrible conquered Kazan in 1552, ending the rule of the Mongol khans, he was smitten with the princess. She reluctantly agreed to marry him on the condition that he build the tallest tower in the city within seven days. When the tower was completed (on time), she ascended it and threw herself off in front of the stunned Ivan, “dying free,” according to one account.
The original Blagoveshchensky (or Annunciation) Cathedral also dates to the 16th century and was designed by the same architect who built the world famous St. Basil’s Cathedral on Moscow’s Red Square (the one with the colorful onion domes).
The Kul-Sharif Mosque was completed in 2005 as part of Kazan’s millennium celebration. It is named after the imam who along with his students died defending the original Kazan mosque against Ivan the Terrible.
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