Kazan, Russia (Part 2/2)

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….

Musa Dzhalil, a Tatar poet executed by the Nazis in 1944, is memorialized in this impressive monument.

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 entrance to the Kazan kremlin is a typically imposing brick structure.

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.

Syuyumbike Tower is the subject of numerous Kazan legends, the most famous of which involves Ivan the Terrible and the princess, Syuyumbike.
Entrance gate to Syuyumbike Tower.
Like the famed “Leaning Tower of Pisa” in Italy, the Syuyumbike Tower leans more than 6 feet.  A Muslim crescent moon was added to the top of the tower in 1999 to commemorate the fallen defenders of Kazan against Ivan the Terrible in 1552.

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 colored onion domes are characteristic of Russian Orthodox cathedrals.
These beautiful icons together form what is called an “iconostasis” and are typical of Russian Orthodox cathedrals.  (I was granted permission by the security guard to take a photo without using a flash.)
Various shrines are located throughout the cathedral where believers will engage in veneration rites.


This is an internet photo of the cathedral ceiling. The entire cathedral is adorned with biblical art.

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.

Combining modern design elements with characteristic minarets topped by a crescent moon, Kul-Sharif is the largest mosque in Russia and outside of Turkey, the largest on the European continent.
View from the main entrance side.


Main entrance.  The mosque is temporarily closed to visitors, but we are hoping to tour the inside sometime.

Next post:  The Russian view of America and Americans.

16 Responses

    1. Sam Nelson

      Thanks, Teren! I’ll be exploring other topics and traveling to other parts of Russia, so hope you enjoy the ride!

  1. Wes Boberg

    Greetings from the other hemisphere,
    From your first post – I can relate to the construction as those images reminded me of Manhattan, NY.
    How are the adult beverages? Anything unusual or different in taste, quality, or presentation? How’s the food? What is the night-life like? Music? Theatre?
    Interest abounds from your friends here in MN.

    1. Sam Nelson

      I’ll have a post solely devoted to food and drink, Wes, but in the meantime, we have found Tatar cuisine more interesting than Russian fare (former is pastry-based while the latter is heavy on potatoes and mayo). As for beverages, there is a difference in taste for everything from milk to “Coca Cola Light”; adult beverages…let’s just say they taste good! Music and theatre abound, including ballet, puppet theatre, classical, even a Nirvana cover party. I’ll try to cover all your questions in more detail in future posts, Wes. Thanks for writing!

  2. sharon cola

    Beautiful pictures. I see grey clouds in the background so is it cold there now like here in MN? Hope you see the sun soon.

    1. Sam Nelson

      Thanks for the comment, Sharon. The weather so far seems very similar to back in Minnesota. We are told to expect more snow; actually, a lot more. Got a couple of inches today, but we’ll have to see if this is the beginning of real winter or not. We haven’t seen the sun except fleetingly for almost a month, so thanks for sun wishes!

    1. Sam Nelson

      Nice to hear from you, Kevin and Emmy! We are trying to make the most of this amazing opportunity. Only hitch so far has been our springer spaniel causing trouble at home. Does yours need a playmate?!

      1. Kevin and Emmy

        What kind of trouble? Is he behind this great party I read about? We do have a doggy treadmill for lots of exercise

  3. Leah

    Thank you for the beautiful pictures! I am looking forward to your next post regarding their view of Americans. What are the predominant religions there? It looks like both Catholic and Muslim… How well do they mesh living among each other? How open to each other are they?

    1. Sam Nelson

      Glad you enjoyed the photos, Leah, and thanks for the questions. The two main religions are Russian Orthodox and Islam. Kazan has been upheld as a model of peaceful co-existence between Christianity and Islam. The overall relationship seems to be genuinely respectful and is well represented in the Kremlin pictures above, where the cathedral and mosque stand within walking distance of each other.

  4. Randy Curtiss

    See, I’m not the only one who likes pretty pics with my news! USAToday would be proud. As for the religious pics, reminds me of a “white washed tombs” comment I’ve heard somewhere (beautiful to look at but hideous what they represent). Sorry, I’m in a mood! Here we are having to hear every detail of the 4starpornstar general and his mistress (she went to my HS, but I didn’t date her) while Israel is about to go to war–what a country! Will write more later when time. Thanks also for sending the chewbabushka pic. Shawn sends it to me every day now, sometimes writing “VITAL” on an email heading and sending it to me in an AASC meeting.

    1. I get it, Randy! One photo that I couldn’t get in any of the cathedrals was of the ceiling of the domes (too high and too dark). In many of them it’s just a huge painting of Christ’s face looking down on you. Not sure it was meant to be intimidating or not, but it sure made me feel small!

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