Kazan: Russia’s Third Capital City

Kazan: Russia’s Third Capital City

Published: April 10, 2013 (Issue # 1754)

Adam Jones / global photo archive

Tatarstan’s only Unesco World Heritage site, the Kazan kremlin is home to architectural wonders from the 16th – 19th centuries. 

If you left the ancient metropolis of Kazan in Tatarstan a decade ago, you would hardly recognize it upon returning today.

The city’s signature white-and-blue kremlin with minarets and Orthodox onion domes still stands majestic, elevated on the bank of the Kazanka River, but an infrastructure overhaul has added whole new neighborhoods to the city in little more than half a decade.

Low-scale crumbling homes of brick and stone are being restored, coated with fresh paint and, in some places, completely giving way to steel and glass high-rises.

The vibrant, pulsating city, which celebrated the 1000th anniversary of its founding in 2005, added a metro, several sports arenas, one of the largest technoparks in Europe — Idea — and thousands of square meters of residential and office space since the early 2000s.

“The city is changing so quickly,” said lifelong Kazan resident Khaidar Khaliullin, 57. “New projects are growing like mushrooms.”

New projects, especially those related to sports, have sprouted up around the city, situated at the intersection of the Volga and Kazanka rivers. Kazan is preparing to host the 2013 Summer Universiade this year, in which 10,000 university athletes from around the world will participate from July 6 to July 17 in 26 events with a total of 341 medals. In 2018, Kazan will be one of the cities to host the football World Cup.

Readers of the Sovietsky Sport newspaper named Kazan as the sports capital of Russia in 2009. But the city itself prefers to be known as the country’s “third capital” — and in 2009 registered the right to brand itself as such with the Russian patent office.

The tourism industry is rapidly developing in the city where Tolstoy and Lenin spent their student years. Some new projects include a water taxi station on the historic Sviyazhsk Island and a campground and spa on Kamskiye Fields.

Billions of rubles have been invested into the republic, known as a manufacturing hub. The region’s major industries include mining, oil, chemical and agricultural production as well as factories that pump out helicopters and boats.

Small businesses involved in trade, like shops and distributors, are flourishing, accounting for 25 percent of the region’s economy, significantly higher than the 20 percent national average. Their local share will swell to 34 percent over the next four years, according to Tatarstan President Rustan Minnikhanov.

“It is necessary for us to form a business atmosphere where every economically active person can open and successfully operate their own business,” Minnikhanov said at a conference March 16.

Kazan ranks first out of Russian cities with the most favorable climate for entrepreneurs in a recent study by the New Economic School and consulting firm Ernst Young. But small businesses have much room to develop, said Khaliullin, who is president of the Association of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses of Tatarstan.

“I can’t say small business development is on a high level here,” Khaliullin said. “It could grow provided that the president continues to act the way he does.”

The city and the republic have been actively trying to attract foreign investment. Sukuk, or Islamic no-interest bonds, will most likely debut in Kazan this year.

Despite Tatarstan’s traditional Muslim roots, Kazan is a multicultural city with a surprisingly harmonious mix of mosques, Orthodox churches, narrow European-style streets with Baroque architecture, large Soviet blocks and modern high-rises.

Unlike some parts of Russia, locals exhibit a high level of tolerance toward foreigners — both light- and dark-skinned.

The local kremlin includes both a mosque and a Christian Orthodox church, and crosses are sold alongside Islamic rings at jewelry stores. All signs are in Russian and Tatar, and both languages can be heard with equal frequency.

What to see if you have two hours

Drop by the majestic local kremlin

(+7 843-292-7883; kazan-kremlin.ru/main), a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, to admire structures from the 16th to 19th centuries. The site, where some elements date back to the 1200s, includes one of the oldest Russian Orthodox cathedrals alongside the newly constructed Kul Sharif mosque, the largest mosque in Europe, as well as Islamic, Tatar and art museums and government buildings.

Take a lazy walk down Ulitsa Baumana, Kazan’s equivalent of St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospekt, which stretches 1.3 kilometers from the kremlin to Tukai Square in the city center. The city’s oldest street is a monument of architecture from different historic periods, as well as a main thoroughfare with shops, cafes, restaurants and clubs.

To learn about the unique Tatar culture, history and scientific achievements, visit the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan (2 Kremlyovskaya Ulitsa; +7 843-292-7162; tatar.museum.ru). The museum, founded in 1895, is the largest in Tatarstan and houses a collection of more than half a million items on the natural history of Tatarstan, Egyptian and antique artifacts, and collections of golden coins, ancient books and folk art of the Tatar people. Admission costs 100 rubles ($3.50), while tours in English are priced at 2,000 rubles ($70).

What to do if you have two days

Visit Lenin and Tolstoy’s alma mater, Kazan State University. Founded in 1804, the university is one of Russia’s oldest and largest cultural centers and is known for its science and math studies. Among its other well-known alumni is mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky, who enrolled just three years after the university opened and made a name for himself with his pioneering work in hyperbolic geometry.

A short ride northeast of the city is Raifa Monastery, Kazan’s largest operating monastery. The monastery is known for miracles. According to locals, the place is so holy that frogs living in the adjacent lake don’t croak when perched on the bank nearest the monastery.

If visiting during the summer months Blue Lake, 25 km from the city center, offers a respite from the blazing heat with temperatures that never go above six degrees Celcius. Temperatures not so much good for swimming as for a quick, icy plunge from the wooden docks built on the shoreline. The lake is as famous for its mud, which is considered to be therapeutic and is used in health resorts across Tatarstan, and its sapphire blue waters.

What to do with the kids

Draw screams of delight from your children with Riviera Aquapark, one of the largest waterparks in Europe. Portions of the complex are open year-round and feature waterslides, pools, saunas and a pool with artificial waves for surfers.

Adam Jones / global photo archive

Kazan’s sparkling new Kul Sharif mosque is open to visitors outside of prayer times.

During the summer months, catch sun with the locals on an artificial beach on the north shore of the Kazanka River, which divides the city in half.


With strict face control and “golden citizen cards,” or membership cards for VIP patrons, State 51 is the most exclusive club in Kazan. The club, located on the bottom floor of the Parus entertainment complex, features American cuisine and events every night that include strip shows, jazz and blues bands, professional DJs and magicians. Entrance — if you can get in — is free.

Dance to European DJs and mix with Russian models, local gangsters and Russia’s golden youth at Ermitage Club. It boasts that about 2,000 people visit its two dance floors, VIP lounge, bowling and bars every night. Admission is 300 to 350 rubles ($10-$12).

At the other end of the scale, Cuba Libre, on the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, offers a buzzy youthful atmosphere and friendly locals who — between rum cocktails and bites of barbeque — take to the bar’s walled garden for line dancing and the occasional fire show.

Where to eat

Tango (38 Ulitsa Bratyev Kasimovykh; +7 843-229-2267; tangorest.ru) is Kazan’s oldest restaurant and features a Mediterranean menu specializing in fresh seafood. Dishes like the oyster soup, clams in Champagne sauce and grilled crucian carp make the restaurant one of the best in the city. Dinner for two with drinks and dessert is about 4,000 rubles ($140). The restaurant also includes an Irish pub and a summer veranda.  

For a taste of Tatar cuisine, dine at Dom Tatarskoi Kulinarii (31/12 Ulitsa Baumana; +7 843-292-3520; domtk.ru), centrally located and highly recommended by locals. Mutton dishes are most popular and include mutton cold cuts served in broth and mutton steak with eggs. Dinner for two with drinks and dessert is about 4,000 rubles ($140).

Culture tips

Everything in Kazan is written is in two languages, Tatar and Russian, although occasionally you see some English. Tatars are Muslim, while most Russians living in Kazan are Orthodox Christian. There is much intermarriage, and Tatars are considered to be even more family-oriented than other Russians.

Conversation starters

Because much of the city is being rebuilt, many of the roads are closed, creating traffic that almost rivals Moscow’s standstills. Residents like to complain about the traffic jams as much as they praise all the changes happening in the city.

How To Get There

The Kazan International Airport

(+7 843-267-8807; airport.kazan.ru) receives direct flights from Pulkovo Airport and an eclectic mix of foreign destinations, including three cities in Uzbekistan, Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Frankfurt. Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines are among the foreign airlines that fly directly to the city. A round-trip ticket for the two-and-a-half hour flight from St. Petersburg starts at $225.

A taxi is the best way to get into the city since the airport is about 27 kilometers southeast of Kazan. The airport’s official taxi service is Taxi-S (+7 843-500-0005; taxikazancity.ru), and a car can be ordered at the terminal or by phone. The fare is

800 rubles ($28) for the 30-minute ride to downtown Kazan.

Five trains a week travel to Kazan from St. Petersburg’s Moscow Station, arriving at the Kazan train station near the city center, and offer a trip of about 22 hours.

Where To Stay

The newly built Hotel Riviera

(1A Ulitsa Fatykha Amirkhana;

+7 843-511-2121; kazanriviera.ru/en) is Kazan’s tallest building and located at the popular waterpark. International and domestic celebrities are known to stay or just visit the bar and restaurant located inside. Rooms cost from 3,200 rubles ($113) for a single to 33,000 rubles ($1,165) for the presidential suite.

Hotel Mirage (1A Moskovskaya Ulitsa; +7 843-278-0505;

mirage-hotel.ru/lang/en) is Kazan’s first five-star business hotel and located right across the road from the kremlin. Rooms range from 4,680 rubles ($165) for a double to 28,800 rubles ($1,017) for the presidential suite.

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