The Kazan Kremlin

Kazan Kremlin

The Kazan Kremlin remains a unique architectural and historical monument, and rightly takes its place alongside the most remarkable world heritage objects. The uniqueness of the Kazan Kremlin consists of several distinctive and inimitable features. The Kazan Kremlin is:

  • the world's only centre of Tatar national culture and state power in operation;
  • Russia's only surviving Tatar citadel that preserves traces of an original town-planning concept, original structure, urban development scheme and a functional organization of its various complexes;
  • a product of the interaction of various urban developmental and architectural cultures - Bulgar, Golden Horde, medieval Kazan Tatar, Italian, Russian and modern Tatar;
  • the northernmost point of the spread of Islamic culture in the world and the southernmost point of the spread of Pskov-Novgorod-style monuments in Russia;наиболее северная точка распространения исламской культуры в мире и наиболее южная точка распространения памятников псковско-новгородского строительного стиля в России;
  • it presents a conceptual synthesis of Tatar and Russian architectural styles in its key monuments (the Suyumbike Tower, the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Spasskaya Tower).
Since its very beginning, the Kazan Kremlin has undergone various changes, yet it has always played a central role in the region. Before the 10th century, during its pre-urban period, it was an unfortified settlement, a humble precursor of the city which would later blossom into Kazan.

Its military and commercial role was developed in its pre-Mongol days, from the 10th until the middle of the 13th century, when it became a fort. By the 12th century, it already featured as a stone fortress, a stronghold on the northern boundary of Volga Bulgaria.

From the second half of the 13th century until the first half of the 15th century the Kremlin, or, in Tatar, the Kerman, became the centre of the Kazan Princedom that formed part of the Golden Horde.

On the collapse of the Golden Horde, the Kremlin became the governmental and military base of the Kazan Khanate, which existed as an independent polity from 1438 until 1552.

The Kremlin retained its position of importance after the fall of Kazan to the Russians and was converted into the administrative and military centre of the annexed Middle Volga region (1552-1708). From 1708 onwards, it became the centre of the first, and, from the second half of the 18th century, the second Kazan district of the Russian empire.

Between 1922 and 1992 the Kremlin continued its role as an administrative centre, this time of the Tatar Autonomous Republic. In 1992 it finally became the state centre of the presidential Republic within the Russian Federation. A unique feature of the Kremlin is that it is home to the only operational centre of Tatar national culture and state power. It is here that the official residency of the President of Tatarstan and his administration are situated and, in keeping with established tradition, the Kazan Kremlin remains the location of various ministries and state bodies.

Panorama of Kazan Kremlin

The Kazan Kremlin is not only unique on account of its distinctive fortifications, buildings and temples. It is also without parallel because, historically and architecturally, the complex bears witness to the continuity of its history, to the lasting result of the centuries-long synthesis and matchless interchange of values between different cultures and civilizations.

Although the Kremlin is not the only ancient urban citadel on the banks of the Volga river, it is only in Kazan that one is able to find such a unique monument to the all but lost culture of the Kazan Khanate - the only surviving Tatar fortress which clearly bears all the hallmarks of its original urban function.

Once it became the spiritual and governmental nucleus of the Tatar capital, the Kremlin never lost its rationale, forming and influencing all adjacent urban development through the ages of its existence.

The Kremlin's location and its key monuments offer an outstanding example of the synthesis of Tatar and Russian architecture, combining various styles and echoing the influences of the continuous historical epochs. Casting an eye around the Kremlin complex one is able to distinguish clearly the epochal cultural influences of Volga Bulgaria, the Golden Horde and the Kazan Khanate respectively. Today, the Kremlin remains an outstanding example of the all-embracing fusion of Tatar, Italian and Russian architectural ideas.

Occupying a special place in history as the northernmost point of the spread of Islamic culture in the world, the Kremlin has acted as a hub of Kazan and absorbed the spiritual influences of two of the world's great religions - Christianity and Islam - and is a product of the simultaneous interaction of the ideas of the Muslim and European Renaissance.

The fixed geographical and historical location of the Kremlin is reflected in the written testimony of the Russian Prince Andrei Kurbsky with almost photographic precision. In his Narrative of the Great Duke of Muscovy, Kurbsky wrote:

"And then we neared the city of Kazan, which is located in the most inaccessible terrain: to the east of it, flows the Kazan river and, to the west, the river of Bulak, very swamped and impassable. It runs right beneath the city and, by the Corner Tower, flows into the Kazan river. It flows out of the suitably large lake called Kaban, which lies a mile and a half from the city. And if you succeed in crossing this river, which is a very difficult task, then between the city and the lake from the direction of the Arsk field you see a very steep and unassailable mountain. And around the city from that river to the little lake called Unclean, a very deep moat is dug. And from the Kazan river, the hill is so high that it is barely possible to encompass it with your sight. Upon the hill, there are the fortress and the Tsar's palace, and the tall stone mosques, where their deceased kings are buried. As I recall, they are five in number. ... And the Tsar of Kazan has barricaded himself in the citadel with thirty thousand of his best troops, with all his nobles and his court."

Kurbsky's testament not only amazes on account of the geographical accuracy of the description regarding the Kremlin's location, but also gives an idea as to its contemporary size and capacity. Judging from this testimony, by the middle of the 15th century, the Kremlin already accommodated over thirty thousand people. It seems obvious that a citadel such as this would have had a long architectural history, and one which, despite major upheavals, would survive the fall of Kazan.

Traditional Tatar Islamic architecture, which characterized the appearance of the Kazan Kremlin throughout the preceding centuries, was soon replaced by traditional Russian Orthodox architecture, which, in its turn, reflected the key features of the then European way of building fortresses and temples. After the fall of Kazan, the walls and towers of the Kremlin were reconstructed - the living quarters and the administrative and religious buildings of the Tsar's court disappeared, as did the main Kul Sharif mosque, making way for the Russian administrative buildings and Orthodox churches, amongst which the Cathedral of the Annunciation, dating from the second half of the 16th century, stands out.

And yet, since no architectural traditions in the world exist by themselves, it could not be said that the Kremlin lost all traces of its previous incarnation in the mid-16th century. The remarkable unity of its architectural ensemble formed across the centuries once more reminds us of the fact that, in its historical genesis, Russian architecture itself experienced constant spiritual and conceptual influences from West European as well as Oriental traditions of architectural design and urban development. The builder of the Moscow Kremlin, Aristotle Fioravanti, recognized in the features of the ancient temples of the town of Vladimir the traditions of Italian and German masons, whereas the cupolas and the colorful ornamental palette of the old Russian churches clearly reflect an Oriental influence. It is far from incidental that the Scottish traveler Anthony Jenkinson, upon seeing the Kazan Kremlin from one of the Volga islands against the mouth of the Kazanka river, remarked:

"Kazan is a fair town, after the Rus and Tatar fashion, with a strong castle situated upon a high hill. It used to be walled round about with timber and earth, but now the Emperor of Russia has given order to pluck down the old walls and to build them again with free stone."

After the fall of Kazan to the Russians, the Kremlin not only remained the quintessential part of the stately and spiritual life of Kazan and the Middle Volga region, but also continued in its role as a military fortress for many years. In 1599, Oruj Bek, the secretary of the Persian embassy to the Tsar Boris Godunov, who subsequently became a Christian in Spain and then became known as Don Juan of Persia, impressed in his records not only the role of the Kazan Kremlin, but also the ethnic and religious make-up of its population, which had so drastically changed in half a century after the Russian conquest:

"We arrived in a large city belonging to the Russian Tsar. It is called Kazan and it has more than fifty thousand Christian inhabitants. In the city there is a multitude of churches with so many big bells that it is impossible to sleep on the eve of religious festivals. ... All houses of the city are made of wood, but it has a large and strong citadel with stone walls; it contains a sufficient number of troops, which stand guard at night -just like in Spain, Italy or Flanders."

Kazan Kremlin in 1630 (from an ancient engraving)
In 1636, accompanying the Schleswig-Holstein embassy to Persia, the German traveler Adam Oleary (who has left us the first known sketch of the Kazan Kremlin, although it was not very true to life) once again witnessed the fact that the Kazan Kremlin continued to fulfill its military and stately functions:

"This city, similar to all cities along the Volga river, is rounded with wooden walls, with towers, and its houses are also of wood, but the Kremlin of that city is adequately protected by its thick stone walls, cannon and soldiers. The Great Duke placed in the Kremlin not only a military commander, but also a special deputy so that both of them would govern the inhabitants and judge among them."

The Dutch adventurer Jan Streiss, who visited Kazan in 1669, added to Oleary's observations his own curious remarks showing that even at the end of the 17th century Kazan remained one of the main centres of international commerce on the Volga river:

"The Kremlin is surrounded by a wide stone wall, protected by cannons and soldiers. Round the Kremlin, the Kazanka river flows and makes it especially unassailable, as it is not possible to reroute this flow. In the city, one finds a lot of foodstuffs, as everywhere in this country. Every day a great number of Crimean merchants arrive at the market with great loads of goods. ... In the city of Kazan there live the Russians and the Tatars who obey the governor-general; the Kremlin is guarded exclusively by Russians, and no Tatar is allowed access to it under the threat of capital punishment. In the Kremlin, there resides a special military commander who presides over military affairs, and the governor-general manages the civic ones."

As the boundaries of the Russian state continued to expand south and eastward, the Kazan Kremlin gradually lost its military purpose, yet its administrative function was strengthened - a fact reflected in its interior architectural design which proceeded to lose its Tatar appearance as it was replaced by Russian and West European features. The Tatar inhabitants of Kazan still had no right to be in the Kremlin even at the beginning of the 18th century. Another Scot, John Bell, who visited Kazan in 1715, left us the following interesting observation:

"This town ... has a formidable location and is protected by the castle built of bricks. In the fortress there stands the cathedral, the archbishop's and governor's quarters and the district chancellery. A ditch and a fence surround the town. In the suburbs, there live craftsmen, save one or two streets, where live the Mohammedan Tatars born in those parts: they live rather tidily and are independent in their worship, and they enjoy many liberties. They are involved in trade with Turkey and Persia and other countries, and some of them are very rich."

Kazan Fortress. Litograph by E.Tournelli, 1839
The Pugachev uprising of 1773-1775 once again turned the Kazan Kremlin into a fortress, which was for two days unsuccessfully bombarded by the rebels. On July 14, 1774, Emelyan Pugachev's troops were forced to retreat from Kazan, and on September 8 of that year, Pugachev himself was captured and handed over to the Russian authorities. However, he did eventually succeed in entering the Kazan Kremlin - on the way to his execution in Moscow he was kept in one of its dungeons. The attempted storming by Pugachev was the last in the military history of the Kremlin. It finally became the administrative and religious centre of Kazan, and in 1800 the publisher and educator Maxim Nevzorov made a detailed description of the main Kremlin buildings for posterity, and at the same time gave a clear picture of the Kremlin's historical role in the urban formation of the present-day Tatar capital:

"(Kazan) ... presents the fairest and, in the whole of Russia, the best city after Moscow and Saint Petersburg. ... It can be divided into two parts: the citadel and the city beyond it, where the citizens actually dwell. ... In the citadel, there is the cathedral church of the Annunciation, the Spaso-Preobrazhensky 'second-class' monastery, the church of Cyprian and Justine, the archbishop's house with the religious consistory, administrative buildings and the governor-general's house with all amenities linked to them, the artillery stores, the guardhouse, an old Supreme Commandant's house, the prison dungeons, and the old provisions and salt stores made of wood."

This description, similar to all other accounts, reflects the dynamics of the architectural development of the Kremlin in its capacity as the historical centre of Kazan. After the Pugachev uprising was suppressed, the first comprehensive town planning project in Kazan was created. The originator of the plan, the architect V. Kaftyrev, first began work on the scheme in 1774.

The project foresaw the construction in the Kremlin of a collection of administrative buildings within the framework of the complex urban development of the surrounding streets and squares of the city. As a result of skilful planning, the largest and most important buildings were left intact, and these became an integral part of the new city layout. The Kazan Kremlin remained at the heart of the scheme - the centre from which the wide Prolomnaya, Voskresenskaya (Kremlevskaya), Arskaya (K. Marx) and other streets lead out. The Bulak canal and Kaban lake formed the second axis of this urban development, parallel to which ran the other major streets of Kazan - Voznesenskaya (Ostrovsky), Moscovskaya (Kirov), Ekaterininskaya (Tukai) and so on.

Modern city ensemble, surrounding the Kremlin, as well as the inside architectural complex of the Kremlin itself were mainly accomplished by mid 1840s. Since then the principal features of the city development have been preserved in their historical invariability.

Since 1992, the Kazan Kremlin has become a representative centre of the Republic of Tatarstan, where the residence of the first President of the Republic of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev is situated. In 1994, the heritage centre for state history, architecture and arts was created.

Since 1994, "The concept of the Kazan Kremlin reconstruction and development" has been worked out. Archeological excavations take place annually, and great material on ancient periods of Kazan has been collected. Findings bearing evidence of Bulgarian town-fortress existence on the Kremlin hill in X-XI centuries are of special interest.

Suyumbike Tower and domes of the Cathedral of Annunciation
According to a decree from the President of the Republic of Tatarstan, the Kazan Kremlin is today the heritage centre for state history, architecture and the arts.

The historical circumstances of Kazan were considerably different from the other centres of the Russian empire's outlying ethnic districts. As such, they facilitated a full-scale synthesis of the traditional peculiarities of Tatar design, a blend of brilliant, Oriental type Volga Bulgaria and Kazan Khanate architecture, with the stylistic features of the newer type of structural design, which made themselves felt through the medium of Russian culture.

The Kazan Kremlin remains a fine example of both a military-defence centre and a large administrative centre, which evolved from two main traditions - Tatar and Russian, Oriental and European - with unique architectural monuments, as well as its surviving cultural landscape and archaeology.

While the Kazan Kremlin is protected by law, it also remains open to visits by Russian and overseas tourists, and guests of the city of Kazan and the Republic of Tatarstan. The pride of Kazan, the Kazan Kremlin confidently looks to the future - to the coming centuries of its existence - while cherishing the memories and traditions of its magnificent past.

On November 30, 2000, at UNESCO World Heritage Committee session the historical-architectural complex of the Kazan Kremlin was enrolled into the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Directorate of the Heritage centre for state history, architecture and atrs "Kazan Kremlin"
Address: Russia, 420014, Kazan, Kremlin, P.O.Box 20
Phone: +7 (843) 2927883
Fax: +7 (843) 2920480

Excursions and lectures of the leading specialists are offered to you.