Kazan. Part 5. Great People of Kazan: Literature, Linguistics, Politics, Science

As per usual, my last full day in a new city is about exploring some parts which seem to have been left ignored. Well, it is no wonder these are often those closest to where you stay. Kremlin Street, which is home to the government institutions, is one of them. Actually through a glass window in my apartment landing going up and down the fifth floor, I could see a few ministries and even some mason signs on their facades. 

My first stop was National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan opened in 1895. Honestly, as much as I love learning about the history of the places I visit, I am not a fan of museums as I find that after attending a few on a trip, I inevitably feel mentally exhausted. So I thought that this museum having a vast collection of archaeological and ethnographic artefacts would be the one I couldn’t miss. It should be best for giving me an idea of how complex the identity of Tatarstan is. It has been a while since I was in a museum and from the moment I entered this grand lobby, I knew that was going to be an informative visit. Each room took me through a different epoch in the region’s extensive history. Somehow once we get older, archaeological findings start seeming more relevant and moving. There was a glass floor with some bone remains I took a while to observe. «Don’t be afraid, you can step on it», said a museum staff member. Strangely, I felt touched by that. Standing on a piece of history dating back centuries literally felt like being part of it. «What is our generation going to leave behind?» I thought to myself. Hopefully, not just endless gigabytes of photos… 

The National Museum of Tatarstan

At the end of the day, it is individuals that make up history that touches our hearts. A meticilously recreated home of early settlers showing a man repairing something and a woman preparing a meal while rocking a baby might seem outdated in the 21st century. But in fact, this ethnographic item put a very personal touch to the experience. Of course, there was a massive collection of weapon, jewellery dating back to Volga Bulghar. Then I was taken a few centuries further to the Khanate of Kazan and saw some engravings of the city back then. Then Kremlin took central stage when Ivan the Terrible conquered Kazan. Again this had me contemplate the imperialist ambitions of the country… 

The further we got into the Russian epoch, the more predictable the things were becoming. There must have been a lot of identity negotiation for Tatars as well as their predecessors centuries earlier being part of a larger empire and preserving their own ethnicity — did it take a degree of persistence or good negotiation skills to retain at least some of it..? Of course, seeing some handwritten letters (in Tatar and Russian) written during the World War II was nothing short of touching. Drafts of novels by the famous Gabdulla Tuqay (in Arabic and Cyrillic alphabets) were another reminder how a strong literary tradition must have helped the nation to survive. The modern section showcased some items commemorating the Kazan Universiade (2013) and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. One of the winners of the Voice Russia who is Tatar donated her trophy to the museum as well. I ended up spending more than two hours at the museum without ever getting bored! 

After a quick lunch at the Tatar fast food restaurant, I made my way to Kazan University, one of the oldest ones in the country (founded in 1804). It is named after one of its most famous students – Vladimir Lenin. The university is known for its solid research base. Nikolai Lobachevskiy (who is a poster name for being super smart for Russians) was a lecturer here and made significant discoveries in Geometry. Aleksandr Butlerov created the theory of chemical structure.Buildings of Russian universities are designed in a distinct style. On that late afternoon there were hardly any students around, but I loved this youth vibe accentuated by the only monument to the young Lenin in the country. Before that one of the oldest libraries in the Volga region (Ushakova House) made me stop and reflect the research heritage of my country. Universities were supposed to be idyllic places for learning outside the chaos of the mundane world but obviously theyare going through a state of decline. So walking these grounds felt strange as I knew I was happy not to part of the «system» any more – at least there is such a glorious past to remember… 

Ushakova House (The Library Building)

A lot of giants of the Russian literature spent some time living in Kazan as well. The Nobel prize nominee Maksim Gorkiy’s famous My Universities was dedicated to his life here as a student. Leo Tolstoy studied at Kazan University as well. Even though Aleksandr Pushkin only visited for a few days, there is a street dedicated to him as well. In one of the local bookshops, Pushkin was declared author of the month (June is his birthday month). Actually, my first address in life was also Pushkin Street. I think this overwhelmingly rich literary heritage of the country that we have been familiar with since school makes us feel that we are truly standing on the shoulders of those giants. On the other hand it might be discouraging to engage in their craft knowing that you can never become even a tiny bit as great as those writers. Anyway, being here in Kazan, I felt even more compelled to read some of the Russian classics again sometime soon… 

Maksim Gorkiy Hotel

I also visited Lenin Garden, Black Lake Garden a romantic fountain with its heart-shaped benches. With a lot of merchant houses this area seemed to have too many reminders of Moscow and made Kazan seem like the Russian capital with a Tatar flavor. 

To see the Volga from another angle I walked to the railway station. Unfortunately, despite its significance to the country, here in Kazan its banks and surrounding facilities are in a rather depressing condition. A thunderstorm caught me right next to the kitsch of Bauman Street (or the equivalent of Moscow Arbat) where I ended up having plov (meat made with rice, carrots, garlic and spices) that I have been craving the whole day at an Uzbek restaurant. I knew it would somehow be extra good here in Kazan. 

The Volga
Before the rain

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