Continuing with our series “Cities of Islam,” we delve into the ancient city of Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. Enjoy your reading.
The Name Kazan
While the exact origin of the city’s name isn’t certain, two theories prevail. The first is based on the Tatar word “kazan,” which means the same in Turkish. According to legend, the city’s name might have been inspired by the notion that the river in the city had pits, and the waters seemed to boil in the ground like in a kazan (cauldron).
The second theory suggests that the city was named after an individual named Kazan who founded it. The city’s emblem is the mythical creature Zilant, resembling a dragon or serpent. The city’s establishment date is believed to be around a thousand years ago based on excavations at Kazan Kremlin. The city is situated at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers.
Under the Rule of the Golden Horde
Under the Golden Horde from the 13th to 14th centuries, following the Bulgar Khanate, the city began to make a name for itself commercially and politically. Its strategic location at the crossroads of East and West facilitated trade relationships between various regions like Moscow and Crimea. Fairs and trade were developed in the city.
After the dissolution of the Golden Horde, Kazan continued its existence under the Kazan Khanate, with the construction of Islamic monuments. However, with the region falling under Russian control, the city’s palaces, mosques, and cemeteries were destroyed, leaving only the Suyumbike Tower.
After the Russian Occupation
After a long siege, Ivan the Terrible, also known as Ivan the Fearsome, captured the city in 1552. Following the Russian occupation, Tatars were expelled from the city, replaced by Russian aristocrats. Monasteries were established on fertile lands, and a Russian Kremlin was built in place of the old Tatar fortress. During this period, Islamic monuments suffered substantial destruction.
Similarly, after the arrival of the Russians, missionary activities aimed at converting the local population to Christianity were observed in the region. The opportunity for Muslims to build their first mosques under Russian rule came in 1767 when Catherine II visited the city. The Mercani Mosque from that time has survived to the present.
Educational Hub: Kazan
In 1758, a school named Gymnasium was founded, followed by Kazan University in 1804-1805. The Oriental Faculty of the university gained prominence. The university boasts an extensive library and has educated notable figures. Other universities, colleges, academies, and theaters were established in Kazan, contributing to educational progress. Among the city’s prominent madrasas are Kashgar, Saba, Uchum, Satish, Merger, and Kul Sharif. Today, Kazan remains a center of education and culture with numerous state universities, vocational schools, theaters, libraries, cultural centers, and museums.
Kul Sharif Mosque
The mosque, which was destroyed during the Russian occupation, was rebuilt and opened for worship in 2005, around 500 years after its destruction. The mosque is named after Seyyid Kul Sharif, a resistance leader against the Russians. During its construction, the global Islamic community provided support. With four main minarets, two decorative smaller minarets, and a grand dome, the mosque features traditional Tatar architecture and hosts the Islamic Culture Museum. As one of the city’s symbols, this mosque is among the largest in Europe.
After being the capital of the Tatar Soviet Socialist Republic since 1920 and later the Republic of Tatarstan within the Russian Federation since 1992, Kazan is now a city of great importance. Among Russia’s major cities, Kazan is known for housing the Kremlin, Kul Sharif Mosque, and other significant cultural and historical elements recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. The city has hosted major sporting events like the 2015 FINA World Aquatics Championships and the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.