It might be hard to imagine but Russia is such a multicultural and diverse country that it’s actually really difficult to enumerate all its ethnicities brought together “under one roof”. For different counts, Russia is home to more than 160 nationalities which is truly impressive. But did you know that the second largest ethnic population of Russia is Tatars? Where exactly is Tatarstan located and why is travel to Tatarstan worth giving a try? You’ll find the answers to these and other questions in this outline of Tatar culture. Let’s take a look!
A bit of Tatar history
During the 6-7th centuries, the territory of Tatarstan was part of the Turkic Khaganate which inhabited the Magyar tribes. Later on, they were superseded by Volga Bulgarians who conquered these lands and formed an early feudal state of Volga-Kama Bulgaria.
The state gained independence and repeatedly entered military conflicts with Kievan Rus. In the 13th century, as a result of the Mongol-Tatars invasion, Volga Bulgaria fell to the armies of the Mongol prince and became part of the Golden Horde.
After that, the population became known as Volga Tatars.
The truth is that it was a very turbulent milestone in Russian history, as the period from the middle of the 13th right till the end of the 15th century was marked by the Tatar-Mongol yoke over Rus,
characterized by suppression, numerous raids, and collecting tribute from Russian villages by the Golden Horde. It was only in the year 1552 when Russian troops (under the command of Ivan IV the Terrible) conquered the territory of the present-day Tatarstan and annexed it to Rus.
Where is Tatarstan on the map?
Nowadays, the Republic of Tatarstan is an important federal subject of the Russian Federation, set at the confluence of the Volga and the Kama Rivers. The region is located approximately 800 km east of Moscow, which is not that far by Russian standards.
The territory of Tatarstan counts 41 localities, including two more-than-a-million-person cities: Kazan and Naberezhnye Chelny.
If you’ve decided to travel Russia and want to enrich your itinerary with as many remarkable Russian destinations as you can, bear in mind that beautiful Tatarstan is one of the brightest spots of the Trans-Siberian railway journey.
Being the next stop after Moscow, the capital of Tatarstan, set at the junction of Europe and Asia, is surely going to colorize your Russian experience and leave unforgettable impressions.
Kazan - the cradle of the Tatar culture
The capital of Tatarstan, Kazan, officially bears the title of the "Third Capital of Russia" due to its rich cultural and historical heritage. This beautiful city on the left bank of the Volga River is noted for its centuries-old religious tolerance.
It is definitely going to strike your imagination as this is the place where European and Asian traditions merge. The city with more than a 1000-year history is an important cultural hub and home to many outstanding sights.
Not to sound groundless, we have prepared 10 interesting facts about Kazan, that will help you to get a general understanding why the so-called “Istanbul on the Volga River” and Russia’s cultural melting pot should be on your bucket list.
10 Facts about Kazan
- Kazan is the most ancient metropolis in Russia as well as one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, yielding only to Prague and Kiev.
- Kazan is rated among the fastest growing tourist destinations as, counting more than 1 000 000 tourists annually, the city takes the 3rd place in Europe in terms of touristic influx.
- The chief citadel of Tatarstan, the gorgeous Kazan Kremlin dates back to the times of Ivan the Terrible and was inscribed into the list of UNESCO World Heritage sights.
- The towers of Kazan Kremlin, 58-meter (2283 inch) Söyembikä, is one of the three leaning towers of Russia, having the inclination of 194 centimeters (76 inches).
- The rural yet charming town-island of Sviyazhsk is a famous landmark located 30 km from Kazan. Built in 1551 by the troops of Ivan the Terrible in just 4 weeks, this and architectural complex includes 4 monasteries, 3 churches, 2 cathedrals, and a bell tower.
- Kazan houses the only Temple of All Religions in Russia, bringing together architectural elements of 16 world religions.
- The capital of Tatarstan is one of the most “packed” cities in terms of sports infrastructure and, as the result of the online survey of 2009, Kazan was recognized as the country's sports capital. Kazan has repeatedly hosted sports events of national and world level, including two World Hockey Championships of 2005 and 2011, Summer Universiade in 2013, World Fencing Championship in 2014, and FIFA World Cup in 2018.
- Another famous sight of Kazan surroundings are the Blue Lakes which are fed by groundwaters and don't freeze in winter. Moreover, the Blue Lakes are a great place for health recreation.
- Those, fond of the art of eccentric surrealist Salvador Dali, may become curious about the fact that Kazan is the birthplace of Dali’s wife and muse, Gala.
- Kazan subway, having 5 stations, is listed among Guinness World Records as the shortest metro system in the world. One can get from one end to another for 10 minutes!
What else can characterize the culture of the region better? Gastronomy, of course. Tatar cuisine is rich in traditions, bricked up already in the times of the ancient state of Volga Bulgaria. Generally, main specialties of Tatar cuisine include meat soups with floury dressings, noodles (shurpa), dumplings, necessarily served in broth. Local cuisine has continued to evolve under the influence of Muslim peoples and gained some new dishes into the menu like pilaf. As for desserts, Tatars like pastries, nuts, and honey. Now, let’s enumerate a couple of Tatar dishes you would like to try for sure.
Must-taste dishes in Kazan
- “Tatar pilaf” is the specialty of the national cuisine of Tatarstan. The main ingredients are rice, lamb, and vegetables, all spiced up with herbs, which give the dish a rich flavor and make it a great main course on the Tatar table.
- “Qistibi” are roasted flatbreads with different fillings inside. The fillings can vary from mashed potatoes to ragout or millet, put on one half of the flapjack and closed by the second half.
- “Öçpoçmaq” is a national Tatar triangle-shaped pastry, filled with minced beef, potatoes, and onion, are usually eaten with soup or tea.
- “Zur-Belich” is a big pie with potatoes and meat. The top of the freshly cooked pie is divided among all the members of the family while the filling is eaten with cutlery. However, when the pie cools off, it can be eaten by pieces.
- “Chack-chack” is a traditional sweet delicacy, able to satisfy all sweetums. The dish is made from a soft dough, formed in small strips or balls, fried in a cauldron, and poured with honey. Believe us, it’s really yummy!
Tatarstan is an incredible region that makes travelers fall in love with it from the first sight. Having an amazing history behind, Tatarstan has incorporated the best traditions of Europe and Asia, turning it into a mind-blowing heritage that we can explore today. If you have already got some interest in this marvelous part of Russia, which we bet you have, consider including it in your Russia travel plans. One thing we can guarantee is that such journey won’t disappoint you for sure!