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Kazan, founded in the 13th century, is one of the oldest Tatar cities in Russia, and was the capital of part of the Golden Horde Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries. Tatars are a Turkic people and speak a dialect of the Turkic language. In 1552 Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible ravaged the city and forced the Muslim khan to become Christian.
The city fortress, the Kremlin, overlooks the Volga river. It was burned and rebuilt several times as a result of armed conflicts. The Annunciation Cathedral (1562) on the territory of the Kremlin was designed by Russian architects. The famous Suyumbika Tower is also inside the Kremlin. The legend states that the Tatar princess, Suyumbika, refused to marry Ivan the Terrible. After he ravaged the city she agreed only if a tower higher than any mosque in the city would be built within one week. After the tower’s completion, Syuyumbike found it impossible to leave her home city and killed herself by jumping from the upper terrace of the tower. Today, this tower is "falling" - deviating from its axis by 194 cm.
These days, Kazan is better known for some of the more recent events in history: Both Lev Tolstoy and V.I. Lenin went to school here (although not at the same time!), and was one of the first republics of the former Soviet Union to declare independence from Russia. Although Tartarstan is a part of the Russian federation, there is always tension on the political front. There are many "Kazan Cathedrals" in other Russian towns, the biggest of them is in St. Petersburg. All of them were built to commemorate the victory over the Tartars.
Along the Trans-Siberian route, Kazan is often considered the "Gateway to the East". Unlike many other large towns further East, this city has a long history and you can find many relics of its past by walking through its streets. The city contains a unique mix of East and West. Russian Orthodox churches stand near mosques, and visiting Kazan will might think you are not in Russia at all!