As the history-rich capital of the Tatar heartland, Kazan has many grade-A standard museums for visitors to explore. Whether you want to learn more about Tatar culture, world-class art, or the impact of religion in Tatarstan, check out our round-up of the best museums in town.
Soviet Lifestyle Museum
A charming and eclectic little museum of knick-knacks and kitsch cultural relics from life behind the Iron Curtain, this institution houses objects mainly from the 1970s and 1980s. Located in a former communal apartment that could house up to 20 people (the signature domestic set up of Soviet times, where multiple families lived together), it was founded in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR. The museum started out as an informal collection of memorabilia and now, with the help of local council support, has established itself as one of Kazan’s quirkiest museums.
Inside the walls of the World Heritage listed Kremlin, the Hermitage is Kazan’s satellite branch of the world-class Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and is an impressive institution of culture. The museum contains over a million works of art, as well as scores of cultural artefacts, arms and armoury. Temporary exhibitions include works from St. Petersburg’s main collection, alongside work on permanent display including artefacts and handicrafts that date back to the Bronze Age, not to mention extensive collections of European, Asian and Russian art, and archaeological objects.
Found on the ground floor of the exquisite Kul Sharif Mosque, this museum documents the long history of Islam in the region. Practised by the Turkic-Tatars of the Volga and the Urals since the Middle Ages, Islam has been formative in shaping Tatarstan’s unique cultural heritage. The mosque is historic in itself – destroyed by Ivan the Terrible when he razed the city in 1552, it was rebuilt during the 1990s, and finally reopened in 2005.
Tatar jewellery | Courtesy of National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan
Built in the early 1800s and the size of an entire block, the monumental Gostiny dvor – the old indoor marketplace – houses this expansive bounty of Tatar culture. Originally founded to house an extensive private collection of a local archaeologist and supported by science academics from Kazan University, the permanent exhibitions document Tatar culture that dates back to the Middle Ages. An extensive wealth of cultural information, the museum also runs several smaller branches that focus on niche subjects such as Tatarstan’s efforts in World War II and local authors and poets such as Musa Jalil.
A trip to the central branch of the National Cultural Centre of Kazan is worth it for the architecture alone – it’s a gigantic masterpiece in Brutalism, next to an equally impressive obelisk. The museum features a well-organised and thorough collection of Tatar artefacts that comprehensively documents the Tatar culture and people. Unlike some of the other Tatar culture museums, the centre has a contemporary focus and documents the achievements and cultural contributions from the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as historically.
Tatarstan’s national dessert, chak-chak, is a delicious stack of honeyed flat bread that is served up at weddings and festivities throughout Kazan. Discover how it is made and the cultural traditions attached to the sweet treat, and sample some in person at this museum, located in an old merchant’s house in the old Tatar settlement. The exhibits also extend beyond the dessert into the daily life and cultural practices of the Tatar people.
State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Tatarstan
Originally founded to preserve a local historian’s collection of paintings, sculptures, graphic works, decorative and applied art pieces, this museum is an impressive wealth of local culture. Adding to the thorough local collections are 16th century Russian iconography, European engravings and 20th century Russian avant-garde works, including paintings from great Russian artists by the likes of Ilya Repin and Vasily Tropinin. The museum also hosts jazz concerts.