History of Kazan

11th Century

Foundation of Kazan

The official date of Kazan's foundation is 1005 and the city held millennium celebrations in 2005. However this official date has been disputed by historians. Some evidence for supposing that Kazan was founded in the 11th century are coins dating from the reign of Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia (who reigned from 921 to 935) and other ancient artefacts found in archaeological digs on the territory of the Kazan Kremlin. If Kazan does date from the 11th century it might have been as a trading town on route from Scandinavia to the Middle East and part of Volga Bulgaria, whose capital was Bolgar which is located 130km from Kazan.

The origins of the name Kazan are also debated, but the most common belief is that it is after the Turkic word for a heavy cooking pot and there is an often repeated legend in relation to this. According to this legend a son of a Volga Bulgarian khan stopped in what became Kazan and ordered his servant to get some water using his golden kazan, but upon doing so the servant slipped and dropped the kazan in the river. Afterwards the river became known as the Kazanka and the city which developed next to the river became known as Kazan.

A further legend surrounding early Kazan is the legend of Zilant - the giant winged snake-like dragon. The legend states that when the first settlers arrived the land where Kazan now stands was infested with snakes who were led by Zilant, which is the Tatar word for snake. To rid the land of snakes a sorcerer recommended putting down lots of dry branches. In the winter all the snakes nested in the branches which the settlers then set alight. The snakes were burned alive and any which escaped were slain. Finally Zilant himself appeared and the bravest of the Tatar knights cut him into six pieces. Now statues of Zilant appear around the city as well as on the city's flag and coat of arms.

13th Century

Conquest of Volga Bulgaria by the Mongols

In 1236 the Mongols conquered Volga Bulgaria, devastated its centres Bolgar and Bilyar and broke it up into several vassal states of the Golden Horde. As a result Kazan, which was possibly previously a Volga Bulgar settlement, grew in importance as refugees from Bolgar and Bilyar resettled there.

14th Century

First mention of Kazan

The first written evidence of the existence of Kazan came in 1391 in the Rogozhsky Chronicle where it was mentioned as being the centre of a Bolgar sultanate.

15th Century

Foundation of the Kazan Khanate

In either 1437 or 1438 Kazan was conquered by Oluğ Möxämmäd the deposed khan of the Golden Horde, who founded the Kazan Khanate with Kazan as its capital. From his new khanate Oluğ was able to launch raids on the Moscow Principality and from 1439 onwards his raids penetrated deep into Russian lands. In spring 1445 Grand Prince Vasili II of Moscow was even captured by the Kazan Tatars and the Russians were forced to pay a large ransom for their grand prince and sign a treaty beneficial for the Kazan Khanate. Oluğ died in 1145 shortly after his return to Kazan and was succeeded by his son Mäxmüd. Mäxmüd was subsequently succeeded by his sons, firstly Xälil in approximately 1465 and then Ibrahim in 1467.

Kazan Khanate's Wars with Ivan III

Russia's new leader, Grand Prince Ivan III, wished to help his ally Khan Qasim of Kasimov (a son of Oluğ Möxämmäd) win the Kazan throne which he considered his by right and the Russo-Kazan War of 1467-1469 began. In September 1469 after many setbacks Russian troops were able to besiege Kazan and cut its access to water, forcing them to sue for peace. A peace treaty beneficial to the Russians was signed resulting in the release of many Russian prisoners.

Khan Ibrahim died in 1479 and, after a power struggle, was succeeded by his son Ilham. Khan Ilham's brother Möxämmät Ämin, like Qasim before him, decided to flee Kazan and went to Moscow to serve Grand Prince Ivan III. In 1484 Ilham was disposed by the pro-Moscow faction in Kazan and the young Möxämmät Ämin was made khan. However Möxämmät Ämin was not to reign for long as he in turn was disposed the next year and Ilham returned. Angered by losing his candidate in Kazan, in 1487 Ivan III launched another campaign again Kazan and managed to capture Ilham and once again install Möxämmät Ämin on the throne. From this time Ivan III started to use the title duke of Bulgaria as well as his other titles.

Möxämmät Ämin was always under the influence of Moscow and in 1495 a faction decided to replace him with Mamuq. However Mamuq soon proved to be unpopular and he was forced to flee. Rather than having Möxämmät Ämin back, Kazan nobles asked Ivan III to send them Möxämmät Ämin's brother Ğäbdellatíf. However he soon also became unpopular and the nobles once again asked Ivan III to re-establish Möxämmät Ämin as khan.

16th Century

Kazan Khanate's Wars with Vasili III

In 1505 in anticipation of the death of Ivan III and spurred on by his wife, Möxämmät Ämin decided to assert his independence from Moscow. He massacred many Russians within the Kazan Khanate and invaded Russia. Russia was taken completely by surprise by these actions of her once loyal ally. After Ivan III's death, Grand Prince Vasili III sent troops against Kazan to assert his authority over the khanate. Despite a crushing victory over the Russians at the Battle of Arsk Field in 1506, Möxämmät Ämin nevertheless decided to sue for peace and paid homage to Vasili III. Khan Möxämmät Ämin died in 1518 without an heir.

After Möxämmät Ämin's death the 11-year old Khan Şahğäli of Kasimov was invited to be khan of Kazan. Şahğäli was completely controlled by Moscow making him unpopular in Kazan which led to him being deposed by nobles in 1521 who had entered into a conspiracy with Sahib Geray, brother of Khan Mehmed I Geray of Crimea, who was hostile to Russia. Russians within the Kazan Khanate were once again massacred. Later in 1521 combined Kazan and Crimean Tatar forced led a devastating raid on Russia which ended in a siege of Moscow and Vasili III paying a tribute to Crimea.

In 1524 when Russia sent a massive army against Kazan led by Prince Ivan Belsky. Belsky started to besiege Kazan but when the city sued for peace, Belsky had no choice to accept as he did not have enough supplies to continue, an act with was deemed treasonous in Moscow. Khan Sahib Geray though was more interested in Crimean affairs and decided to return there, leaving the Kazan Khanate to his 14 year old nephew Safa Geray.

Vasili III's final war with Kazan came in spring 1530 after the Russian ambassador to Kazan was offended and a new war broke out between Russian and Kazan. Even though Kazan was able to reinforce its defences during the previous period of peace, the Russians troops managed to break through the outer defences and started to besiege the city causing Khan Safa Geray to flee. Russian commanders missed their chance to seize a deserted city before Kazan troops returned and launched a damaging strike on the Russians forcing them to eventually abandon the siege. The two sides entered peace talks. A conspiracy had previously been formed against Khan Safa Geray and a group of Kazan nobles requested that Canğäli (brother of Khan Şahğäli) be nominated as their new Khan. Canğäli arrived in Kazan in 1530/1531 and ruled the khanate under the domination of his Moscow protectors.

Kazan Khanate's Wars with Ivan IV the Terrible

Khan Canğäli only reigned until 1535 when he was ousted in a conspiracy of Kazan nobles who returned the throne to Safa Geray. Canğäli was murdered during the struggle, and not only did Safa Geray take his throne but also his widow Söyembikä. Russia, now ruled by a young Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), had to once again deal with the Tatar threat from Crimea and Kazan. Russian preparations for an invasion of Kazan had to be cancelled in 1541 to defend the country against a Crimean invasion.

Khan Canğäli only reigned until 1535 when he was ousted in a conspiracy of Kazan nobles who returned the throne to Safa Geray. Canğäli was murdered during the struggle, and not only did Safa Geray take his throne but also his widow Söyembikä. Russia, now ruled by a young Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), had to once again deal with the Tatar threat from Crimea and Kazan. Russian preparations for an invasion of Kazan had to be cancelled in 1541 to defend the country against a Crimean invasion.

Russian Conquest of Kazan

Russia's crucial battle came in 1552 as Ivan the Terrible prepared for a full scale invasion of Kazan. Russian troops were based at the Sviyazhsk Fortress which was established nearby the previous year after having been constructed in Uglich and sailed down the Volga. Ivan commanded an army of 150,000 which started to besiege Kazan in August 1552. Prince Aleksandr Gorbaty-Shuisky was able to defeat the Tatar cavalry units around Arsk and Prince Andrey Kurbsky destroyed the Mari army. In addition military engineers managed to cut off Kazan's water supply. The city was almost ready to fall.

A siege tower was constructed but it would have been destroyed by Kazan's artillery. It was the engineer named Rozmysl (it is believed this was actually a name given to an English expert), who dealt the final blow. Rozmysl was able to blow up the walls of the fortress allowing Russian troops to pour into the city and slaughter all those who couldn't escape in time. Khan Yädegär Möxämmäd was captured and sent back to Moscow and religious leader Qol-Şärif was killed. After decades of war between Moscow and Kazan, Tsar Ivan the terrible had finally conquered the city. Guerrilla warfare continued for several years afterwards but this too was finally crushed by 1556.

Kazan Kremlin

Immediately following the Conquest of Kazan, Tsar Ivan the Terrible ordered that a stone kremlin be built on the location of Kazan's old fortress. Pskov expert architects were brought in to construct the 1,800 metres of walls and 13 towers. Ivan also proceeded with bringing in Russian settlers as well as russifying the surviving Tatars and converting them to Orthodoxy. Loyal Tatars were allowed to settle outside of the centre in what developed into the Staraya Tatarskaya Sloboda. In 1555 the Kazan Eparchy was established and it was decided to replace a wooden church which had been hastily constructed in the kremlin after the conquest with a stone cathedral. It was completed in 1562 with the work being overseen by Postnik Yakovlev, who previously worked on St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow which was built to commemorate the victory over Kazan.

17th Century


Throughout the 17th century, Kazan developed, now as part of Russia, both economically and in terms of population, becoming a regional centre for manufacturing. Adam Olearius, the ambassador of Holstein-Gottorp visited Kazan in 1634 and described the city as being surrounded by an outer wooden fortress with a stone kremlin in the centre. He went on to say how both Russians and Tatars inhabited the city but the Tatars were forbidden to enter the kremlin under pain of death.

18th Century

Kazan Governorate and Pugachev Rebellion

In 1708 Kazan became the administrative centre of the Kazan Governorate. In 1718 Peter the Great issued an edict establishing the Kazan Admiralty which made use of Kazan’s timber supplies to build ships for Peter’s naval campaigns. Catherine the Great visited Kazan in 1767 and decided to abolish the restrictions on building mosques in the city, facilitating the architectural development of the Staraya Tatarskaya Sloboda. Kazan’s development went off track during the rebellion of Yemelyan Pugachev, who managed to capture all of the city apart from the kremlin. Pugachev and his rebels were forced to leave the city after fires broke out. Much of the city was destroyed as a result of the fire. In 1781 Catherine granted Kazan a coat of arms depicting the mythical winged snake Zilant and in 1782 approved a new regulated general plan.

19th Century 

Kazan Imperial University

In 1804 the Kazan Imperial University was established by Emperor Alexander I. The university quickly became known as a centre for the sciences, especially in the sphere of organic chemistry. In 1844 Lev Tolstoy started studying law and eastern languages at the university but eventually dropped out. Another famous student of the university who did not finish his course was Vladimir Uyanov (Lenin), who started studying law there in August 1887. Whilst at the university the young Lenin also dedicated a lot of his time to reading the works of Marx and Engels. In December 1887 Lenin was expelled from the university for taking part in a student protest. After his experience in Kazan, Lenin became even more determined to continue his struggle against the autocracy and the bourgeois.

20th Century

Soviet Period

The Russian Revolution spread to Kazan in 1917. However on the 5 August 1918 the White Army, supported by the Czechoslovak Legion, reached Kazan and, after engaging in battle with the Red Guards based there, the city was captured on 6 August 1918. Located in the city at the time was Russia's gold reserves which had been evacuated to Kazan during the First World War. The Reds were eventually able to recapture the city on 10 September 1918 although most of the Whites were able to escape.

In 1920 Kazan became the capital of the Tatar Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic within Soviet Russia. The Second World War saw many factories being evacuated from the west of the Soviet Union to Kazan, making Kazan an industrial centre during the war producing many tanks and planes.

After the Soviet Union

Although there was a separatist movement for an independent Tatarstan or a union of Volga and Ural Islamic nations after the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1992 Kazan instead became the centre of the Republic of Tatarstan, a constituent entity of the Russian Federation.

21st Century

Millennium Celebrations

In 2005 Kazan celebrated its millennium and in the run up to the anniversary the city and its kremlin (which was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000) was renovated. The Qol-Şärif Mosque was built inside the kremlin and the Kazan Metro became the first one to be opened in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. In addition to this the Pope gave his permission to give Russia the Vatican copy of the Our Lady Kazan Icon, one of the most revered copies of the lost original. In 2005 the icon was ceremoniously returned to Kazan where is it now housed in the Kazansky Bogoroditsky Monastery.  Since 2009 Kazan has been permitted to call itself Russia’s third capital after Moscow and St Petersburg. The city is an important centre for sport and held the 2013 Summer Universiade and will also be a venue during the 2018 Football World Cup.