Illustrated Description Of Russia

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Near the Spaskie vorota stands a small yet singularly-constructed church, dedicated to St. Cyprian and St. Justin. It was founded by Ivan the Terrible, on the very day that Kazan fell into the power of the Russians: Prince Kourbsky, in his annals, informs us that it was commenced in the morning, and finished before the setting of the sun. It formerly possessed several objects of antiquity, but these "were consumed by one of the fires to which Kazan has been subjected.

Beside this church rises the monastery of the Transfiguration, founded a few years later, and. which is held in great veneration by the Russians, in consequence of its having been the place of interment of a certain saint called Varsanofia, who was likewise the first abbot of this monastery. It has several times been ravaged by the flames; and at the period when the rebel Pougatcheff laid siege to the fortress, it was almost entirely destroyed. Opposite this convent is situated the Etat Major and the military prison.

The Cathedral of the Annunciation, a vast and imposing edifice, is the archiepiscopal seat of the diocese of Kazan. The architecture of this church, which is of the Byzantine order, is exceedingly curious ; its belfry, in particular, presents an extraordinary appearance. This cathedral was built in the year 1561, according to a plan furnished by Ivan the Terrible. Prom the year 1596 to 1742, it was four times entirely consumed by the flames; and in one of these fires, that of 1672, not only was the church destroyed, but even the colossal bells were melted down by the fury of the conflagration. Most of the precious objects that were formerly to be found here have also been consumed at different periods — among the rest, the books of divine service, presented by Ivan IV.; the pontifical robes and ornaments, and several bells, gifts of the same sovereign; the autograph letters of St. Goury to Herrman, abbot of the monastery of Sviask, and numerous other relics and antiquities. At the present day, however, may be seen, among other curiosities, a gospel in manuscript, the only one of the books given by the czar Ivan that has been saved from the flames. In this cathedral, according to the annals of Kazan, was at one time likewise preserved a nail of the holy cross !

Among the remains of Tartar architecture in the kremlin is that extraordinary structure the tower of Souyounbecka, or Sumbeka, which rises in the western portion of the fortress, near one of the gates at which the Russians began the attack when they laid siege to the tower. The beauty of its architecture, the gracefulness of its form, and its perfect construction, can with difficulty be imagined by those who have not seen it. It is of a square shape, and composed of several stories, which gradually diminish in size toward the top; the last has a sharp, steeple-like form, ending in a point. It may be seen on the left in the foregoing view of the Kremlin. Prom the extremity of this lengthened cone rises an arrow of brass, which supports the Russian eagle placed above two crescents — an emblem of the history and fate of this town. Above the eagle is affixed a gilded globe, which is supposed by many to be of pure and solid gold. The Tartars attach a particular interest to this globe, for they suppose that it contains precious documents which relate to their liberty and religion. This tower is built of bricks, strongly joined together by a very compact and firm kind of mortar, which is doubtless the reason that this edifice has suffered so little from the ravages of time and the severity of the climate. It is two hundred and forty-five feet high: a staircase, formed in the interior, leads to its different stories; but the dilapidated state in which it now is, renders it very difficult, and even dangerous, to ascend.

Close to this tower, and joined to it by a wall, is another building like the former, square, and of very considerable dimensions, the second story of which is surrounded by a vaulted gallery resembling the aisles of a Gothic church. This edifice is likewise built of bricks: as its architecture resembles that of the tower, and is completely Asiatic in style, the period of its construction is evidently the same; there is no doubt that it served for a palace, or some similar building.

This edifice and the adjoining tower have been perpetually the subject of dispute and discussion to learned antiquarians. Some, averse to every tradition that bears a tinge of romance and poetry, pretend that the popular opinion, which states that the tower and palace existed before the conquest of Kazan, is founded on error; and they assure us that the czar Ivan, after the taking of this town in 1552, built these two edifices as monuments of his victory and the downfall of the Tartars. Others suppose, on the contrary, that these ruins are a portion of the celebrated palace of the ancient khans: they say that the beautiful and unfortunate Sumbeka, whose name the tower bears, concealed therein her youthful husband, to protect him from the hatred of the Kazan grandees, who subsequently assassinated him. It was also on the tomb of this prince that, by order of the czar, the unfortunate Sumbeka was delivered up as a prisoner to the Russians. Such is the tradition commonly believed by the people, the truth of which is, moreover, corroborated by several authors who have written on the subject.

The " Convent of our Lady of Kazan" is situated on a considerable eminence, and forms one of the most prominent buildings of the city. It contains two large churches: one for winter service, heated by the aid of ovens ; and another, larger in its dimensions, for the summer months. The architecture of the latter is noted for its simple style, which gives it a grave and imposing appearance. The convent stands apart from the church; it is a large, plain building, with nothing remarkable in its construction. Its inmates are limited to fifty, exclusive of numerous novices.

Many of the other churches contain specimens of an architecture even more elaborate than those of Moscow. Among them may be named, as remarkable edifices, the cathedral of Nikolskoi', and that of Peter and Paul, more modern than the first named. The city has in all about thirty-five churches, nine convents, and sixteen mosques. Among the convents, the monastery of St. John the Baptist is an extensive edifice of an imposing aspect.

Cathedral of Nikolskoi, at Kazan

Cathedral of Nikolskoi, at Kazan
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In the middle town, which adjoins the kremlin, the grand appearance of some of the private houses, and the great extent of the bazar or gostinoi dvor, attest the high importance of Kazan at an early period. The bazar is surrounded by lofty buildings, chiefly of stone; and exhibits an immense quantity of furs piled up in the fur-stalls; an endless variety of vegetable productions and fruits, both green and dried; and great supplies of fish, brought from the different provinces bordering on the Volga.

The chief object of interest in the lower town is the university, built of white hewn stone, and its principal fronts adorned with Corinthian columns. It was founded to be a school of modern civilization, in a semi-barbarous district, and well fulfils its purpose. Besides the different branches of natural science, the study of eastern languages is carried on at the very source; while that of national history is encouraged, not only by the peculiar character of the library, but also by a remarkably rich collection of Russian and Tartar coins.

In addition to the usual branches of manufacture, Kazan has some which are peculiar to itself. One is the preparation and staining of Russia-leather, a business in which the Tartars are particularly expert; and another, the making of a particular kind of soap, called muclo, which, cut into small pieces, and packed in boxes, is sent over all Russia. The town is well situated for a transit trade, carrying the manufactures of Europe north and east into Asia, and bartering them for the peculiar productions of those regions. In this way, particularly by the trade in furs and tea, many of its merchants are said to have accumulated great wealth.

Kazan annually undergoes an extraordinary change, about the last of April, owing to the inundation of the Volga, which, swollen by the vast quantity of melted snow pouring into its channel, overflows its banks, discharging its waters in every direction over the level plains in its vicinity. The inundation in the neighborhood of the city often covers a space of from twenty to thirty miles. Although travellers suffer no small degree of inconvenience from this flood, the inhabitants of the banks of the Volga derive from it considerable advantages: to Kazan it becomes a rich source of prosperity, from the facility it affords of transporting the different products of the province.

The aspect of the town at this period is imposing and magnificent. Its numerous churches, with their gilded domes and lofty belfries; the Tartar mosques with their minarets, surrounded by glittering crescents: in fine, a thousand singular structures, of every form and color, seem to be growing out of the immense sheet of water which lies around them.

About the end of May, the inundation, which lasts for nearly a month, begins to subside. The waters are not long in disappearing. The earth they covered becomes muddy and slimy after their departure, but a burning sun soon restores it to its former state. The grass springs up in the plains, which for a short time look fresh and green; but this verdure lasts only as long as the earth remains damp from the effects of the inundation, and in a few days these plains become arid and parched, as is their wont. The town itself—which, in consequence of the thawing of the snow and the unfirm nature of the soil, becomes a perfect bog, in which the horses plunge to their very haunches—now experiences a change still more insupportable. The mud, dried up by the heat of the sun, is succeeded by dense clouds of dust, which sweep through the streets of the town, depriving the unfortunate pedestrian of the means of breathing, and rendering his clothes as white and powdered as those of a miller. Then, to avoid being suffocated by the heat and dust, the greatest part of the inhabitants make a precipitate retreat from the town—the landholders to their estates, and the lack-landers to those of their friends whose hospitality affords them a refuge from the sensible calamity of a sojourn in town during this unpro-pitious and unhealthy period.

The first foundation of the city of Kazan took place about the year 1265. Tradition gives the following singular account of its origin and of its name: Batou, or Batyi (the name is written in both ways by learned orientalists), a celebrated khan of the Golden Horde, about the middle of the thirteenth century, was in the habit of frequenting this valley, to enjoy his favorite amusement of hunting wild beasts, with which, according to the statement of certain historians, this country was at that time terribly infested, and also with serpents of enormous size. It was on the banks of the river called at the present day the Kazanka, and on the spot where the kremlin of Kazan now stands, that the repast of the sovereign and his companions was prepared in a large caldron, according to the custom of the nomadic tribes. On one occasion, however, one of the attendants charged with this culinary office, while occupied in filling the caldron with water, let fall the precious utensilj which was not long in sinking to the bottom of the river. The good khan Batou and his hungry comrades were deeply chagrined, when, in consequence of the utter solitude of the spot, which precluded all possibility of replacing the lost utensil, they found themselves reduced to the disagreeable necessity of going without a dinner on that ill-omened day. The impression created by that involuntary fast on the minds of these hungry disciples of Nimrod was so powerful, that thenceforward the river, which had been the cause of this painful privation, received from them the soubriquet of " Kazan," or the " River of the Caldron" Some time after, the idea having occurred to Batou of founding a city on the banks of that stream, he conferred the name of the river on the town. With regard to the word Kazanka, which designates at the present day the river that flows at the foot of the kremlin, it is evident that its terminative syllable, ka, is a corruption of the original name, which the Russians adapted to the character of their language, subsequent to their conquest of the country.

Kazan soon became a rich and flourishing town. About a hundred and forty years after its foundation, it was besieged, for the first time, by Yury Dmitrievitch, brother to the grand-duke of Moscow. The town, after a protracted and desperate defence, fell into the hands of the invader, who quitted not the spot till he had razed every structure it contained to the earth. Its inhabitants were cruelly massacred. Kazan remained during forty succeeding years a wilderness.

The second founder of Kazan was the unfortunate Oulou Makhmet, khan of the Golden Horde, who had been driven from his dominions by the Yediguai Saltana, a Tartar prince of Jaick. Makhmet, who had, according to the annalists, eighty-three sons, and almost as many wives, after wandering from desert to desert with his family and followers, finally settled on a spot not far from the ruins of the desolated town of Kazan. He did not, however, remain there long, but removed to a place about forty miles distant, where he founded the present city. This event marks the period of its second foundation, which took place in the year 1445.

Kazan remained in the hands of the Tartars till about 1465, when it again fell into the possession of the Russians, Ivan III. succeeding in its reduction after two severe campaigns. But the Tartars were unsubdued, and in 1552 again took up arms against the Russians. They were once niore reduced by Ivan the Terrible, who attacked Kazan at the head of a numerous army. For six weeks they made a vigorous resistance ; but the city was ultimately taken, scarcely any of its valiant defenders surviving the event. By this capture of Kazan the Russian dominion was permanently established over the territory of the lower Volga.

When Batou, the original founder of Kazan, bestowed on this town the ominous title of the " Town of the Caldron,'' heseemed as it were to have devoted it to the devouring element, which so often since that period has reduced it to ashes. Probably the history of no town ever afforded a succession of such terrible conflagrations as that of Kazan. During the Tartar dominion we learn from its annals that it was several times devastated by fire—partly arising from accident, partly from the fury of enemies who besieged it. Subsequent to its falling under the Russian sway, at nine distant periods the flames have ravaged this unfortunate town. These fires, which seemed to increase in their fury and the extent of their ravages at every fresh occurrence, form nine remarkable and fearful epochs in the history of Kazan.

The first, which occurred in the year 1595, consumed the greatest part of the town, and all the most remarkable buildings in the kremlin.

The second fire, 1672, broke out in that part of Kazan near the kremlin. All the churches it contained fell a prey to the flames; and four colossal bells, which were sent from Moscow by Vassili-Ivanovitch, and which were suspended in the belfry belonging to the cathedral, were totally melted down by the violence of the conflagration.

The third, 1694, ravaged nearly a mile in circumference of the town. The gostinoi dvor, with its numerous shops and magazines, six monasteries, several churches and streets, and the suburbs known by the names of the Zaseepkin, Krasnaya, and Feodoroifskaya, were reduced to ruins.

The fourth, 1742, broke out in the middle of the night, burnt a very considerable portion of, the town, consumed some twenty churches and as many monasteries, and once more ravaged the gostindi dvor and the streets in its vicinity.

The fifth, which occurred only seven years after, began in the Tartar town, which it reduced to ashes. Three palaces—those of the governor, the commandant, and the archbishop—twenty-three churches, six monasteries, all the bridges on the canal called Boulac, the chancery of the governor with its archives and papers, the arsenal with its contents, several streets and parishes, and a great number of men, cattle, and barks, fell a sacrifice to this conflagration.

The details of the sixth, 1757, are but little known; but history informs us that it was as destructive and as terrible as any that had preceded it.

The seventh, the work of the rebel Pougatcheff, who wherever he passed brought with him ruin and desolation, occurred in the year 1774. At that period the whole of the town, with the exception of the kremlin and the Tartar suburbs, were reduced to ashes! Two thousand and ninety-one houses, seventy-four government-buildings, the gostindi dvor, with seven hundred and seventy-seven magazines or warehouses, and thirty churches, became a prey to the flames.

The eighth fire took place in the year 1815, on the 15th of September, and is still fresh in the memory of many of the inhabitants of Kazan. It is said by eye-witnesses that in less than twelve hours the whole of the town, with its suburbs and villages, presented little else save a mass of burning embers! Several woods and forests on the outskirts of the town likewise took fire. The conflagration spread for miles around, destroying every object that it encountered. In a word, on that awful occasion, eleven hundred and seventy-nine private houses, eight hundred and ten government-buildings, one hundred and sixty-six streets, several churches, monasteries, manufactories, and magazines, were reduced to ashes!

What was much to be regretted likewise was the destruction of the archives of the town, with many valuable manuscripts relating to its history. As long as there remained anything to consume, the fire lasted ; and when, for want of fuel, it became extinguished, Kazan presented a scene of inexpressible desolation.

Such were the eight terrible conflagrations which, in less than the space of three hundred years, ravaged Kazan: but this devoted town was yet destined to experience a new one, probably more violent and more terrible than any that had preceded it. We refer to that series of conflagrations which ravaged so large a portion of the city during the months of August and September, 1842. The first fire commenced during the night of the 26th of August, and in a short time destroyed a whole street of houses and stores, a college, and many fine houses. On the 3d of September the fire showed itself in another part of the city. But these were nothing more than precursors of the terrible conflagration of the 5th of September.

A more tempestuous morning than that on which this terrible conflagration took place was never known in Kazan—a town whose hurricanes form one of the prominent features in its historical records. The wind raged with an incredible violence. Several preceding months of dry and scorching weather had gathered in the streets a deep layer of dust and sand; this, raised aloft by the fury of the whirlwind, so darkened the air, that at the distance of two or three yards nothing could be distinguished. The fire broke out in the street called Prolomnaya, at a hotel, known by the name of the " Hotel of Odessa," an elegant and costly structure, newly built; and, driven over the city by the high winds with unparalleled rapidity, consumed in the space of twelve hours thirteen hundred houses, nine churches, one convent, warehouses where large quantities of merchandise were placed on deposite, a great number of stores, and some institutions of learning. The university was in imminent peril, but was saved with the loss of the wooden circular moveable tower of the observatory. The burning brands, carried by the wind to the other side of the Kazanka, communicating the flames to the heaps of hay, and thence to the neigh-oring villages, they were rapidly reduced to ashes.*

* The American minister at the court of St. Petersburg, Colonel Todd, was at Kazan on the day of this disastrous fire. He had arrived there, with two travelling-companions, on the previous night, and had taken up his quarters in a hotel in the Prolomnaya. There the flames had surprised him, and he had removed to an apartment in the " House of the Nobility." Driven thence shortly after by the progress of the conflagration, he sought a refuge in a third hotel on the Boulac. The flames were not long in reaching him in his new place of refuge; and, for the fourth time on that eventful day, he removed with his suite to a distant inn on the suburbs. The same fate followed him there ! At last, weary of flying from one abode to another, he resolved to return to Moscow. He accordingly ordered his travelling-carriage to be harnessed, and set out from Kazan, to which curiosity had carried him, and which he had seen in such a terrible state of calamity. He left with the governor-general of the town four hundred roubles for the benefit of the sufferers. We note this act of generosity with double pleasure ; for it is agreeable to reflect that the first donation given on this disastrous occasion for the benefit of Kazan, was from the hand of an American citizen.

On the morning of the 6th of September, one half of the city, recently so beautiful, presented nothing but a heap of smoking ruins. The fire had hitherto spared that quarter of Kazan inhabited exclusively by the Tartars, and known by the name of the Tartar town, or suburbs; but the followers of Mohammed were not destined to be long exempt from the calamity which had befallen their Christian co-inhabitants. While the latter were mournfully contemplating the ruins of their houses and their homes, a terrible fire suddenly broke out in the above-mentioned quarter. It was about ten o'clock in the morning. Fortunately for the Tartars, the hurricane which had raged on the preceding day no longer existed, otherwise the whole of the Tartar town would inevitably have fallen a prey to the flames. As it was, the fire caused a fearful ravage: several streets were burnt, and some hours elapsed before the conflagration could be effectually extinguished.

The close of that day brought little or no alleviation to the sufferings of the unfortunate inhabitants. The night, like the preceding one, was passed under the cold and comfortless canopy of heaven.

On the following morning the tocsin again rang, to announce the breaking out of a fresh fire. It commenced in a street called Sabatchi Pereoulok, or Dog street, which it reduced almost entirely to ashes.

This daily occurrence of fresh fires now awoke a conjecture among the inhabitants of Kazan that this repetition of horrors owed its origin to wilful incendiarism. They now recollected that, during the first conflagration, fires had broken out in several parts of the town in a totally opposite direction to that in which the flames were borne by the wind — a circumstance difficult to be accounted for in any other manner. A singular mystery likewise enveloped the two succeeding fires: by degrees this terrible supposition became as general as it seemed probable. The police became on the alert. Its researches seemed to authenticate beyond doubt the existence of a gang of incendiaries in the town. Upward of fifty persons were in a few hours apprehended upon suspicion: some had been found with matches and other combustible materials about their persons ; several had been caught in the very act of setting fire to divers houses.

The fourth day came, and with it a fourth fire! It broke out in that part of the Boulac which the flames had previously spared, reduced to ruins upward of twenty-five houses, and the grain-magazine of a merchant named Romanoff, which contained flour to the amount of a hundred thousand roubles.

A committee for the discovery of the supposed conspiracy was now established. It was composed of the leading members of the inhabitants of Kazan. The latter assembled daily to invent measures for the safety of the town: unfortunately, little or no success followed their arrangements. Every succeeding day brought a fresh attempt on the part of the incendiary gang: in less than the space of a week, twenty repeated efforts were made to destroy the remainder of the town ! Fortunately, however, the vigilance of the inhabitants kept pace with the perseverance of the villains who seemed to have conspired to leave Kazan a desert. Day and night sentinels were stationed before every house, to have an eye on the passenger. Yet, notwithstanding all this caution, the evil did not cease: the hand of the incendiary found means to elude the general vigilance.

The 19th of September was signalized by new misfortunes. The fire broke out in another part of the city, till then preserved, and destroyed twenty houses. Subsequently, several attempts were made to renew these horrors, but they fortunately proved abortive. The redoubled vigilance of the inhabitants, the measures taken by the police, and, most of all, the approach of winter, with its heavy rains and falls of snow, by degrees diminished the general anxiety. The goods, furniture, and property, .which had hitherto remained in the fields, were brought back to the town; and their owners, many of whom during this period of horrors had bivouacked like gipsies in the open air, now turned to seek a refuge for themselves and their families in those quarters of the town which had escaped the conflagration.

But Kazan did not long remain in the state of desolation and ruin to which this frightful conflagration had reduced it. Like a phoenix; the town soon rose again from its ashes, more bright and splendid than ever. The riches of its inhabitants, the vast and lucrative trade it carries on with almost every part of the empire and with the East, and the great and active co-operation of the emperor Nicholas, who generously resolved that this ancient city should be immediately restored to its former splendor, combined to produce the same change as took place in Hamburg after the late fire—a change which gave to both cities a beauty unknown to them before. Ere a year had elapsed, Kazan was again rebuilt, under the skilful direction of numerous architects sent from St. Petersburg to superintend and hasten its reconstruction; so that entire streets, whose houses were formerly of wood, could now boast of handsome brick habitations, of a new and more pleasing style of architecture.

Fortunately, all the ancient structures of Kazan remained unmolested and unaltered; indeed, the fire seems to have respected these monuments, most of which escaped from the devouring element, or, if they were attacked by it, thanks to their thick walls and solid architecture, were able to set its power at defiance. This fire, therefore, while it gave fresh beauty to the modern portion of Kazan, did not in any way deprive the town of that antique historical character which gives it so great a charm in the eyes of the traveller. The population is about fifty thousand.

The following sketch of Kazan is from Oliphant's " Russian Shores of the Black Sea." His "impressions" possess more than ordinary interest from their freshness, his passage through Russia being, as we have before had several occasions to remark, as recent as 1853 : —

" Situated on a gentle eminence, in the midst of an extensive plain, its many-colored roofs rising one above another to the walls of the kremlin, which crowns the hills to the extreme left, tall spires and domes appearing in every direction, and betokening the magnitude of the city while adding to its beauty, Kazan presented a more imposing aspect than any town I had seen in Russia, and seemed to vie with Moscow as to exhibiting in the most favorable manner the characteristic buildings of the country. Twilight was just failing us as we entered the broad? deserted streets, and reached the principal hotel, where we secured rooms, and then sallied forth to see as much as we could by lamplight. .... At an early hour on the following morning we were up at daybreak, and on our way to the kremlin by four o'clock. We passed a number of houses which had been recently burnt down; indeed, the town seemed to have suffered from fire in all directions. The Kazansky, or main street, traverses the entire ridge of the hill; and, from the corners of the various intersecting streets, good views are obtained over the town upon each side. Following along it, past handsome, well-built mansions, and through the colonnade of a large bazar, or gostinoi dvor, we reached the kremlin, and, from the terrace in front of the governor's house, revelled in a most glorious prospect. Stretching away to the north, the eye ranged over a vast expanse of country, thinly dotted with villages and, church-spires ; while our position commanded a panoramic view of the town, which in no way belied my impressions of the previous evening. To the south, the Volga, with its steep banks, bounded the prospect, while the Tartar villages in the foreground, with their singularly-built mosques, seemed to invite a visit. One of the latter was a curiously-fashioned little edifice (as may be seen in the engraving given below), in its construction totally unlike any other building I ever saw. The effect of the scene was completed by the sun most opportunely rising, as it were, out of the steppe, tipping spire and dome, until we ourselves felt its genial influence.

" Kazan has advantages which few other inland towns possess; The capital of an ancient kingdom, it is not the mere creation of government, kept alive, as it were, by law, and tenanted by compulsion: it rests upon foundations long since laid, and owes its present; prosperity to its position on the great highway from Siberia to Moscow and Nijnei-Novgorod. It thus becomes an emporium for the productions of that distant part of the empire which pass through it. : It boasts, moreover, manufactures peculiar to itself. The inhabitants are well known to excel in leather-embroidery: for workmanship of this sort Kazan is celebrated all over eastern Europe."

Tartar Mosque near Kazan

Tartar Mosque near Kazan
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Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855