The city of Kazan, capital of Russia's Tatarstan Republic, can trace its history back through the centuries to the site of its original settlement, the outstanding Kremlin. The Kremlin - or walled citadel - in Kazan was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000 in recognition of its uniqueness and historical importance.
As you arrive, the most striking thing about Kazan's Kremlin is its pristine white walls, which surround the site and are mirrored by the white government buildings and the presidential palace. The complex reflects the ethnic mix of the Russians and Tatars who live here and their two centers of worship, containing both the magnificent Kol Sharif mosque and striking Annunciation Cathedral.
The Kol Sharif is the largest mosque in Europe and also home to a rich collection of ancient books. Visitors are welcome and positively encouraged to step inside and explore here, but remember that both men and women are expected to cover their heads. Remarkably, the mosque was rebuilt in 2005, replacing the original destroyed by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. The Annunciation Cathedral is also a gem not to be missed. Completed in 1561, it is believed to have been designed by Yakovlev - the architect behind St Basil's in Moscow.
While the Kremlin is an undoubted highlight of any visit to Kazan, the city itself has plenty of other historical and cultural delights to offer. Meticulously refurbished for Kazan's 1000 year celebrations in 2005, the city centre is a wonderful place to explore and soak up the unique Tatar culture the locals here pride themselves in. With its own opera house, philarmonic orchestra and both a museum and theatre devoted to Tatar history and art, Kazan offers a truly unique cultural experience.
Like all ancient cities Kazan abounds with legends, and in the Kremlin you will find the Söyembikä tower, which dominates the skyline. Söyembikä was the last queen of Kazan. Ivan the Terrible, who was struck by her beauty and proposed to her. She said she would only marry him if he built the tallest tower in Kazan for her within seven days. Ivan accomplished this, each tier of the tower being finished one day after the next. Seeing this, the grief-stricken Söyembikä asked to climb the tower so she could address the Tatar people before she was taken off to be married. She climbed to the highest story and jumped from it. Sadly the modern visitor is no longer allowed to climb the tower because, rather like the leaning Tower of Pisa, the Söyembikä tower has begun to tilt alarmingly, despite efforts to stabilise it.
As the capital and cultural heart of the Tatarstan Republic, Kazan retains a strong sense of its ancient heritage. Nearly half of its inhabitants are descendants of the Golden Horde - the founders of the city - and all signs here are written in both Russian and Tatar.