For fans of trinkets and curios, Kazan is paradise. The city is home to a plethora of souvenir shops and kiosks catering to whatever your heart’s desire: dolls in traditional costumes, magnets, mugs and bells adorned with iconic images of the town and the Kot Kazanski cat.
Why is the humble feline so celebrated? The answer is that for centuries Kazan cats were considered to be the best mouse-catchers in the business. In 1745, Empress Elizabeth of Russia even ordered that 30 cats be taken from the Kazan to St Petersburg to keep the Winter Palace rodent-free. They were enrolled into lifelong service and fed like kings on beef and game birds, and their descendents live at the Hermitage Museum to this day.
Also popular among guests in the city is the tyubeteika – the hat traditionally worn by Tatar men, and ichigi – leather boots decorated with Tatar imagery.
Visitors can also purchase shamail – calligraphic verses from the Qur’an depicted on cloth, paper or linen. And of course, don’t forget about Tatarstan’s fabled confectionary. Most popular among tourists is chak-chak, because it is both very tasty and does not require any special packaging or refrigeration – simply buy it, place it in your luggage and forget about it until you are back home, treating friends and family to a cup of tea with this Tatar favourite.