Tatarstan Through an Engineer’s Eyes: 6 Ideas for New Tourists Routes

A copper mine in Sarmanovo, the Shukhov tower in Kukmor, and other reasons to explore the Republic.

Tatarstan is about to launch weekend tours through the locations, which have never been popular among tourists. It was an idea of Ayrat Bagautdinov, who found cultural and commercial potential in several places not far for Kazan. Inde summarized information about the route, and Strelka Magazine represents the translation of it.

THE SHUKHOV TOWER IN KUKMOR
Distance from Kazan – 155 km

Photo: engineer-history.ru

Five towers in Tatarstan were built based on the engineer Vladimir Shukhov’s system. They are similar to the Shabolovka tower in Moscow: robust and light lacy steel constructions. Three of them are still standing at the Kazan gunpowder plant, one was situated on the territory of the Kazanskiy Len factory (and did not survive to the present day), and another one, built in 1927, is located at the felting plant in Kukmor. It’s a standard design, but that fact doesn’t diminish the beauty of the webbed construction, which is very economical and long-lasting. The tower in Kukmor turns 90 this year; it has never undergone a major repair, and it still functions as a water tower. However, today it isn’t fulfilling the needs of production: it serves the plumbing in the factory’s canteens and restrooms.

Aside from its historical value as a monument, the Shukhov tower in Kukmor could also be a great example for teachers to use to cultivate patriotism by demonstrating the engineering history of Russia at the turn of the 20th century. The tower is also an important object for Kukmor in the context of its regional identity. Historically, this place was one of the few industrial cities in the mostly agricultural Republic. There were mines and factories, including the felting plant that is still located there. That’s why the local administration should bet on industrial tourism, and the Shukhov tower, which is famous all over the country and even beyond it, can definitely help with that. The director of the factory also understands this: he was the one who initiated the creation of the open-air industrial museum inside the factory area. Not so long ago, a pre-revolutionary bridge crane was placed next to the tower.

THE SARMANOVO COPPER MINE
Distance from Kazan – 290 km

Photo: Istockphoto.com

According to the notes of traveler and captain N.P. Rychkov (he visited Perm, Vyatka, Orenburg, and Kazan Governorates in the 1760s and 1770s), underground copper mining in the eastern Tatarstan had, supposedly, been conducted since the end of the 17th century. There were several mines along the Menzelya river; the one that is situated next to the village of Sarmanovo is the best preserved of all the existing ones at the moment. Its probable age is 250 years, its length – about two kilometers. First of all, it’s an interesting monument because of its vintage. Secondly, any underground construction, whether a subway or catacombs, is always curious from the engineering point of view, because building underground is hard and one needs a certain ingenuity to do so. The people of Sarmanov solved this problem in a very smart way in the old days: they created a vaulted tunnel, whereas using a wooden frame to dig rectangular passages for containing the soil during the construction of shafts is a much more common practice. Unfortunately, access to the mine is now complicated: it’s not equipped with manholes, the threat of collapse is not well-regulated, and it’s simply dangerous to go down the shafts without a guide. However, the government of the Republic can solve this problem. They may be stimulated by the fact that this could be a new potentially popular tourist route.

THE ROMANOVSKIY RAILWAY BRIDGE
Distance from Kazan – 57 km

Pphoto: wikipedia.org

After the remains of the original 1910’s version of the Ronanovskiy (or Sviyazhskiy) bridge across the Volga were replaced 10 years ago, the bridge itself can now probably be considered a reconstruction rather than a historical landmark. Of course, an engineering construction is supposed to meet the necessities of the current time, and there’s no point in fighting to preserve it if that leads to a danger to human lives. However, a single truss was saved during the reconstruction of a similar bridge in Novosibirsk, so now there’s a 150-long museum object residing in the city park on the embankment. Unfortunately, a different decision was made during the reconstruction of the Romanovskiy bridge.

However, the object still provides some historical value: it’s one of the oldest railway bridges in Russia. Construction-wise, it’s as interesting as many bridges on the Trans-Siberian Railway. It was built based on Nikolai Belelyubskiy’s design: he was a legendary Russian engineer, one of the Russian bridge-building industry’s founding fathers, and the inventor of original theories for testing and standardizing building materials.

THE GEOLOGICAL SECTION IN PECHISHCHI
Distance from Kazan – 49 km

Photo: wikipedia.org
Photo: wikipedia.org
Photo: wikipedia.org

One would think that a geological section can’t be of any interest to engineers because it’s a natural, not anthropogenic phenomenon. However, the Pechishchi section is unique for at least three reasons. Firstly, you can see limestone there, and that exact limestone was used to build the Kazan Kremlin and the cathedrals in Sviyazhsk; people often don’t understand where those construction materials come from, and the Pechishchi tour is a great opportunity to show that. Secondly, there are the preserved remains of the stone processing furnaces from the 19th-20th centuries in the hillsides – one can even recreate the technology of obtaining the material. Thirdly, they say that there are bricked up tunnels hidden in the caves, and those tunnels can be opened up and later shown to tourists, if only everyone complies with the safety regulations.

THE UNFINISHED RAILROAD BETWEEN KAZAN AND BUGULMA
Project length - 354 km

Photo: m.prokazan.ru
Photo: m.prokazan.ru
Photo: m.prokazan.ru
Photo: m.prokazan.ru

A railroad that was supposed to link the southern Urals and the central part of the RSFSR, was designed at the end of the 1930s, and construction began in 1940. It was assumed that at the first stage the rails would link Derbyshki and the coastline of the Kama river; at the second, Chistopol and Bugulma. However, the construction was paused due to the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, and the project wasn’t continued after the war had been won. Only the roadbed and ferroconcrete leaking pipes remained after a year of work. This site will be of interest to admirers of ruins and abandoned buildings.

THE REMAINS OF THE BULGAR FORTRESS IN YELABUGA
Distance from Kazan – 210 km

Photo: unesco.ru

Defensive constructions are a subject that the tour guides of the “Through an Engineer’s Eyes” project in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and now Kazan seem to be quite curious about. That’s why the first tour in Kazan will be held in the Kremlin, a landmark of Russian fortifications of the middle of the 16th century. Yelabuga hill-fort is one of the few remaining landmarks of the Bulgar fortification. That construction is standard for its time and, thus, very illustrative: one can observe the use of the natural terrain for defensive purposes, and round towers at the corners, which give a wider angle of attack and provide better resistance to the shock load there. During the tour, it will be possible to discuss the materials and technology of that time and talk about the scenarios for city sieges in the Middle Ages.