The history of the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan began at the end of the 19th century when the people of Kazan all together collected money for its founding. It has had many names since then – Governorate, Central, State, State United Museum, but in essence it remains the same. The museum is celebrated for its first-class restoring studios and carefully selected exhibits.
In September 1890, the Russian Scientific and Industrial Exhibition took place in Kazan: on the back of its success, Sergey Dyachenko, the city leader, took the decision to found a museum. The money was gathered on a subscription basis. Funds also were donated by wealthy merchants and industrialists. Olga Alexandrova-Gains, a philanthropist, offered a site for the museum and donated 500 thousand silver roubles on the condition that it should be situated on Voskresenskaya Street (now Kremlevskaya street). She initially offered a number of floors in the Alexandrovsky Mall, which she owned. However, it was decided that the museum be located in the Gostiny Dvor mall, built at the beginning of the 18th century in the building of the City Parliament (today the location for the Kazan administration).
The inquisitive visitor to the museum will see just how many exhibits the museum owes due to Andrey Likhachev, the archaeologist and historian, who devoted so many years of academic activity to the museum.
As a student Likhachev collected insects and ancient coins. Upon retirement from service in the chancellery of the Kazan Governor, he developed an interest in archaeology. His inquisitive mind was particularly interested by the ruins of the ancient town of Great Bulgar. Likhachev was elected to the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society. He studied the Stone Age, mediaeval history and the archaeology of the Volga region. After the death of the academic in 1889, his brother Ivan bought the collection of archaeological curios from his widow for the small sum of 30 thousand roubles and gave them to the town. Likhachev’s collection formed the basis for the exhibition of the first public museum in Kazan. Thanks to the generosity of the local citizens, the collection was expanded. The table of Gavriil Derzhavin, the seal of Khan Sahib-Girei, the diaries of writer and publicist Gayaz Ishaki are some of the exhibits donated to the museum by citizens of the city.
From the day it was founded, the museum has organised scientific expeditions and ethnographic research. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 it came to publishing the first museum journal in the country, entitled the Kazan Museum Journal. The collection was further expanded with items from abandoned mansions and estates, from the sacristies of Kazan monasteries and the Cathedral Church of the Annunciation.
In December 1897, the building almost completely burnt down, but all the exhibits were saved. For a number of years the museum survived without a permanent exhibition. It held hundreds of exhibitions in the museum building and elsewhere. The staff managed to establish new branches in Arsk, Buinsk, Bavli and Bugulma.
The building was reconstructed and the façade was completed for the 100th anniversary in 1995. Ten years later work inside the building on 1st May square was completed.
Since 2001, it has been the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan. The greatest treasure of the museum is its collection of approximately 910 thousand items. They include Ancient History of Tatarstan, Kazan Governorate in the 18th Century, Trade and Currency Relations in the Middle Ages and Tatar Jewellery Decorations.
Like many modern museums, it does not live by artefacts alone. Many people are involved in active work here. Every day you come across school children involved in museum quizzes, trying out traditional crafts – both within the museum itself and on trips to the Beznen Tarih history camp.
During the night of museums and libraries, the halls are filled with fashionable young people. If you ask them kindly, the reconstructors from the Vityaz club affiliated with the museum will tell you how difficult it is in modern times to make a costume for a mediaeval warrior.
Work on developing the museum infrastructure continues: within an area of more than 40 thousand square metres, a methodological, scientific research and information centre will be built, containing storage for collections, exhibition halls, art and restoration workshops, a museum and cultural education complex, internet and visitor centres.