The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire


I liked the feel of this place. I liked the way it looked from nearly 300 feet in the air. 

When the steamer pulled into the landing I went straight to the governor's office, purchased a guide, and made my way to the Syuyumbeka Tower (Башня Сююмбеки). I climbed every step with purpose. I knew the question plaguing the minds of most who contemplate the tower. Could a woman truly have ascended these stairs determined to throw herself from the top? But life is too short for uninteresting questions. 

Of course she could have.

Come to think of it, is it possible to ever climb a tower without the thought of throwing oneself from the top? 

At the top I let my eyes round on Kazan.

Eventually I returned to the ground. 

The other piece of romance involves the Library, which would be a strange thing to say except that much of the library of this town once belonged to Prince Grigory Potemkin. I didn't cross the city though. Instead, I went along the embankment to the Admiralty and found the very shed Baedeker dismisses as "hardly worth a visit." I found it very much worth the visit. The shed contains an old and far-from-seaworthy galley called the "Tver," which bore Empress Catherine II down the Volga in 1767.

Here I am, I thought, voyaging down the Volga in the wake of a long-dead empress. Standing in the shadow of her oak-hulled ship. Craning to glimpse the linden- and birch carvings of Neptune and the naiads.

Did Catherine conquer Potemkin? Was it the other way around? It doesn't matter. Their love was famous. Theirs was a passion tempered into devotion. A romance of letters. The romance of crossing space and finding each other's eyes through ink and paper and being content with that.

And yes, in the end there was his death in the steppe and the falling of Catherine's own heart from a great height. 

So now one stands in Kazan, Catherine's ship here, Grigory's books there. The distance from admiralty to library is all that lies between them. 

And Söyembikä is watching.

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