John Zablocki on a semi-religious experience in Tartarstan, Russia…
The Temple of the Universein Kazan, Tartarstan (Russia), is the most elegantly bewildering thing I’ve laid eyes upon. If you visit a church in St. Petersburg or Moscow without doing your homework,you can still predict the basic history fairly well: Tsar ____ or Prince _____ commissioned it some-odd centuries ago, presumably to consolidate power or make a grab at posterity.
The Orthdox churches seen along the length of the Trans-Siberian Railroad are just that–orthodox. Those seeking a detour from the more “orthodox” Russia, should check out the multi-ethnic melting pot of Kazan, the capital city of Tartarstan.
Just after crossing the great Volga River on the train from Moscow, the train passes the “Temple of All Religions” or “Temple of the Universe”, as it is also referred to. It is the most elegantly bewildering structure I’ve laid eyes upon. You can’t help but wonder who built it, how, and why. Even if you got that answered, you’d wonder “and why the hell right here?” There is no visitors booth. No parking lot. No tour-guide or caretaker. No plaque commemorating its construction. No entrance fee. No gift shop. It’s not finished and looks like it never will be, no matter how long it’s worked on. No natural start and no natural end to it; it just gets larger, more diverse, more complex, never complete. It is an exquisitely colorful and elegantly illogical fusion of chambers, domes, steeples with crosses and crescents, stars, ying-yangs, and various motifs inspired by 16 world religions that all seem in unison to say:
‘Haven’t figured us out yet? No? Join the club.’
And we’re all in the club. It feels good to see the Un-orthodox, Russia. Come, stay as long as you like.