World comes to Kazan for heritage congress

The International Congress of World Heritage Cities is taking place in the 1000-year-old city of Kazan – the capital of Russia's republic of Tartarstan. Heads of 192 cities from 69 countries have arrived in the city for the biannual gathering.

All of them living in historic places, but looking to the future – how to make their cities economically viable, developing but not overwhelming what makes them so special in the eyes of the world.

Financing conservation and preservation are the hot topic at the congress. Indeed, it is blight for many of the countries represented there. As President of the Organisation of World Heritage Cities, Marcelo Cabrera Palacios, remarked budgets they have are no enough to do all the things they really need to.

Kazan, though, is thriving though and is setting the pace for change – where there are projects in the offing intended to yield profit in terms of tourism, as well as enriching the lives of locals. The money is being put up because this city has already seen how billions of dollars of investment into the old city, from both business and the federal government, has paid off.

Which is essential for Kazan in striking the balance between the past and progress. It is a city which has pretty much an equal mix of Tatars and Russians, Muslims and Christians and where buildings old and new sit side by side. The city has changed much in recent years, especially since the millennium celebrations in 2005. This rapid development, however, has been met with mixed emotions from the public.

Kazan has been on UNESCO's World heritage list since 2000. Apart from its architectural heritage, the city boasts rich cultural traditions, deeply rooted in its past. Kazan is now home to the world famous icon of Our Lady of Kazan. Once buried, then removed and now returned to the city, it attracts hundreds of thousands who come to pay homage. A pilgrimage and religious centre is planned to be built on a waste land where the icon was discovered 450 years ago. And it is hoped this would attract even more believers.