This place has a special significance for the history of Tatarstan. The city of Bolgar was once the largest and richest settlement in the region, but due to numerous destructive conquests, it lost the primacy to Kazan, eventually turning into a small village. But memories of a long-gone greatness do not fade away: next to the village of Bolgar there is a museum-reserve “Bulgarian settlement”, which stores stories, legends and artifacts of that brilliant period. Today, archaeological excavations are underway in the Bulgarian settlement in Tatarstan, museums work, excursions and festivals are held. The Museum-Reserve is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is worth coming here to get acquainted with the history and culture of the region, to see with your own eyes the place where the Tatars converted to Islam and to admire the unique examples of medieval architecture.
The city was founded by the Bulgars Turkic-speaking tribes who lived on the territory of the Volga region. At first there was only a small fortification, but it soon expanded to the size of a full-fledged city. The favorable location on the high bank of the Volga, where the Kama flows into it created excellent conditions for shipping and trade. The city and its inhabitants grew rich quickly. During its heyday, the Bolgar was considered one of the centers of handicraft. Blacksmithing, tailoring and jewelry were developed.
Soon after the founding of the city, the Bulgars adopted Islam as their main religion. It was brought by the Sahaba the companions of the Prophet Muhammad.
However, the wealthy and prosperous Bolgar was attacked and ravaged more than once.
In the first half of the XIII century, the Golden Horde attacked the city, almost completely destroying and plundering it. What Bolgar was like before the Mongol invasion, we will never know. The architecture of that time can only be judged by the descriptions of foreign merchants and travelers. It is known that most of the buildings were wooden.
Soon the Bulgarians were rebuilt. Now, the architecture was based on buildings made of stone they have survived to this day. After the arrival of the Mongols, an administrative center of the conquered territories of the Volga Bulgaria was created on the site of the newly erected city this is how Bolgar became the capital.
In the second half of the XIV century, the Bulgarians were again destroyed this time Tamerlane was the culprit. A hundred years later, the Russian army came here, led by Fyodor Pestry, and the once rich Bolgar finally fell into decay, having ceded the status of the main settlement of the Kazan region.
What to see
Commemorative sign “Adoption of Islam”
In 922, the Volga Bulgars converted to Islam, and in memory of this event, a memorial sign was erected already in our time a building several stories high. It houses the Koran Museum with an interesting exposition. Its centerpiece is the 500-kilogram Quran, the largest printed copy ever produced. When closed, its dimensions are 1.5×2 meters, and to open such a book will require the strength of more than one strong person.
Ruins of the cathedral mosque
Once the main building of the entire ancient Bulgar was located here. The cathedral mosque was erected in the XIII century the foundation has been partially preserved since then, so today you can literally touch the ancient history of the Bulgarian settlement. The mosque has been partially restored. In addition to the ruins, an ancient column has been preserved here, dating from the same century as the foundation. It is believed that if you touch her and make a wish, it will certainly come true.
The restored minaret of the Cathedral Mosque. Now the height of the building reaches 30 meters, although the real minaret was 6 meters lower. It was through the Big Minaret that believers got inside the mosque. The original tower survived until the beginning of the 19th century, until it collapsed in 1814 the foundation was weakened by the digging of treasure hunters hoping to profit from rich booty.
Two mausoleums have survived on the territory of the settlement: Eastern and Northern. Both date from the 14th century. The eastern one has been preserved in the smallest detail.
In the Tatar period, there were tombs here in one of the mausoleums you can see the tombstones found during excavations. During the Russian period, a monastery cellar was located in the Northern mausoleum, and an Orthodox church belonging to the Assumption Monastery in the Eastern one.
Perhaps it is this fact that explains such a long preservation of the Eastern mausoleum the monks who served here carefully restored the building, while not intruding on its integrity. For example, despite the fact that there was, in fact, a temple, you will not see the murals inherent in Orthodox churches on the inner walls. The ministers understood that there was a tomb here, and they treated this fact with great respect.
Postcard view of the Bulgarian settlement the ruins of the Cathedral Mosque, the Big Minaret and the building of an Orthodox church towering next to them. However, such a seemingly amazing neighborhood is not unique for Tatarstan, in which different cultures and religions were closely intertwined many years ago.
The Assumption Church appeared on this site at the beginning of the 18th century. It was built with the money of a Kazan merchant in honor of the visit of Peter I. The church was built for the needs of the Assumption Monastery located here.
During the construction of monastic buildings, there were certain rules. For example, a new temple should be located in close proximity to an existing one. And since at that time the functions of the temple were performed by the Eastern mausoleum, a new church was erected next to it the buildings are separated by a dozen meters. And so it happened that an Orthodox church rises on the territory of an Islamic settlement.
Remains of an ancient bath
Not far from the ruins of the Cathedral Mosque there are one more ruins this time, of a medieval bath.
The bathhouse in the culture of that period was an important public place where people went not only to swim, but also to exchange news, chat or even make a deal. The most interesting thing is that during the excavations, archaeologists discovered traces of an ancient aqueduct water entered the bath through pipes. This proves that the Volga Bulgars were a highly developed people who possessed such innovative technologies at that time.
The three-storey building dating back to the XIV century is located at a distance from the main buildings of the Bulgarian settlement. Opinions about what it was intended for are still divided. The most common version is that there was a courtroom here: on the first floor, which is at ground level, the prisoners were held, and on the second and third, those who tried them. However, traces of an ancient aqueduct have also been found near the Black Chamber, which is not entirely consistent with the concept of a court house.
16-meter stone pillar, to the top of which 40 steps lead. You can get upstairs even today you will be surprised by the steepness of the rise and the narrowness of the inner space. According to beliefs, if at the moment of ascent you turn your thoughts to the Almighty and sincerely repent of your sins, then with each step you overcome, you will be forgiven one of the sins you have committed.
The stairs will lead you to a narrow balcony, on which even one person is cramped. Look around a magnificent view of the landscapes of the Bulgarian settlement opens up from here.
This graceful building was built in Bolgar in 2012. Thus, historical justice was restored: in the place of the adoption of Islam by the Tatars, for the first time in a long time, a functioning mosque finally appeared.
The White Mosque “ak mechet” in Tatar is located far from the main settlement, so you need to calculate the time to get there. This is an active religious building, everyone is allowed inside, subject to a number of rules: there must be a headscarf on the head (for women), knees must be closed (regardless of gender), shoes must be left behind a special line at the entrance to the mosque (but you can wear shoe covers) The interior decoration walls, ceilings, a chandelier is made mainly in white colors. Thin lines, Arabic script, graceful patterns this mosque is considered one of the most beautiful in Tatarstan. It is interesting that electronic boards hang on the walls: the time of prayers is displayed on them every day it is different, since it depends on the time of sunrise and sunset.
The White Mosque is especially beautiful at nightfall, when the evening lights turn on.