Bolgar, known in the Muslim world as «Northern Mecca», is one of the most ancient cities in Russia. This unique place is located on the left bank of the Volga, 200 kilometres from Kazan, and it`s all that remains from once prosperous and powerful Volga Bulgaria.
It`s here, where you can visit one of the gems of the Republic of Tatarstan – the Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex, in 2014 included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. And also see the world’s largest ever printed Quran, listed in the Guinness Book of Records and the magnificent White Mosque – a copy of Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. To know more about the culture of the ancient Turkic people, make sure to check out the unique Museum of Bolgar Civilization.
The ancient city of Bolgar is perfect for weekend excursions. We recommend it for everyone interested in history, ancient monuments of architecture, breathtaking nature and river landscapes.
How to get there
The history of Bolgar as a city began in the 9th-10th centuries; however the first Bolgar tribes appeared here two centuries earlier. In 922 an embassy, whose secretary was Ibn Fadlan, arrived from the Baghdad Caliphate to the Volga Bulgaria. His visit marked the adoption of Islam by the local residents as their state religion. The capital of Volga Bulgaria – Ancient Bolgar, played an outstanding role in the history of the development of all of Eastern Europe.
Volga Bulgaria for its time was an advanced state. Bolgars were great artisans. The main crafts in which they succeeded include: pottery (their ceramic vessels, which were in great demand in Eastern Europe, were especially famous), ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy, bone carving and others. Bolgars were the first of the European nations who mastered the technology of manufacturing steel and cast iron smelting; the work of local jewelers was famous all over the world.
Bolgar is located on the high bank of the Volga, 30 km below the mouth of the Kama River. This allowed the city to become a major trading centre between Russia and the East. A large trade and craft settlement called “Aga – Bazar” was formed here. Bolgars traded with countries like Russia, Scandinavia, the Baltic states, Byzantium. Merchants from China, Spain, Damascus, Baghdad came to the fair in the city.
Gradually, Bogar grew and developed. The Cathedral Mosque and the Khan’s Palace towered in its center. After the adoption of Islam, the ancient Turkic writing was replaced by Arabic, which aided in establishing close ties with the Arab world. Bolgars were literate, as evidenced by the jewelry, coins and stones found during archaeological excavations. The big role for future development of the literature of the Bolgarian and Tatar people was played by Kul Gali, who at the beginning of the 13th century wrote his famous poem “The Legend of Yusuf”.
In 1223, the Mongol army made a conquest to the west. And the Bolgars were the only people who rebuffed the Mongol army and stopped their further invasion of Europe. In 1236, the city was again attacked by the Golden Horde. This time it was completely destroyed and the territory of the Volga Bulgaria became part of the Golden Horde. It was during this period that its greatest heyday took place and Bolgar became one of the most significant cities in Eastern Europe. The territory of the city increased by almost 10 times; in area and population it surpassed such cities like London, Paris, Kiev and Novgorod of that time. Despite the fact that Bolgar was the center of Islam, various religions peacefully coexisted here. Slavs, Mordovians, Chinese and other peoples lived in this multinational city.
In the 14th century, the great commander of the East, Tamerlan, went on aggressive campaign against the Volga Bulgaria. In 1431 it was finally destroyed by the Russian army led by Fedor Pestry. Bolgar fell into decay and Kazan became the new center in the region.
In the 18th century the city was called Spassk, during the Soviet times it was named after the revolutionary Valerian Kuybyshev and in 1991 it got its historical name back.Since 2010, the revival of the city begins.
The Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex includes several architectural ensembles of ancient buildings of the Volga Bulgaria. Here are the monuments of the 13-14 centuries, preserved ruins, archaeological sites and new modern objects.
The White Mosque is the pearl of the national Tatar architecture. It was built in 2012. The ensemble of the complex includes: a huge main dome, 2 minarets 40 meters high, a prayer area, as well as snow-white buildings for spiritual leaders of Islam and a madrasah. The walls of the mosque are decorated with sayings from the Koran, tulips and oriental ornaments. Major festive prayers and religious are held here.
The Cathedral Mosque was erected in the 13th century and was the main building in medieval Bulgar. Namaz and other religious rites were performed here.
The Eastern Mausoleum was built in the 14th century, and in the 17th century – turned into the Orthodox Church. Nowadays it houses a huge exhibition on the history of Bolgar from the 5th to the 18th century.
The Northern Mausoleum was a family burial vault of a noble Bolgar family. Inside the mausoleum, there are gravestones found on the territory of the settlement. Today there is an exhibition dedicated to the Bolgarian epigraphy of the 13th-14th centuries.
The Khan’s Palace was erected in the middle of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries, immediately after the Mongol conquest. The palace is one of the first white-stone buildings in the territory of Volga Bulgaria.
The Black Chamber was built in the middle of the 14th century. This is the only surviving civil structure from the time of the Bolgars. It was most likely a madrasah, a court, a mosque or khanaka.
The White Chamber is located south of the Black Chamber. It is a ruin of a bathhouse of the 14th century. Here you can see, how complicated already at that time, the system of under floor heating, ceramic pipes and chimneys was. The bathhouse consisted of a dressing room, a room with a cold bath or pool, a warm room for washing and utility rooms. This is an example of a building constructed on the model of medieval oriental bathhouses of Central Asia, the Crimea and Transcaucasia.
Saint Abraham’s Well with healing spring water. According to legend, the spring arose when Saint Abraham, one of the followers of the prophet Mohammed, touched the ground with his walking stick. Not far from the well, there are two observation spots, from where visitors can have a picturesque view of the mighty Volga River.
The Memorial Sign was built in honor of the official adoption of Islam by the Volga Bolgars in 922. In this beautiful stone building with a golden dome and stained-glass windows, is located the world’s largest printed Quran, made by Italian craftsmen. It has huge sizes: length -2 m, width -1.5 m, weight – 800 kg. The cover of the giant Quran is adorned with gold, silver and hundreds of precious stones.
The Assumption Church was built in the 18th century at the expense of the Kazan merchant Ivan Mikhlyaev. Nowadays, there is a museum of local lore where visitors can see an interesting collection of Bulgarian utensils, weapons, stone and ceramics, and thereby get acquainted with the culture of the people who inhabited this land several centuries ago.
Museum of Bolgar Civilization is located on the high bank of the Volga River. This is a functioning river station and museum in one building. Here are more than 1600 exhibits that will tell you the history and culture of the ancient Turkic people of the period of the Volga Bulgaria and the Golden Horde.
Quran Museum is housed in the Memorial Sign. This museum is dedicated to the Holy Book of Muslims. Its exhibition includes a variety of religious publications, among them, the miniature Turkish Quran of the late 19th century.
An interesting Museum of Bread is located in several modern wooden buildings. Here visitors can get acquainted with the full cycle of bread production; see the miller’s house, a windmill, a bakery and other survived objects of that time. The complex also contains a cafe “Dom Chaya” and the restaurant “Genghis Khan.”
The city of Bolgar is located near the confluence of the Kama in the Volga, in a picturesque place. Here you can not only touch the centuries-old history, but also enjoy the beauty of this sacred place. You can also visit such interesting places like a Camel Farm, an Ostrich Zoo, as well as the crystal clear and mysterious lake of Tatarstan – Lake Raghibi.
-Peter I, who visited the Great Bulgar in 1722, issued the first decree on the protection of historical and cultural monuments in Russia.
-The city of Bolgar is the capital of the Volga Bolgaria and the first capital of the Golden Horde.
-During the construction of the White Mosque, more than 1200 tons of marble were used.
-In 2017, the first Islamic academy in Russia was opened in Bolgar.
How to get there
The best way to get to Bolgar is from Kazan.
Address: Republic of Tatarstan, Spassky District, the city of Bolgar, Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve.
You can get there by any means of transport: on a ferry down the River Volga in summer, on a bus from Kazan’s Southern Bus station.
You can see this ancient city during a bus excursion to Bolgar.