“The Great Bolgar” – this is how they often call this world-famous museum preserve, and rightly so. The site of the ancient settlement of Bolgar, registered by UNESCO and renowned for its history and legends, attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. There are indeed many good reasons to see this wonderful place.
The ancient city of Bolgar is located on the left bank of the Volga River, at the distance of 140 kilometers from Kazan, in the vicinity of the modern town of Bolgar, which is now the administrative center of the Spassky municipal district. The area of the site is 550 hectares and the length of its fortifications is 5.63 km.
A holy shrine and ancestral homeland of Volga Tatars, known in the Muslim world as “Mecca of the North”, lies within two hours’ drive from Kazan. The unique restored monument of the Cathedral Mosque keeps its secrets and legends. Next to the Mosque is the Big Minaret, where it is believed that if a person ascends by its stairs, he receives forgiveness for one of his sins for every step.
Other objects open for visiting include the unique Museum of the Bolgar Civilization with the local river boat station in the same building, the memorial in honor of the conversion of the Volga Bulgarians to Islam in 922 and an exhibition of paintings about Ancient Bolgar. The particularly popular places are the Khan Palace, the Healer’s House and trade shops, as well as the White Mosque and the Bread Museum, both located behind the Southern gate. Archeologists have found about 100 stone buildings on the territory of the ancient city site. Unfortunately, with most of these buildings only their basements survived.
Celebrations in honor of the Volga Bulgaria accepting Islam take place in Bolgar once a year – these events attract thousands of Muslims from all over Russia and from abroad. Another annual event is a colorful festival named the Great Bolgar.
In the Bolgar lands there is a place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians, too. It is the temple of the martyr and saint Abraham of Bulgaria, where the refreshment, translucence, savor and myrrh-streaming of icons have been seen.
The city was founded in the 9th – 10th centuries and immediately became the economical, political and cultural center of the Volga Bulgaria. Its citizens were mostly occupied with cattle farming, fishing and industrial arts. They were also considerably successful in science and medicine. The well-known Aga Bazar was a sight to see as well. Merchants brought goods from Europe and China to Bolgar only to see this market. In 922 the city was visited by a mission from Baghdad and, as a result, the local population accepted Islam as their religion. However, the heyday of the inimitable Bolgar came to an end in 1236. “Mecca of the North” was destroyed and burnt down by the Mongols. The city managed to reemerge, but it never achieved its past greatness.
Ancient Bolgar has been attracting the attention of scholars, historians and archeologists for a long time. There is no other place in Russia which has preserved such valuable items of material culture of the Volga Bulgaria and the late period Golden Horde. Even Russian Emperor Peter the Great could not resist an attempt to solve the riddles of this ancient city and visited the site in 1722. It was him who issued the first edict on the protection of cultural and historic heritage in Russia.
Bus: Kazan – Bolgar, from the Yuzhnyi (Southern) bus terminal in Kazan, travel time about 2.5 hours.
High-speed Meteor powerboat: from the Kazan River Port of in summertime, travel time – 2 hours.