Tatarstan is a unique place, where representatives of over 100 ethnicities live side by side and two world religions have coexisted for centuries. In today’s world, Tatarstan follows a pattern of religious and ethnic tolerance. Here, these cultures and religions are not opposed to each other, but intertwine organically creating a unique cultural and religious space.
The spiritual treasury of the Republic comprises a wealth of Muslim and Orthodox shrines, which are protected and revered with equal care. Thanks to the wise, religious tolerance that has been developed over centuries, a comfortable worship of holy places attracts pilgrims from both affiliations. Tourists can familiarize themselves with the heritage of Orthodox Christian and Muslim cultures and get a better idea of the history of Tatarstan.
Kazan — the Capital of Interfaith Harmony
Kazan is one of the few Russian cities which is included in the pilgrimage itineraries for both Muslims and Orthodox Christians. This is why Kazan is also called the capital of tolerance, and once here, you immediately understand why - the city panorama is decorated with both crosses and crescents to an equal extent.
The Kul Sharif mosque, the main mosque in the Republic, and the Annunciation Cathedral, the oldest Orthodox temple in Kazan, stand side by side in the Kremlin. The al-Mardjani mosque, built in the 18th century and personally approved by Catherine II, and the St. Nicholas Cathedral, which houses the miracle-working Fedorovskaya icon of the Holy Mother of God, are gazing at each other over the Bulak canal. The red, white and green Zakabannaya mosque is coupled with St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, looking like a painted gingerbread cookie. Make sure you visit these temples: plunge into the prayerful atmosphere and feel the ease and solace of the intimate situation.
The Annunciation Cathedral
The Al-Mardjani Mosque
The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral
The story of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God is associated with the capital of Tatarstan. The icon was miraculously found in 1579 and ever since has been revered as the greatest Orthodox shrine. In the early 10th century, the original icon was stolen for its precious frame and destroyed. For a century, the Kazan God’s Mother monastery has been deprived of its main possession. It was only in 2005 that the monastery reclaimed the relic — a so-called Vatican duplication, handed over by Pope John Paul II to the Patriarch a year earlier.
In 2016, work began to reconstruct the Cathedral of the Kazan icon of the God’s Mother, and today the precious copy is kept in the Holy Cross Exaltation Church of the Monastery. The small image in an old frame astonishes with its incredible radiating spiritual power. Even the most non-religious who came just to see the historical shrine bow their heads involuntarily. As for believers, the opportunity to kneel down and pray in front of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God means to heal, gain inner strength and spiritual enlightenment. Twice a year, on July 21 and November 4, when the Church celebrates the day of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God, the icon leaves the temple’s blessed interior to take part in the solemn Cross procession that includes believers not only from Kazan, but other cities in Russia too.
Perhaps the real demonstration of Tatarstan citizens’ religious tolerance is the Universal Temple which became the home for 16 religions.
On the steep bank of the Volga river, a way down the Kama mouth, lies the ruins of Great Bolghar, which in 2014 was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Thousands of people come here every year to see what remains of the Volga Bulgaria capital with their own eyes — the center of an ancient Bulgarian civilization and the place where Islam started in the Volga region.
It is commonly believed that Islam was brought here by associates of the prophet Muhammad way back in the 7th century. Three sahibs spent 12 years in the Bulgarian land preaching the worship of Allah. Then two of them returned home, but one stayed in Bulgaria forever. Nowadays, a memorial has been set at the place of his burial so that everyone could pay tribute to those who carried the light of Islam by force of faith only, not by weapon.
The Well of Gabdrakhman
Gabdrakhman was the name of one of the three sahibs who preached Islam in the Bulgarian land. The legend goes that he struck the Prophet's staff against the ground and a source of healing water sprang up at that location, which cured the Khan's daughter. Amazed by the miracle, the ruler and his attendants came to believe in the Allah and adopted Islam.
However the official adoption of Islam in Bulgaria was in 922, when envoys of the Caliph of Baghdad came to the Bulgar ruler Almush. In commemoration of this event, Tatarstan celebrates the Day of Adoption of Islam every May 21, and a monument has been erected in Bolgar — a monumental white stone building with a copper dome and a jour window grating that resembles a mosque. Inside, in the main hall, on a transparent pedestal rests one of the main attractions of Great Bolghar — the largest printed Quran in the world.
Nowadays, the revival of Great Bolghar as a spiritual center of Islam began. The White Mosque was built a short distance from the ancient settlement. The light and airy mosque, decorated with exquisite carvings, looks like it is levitating in the sky. While gazing at it, one can easily imagine how splendid the Great Bolghar was in its thriving years. The White Mosque ensemble will soon be supplemented with a building to house the Bulgar Islamic Academy – a Muslim education and enlightenment center, significant for all Russia.
Christian Orthodox Tatarstan
Like[АЕ5] a gallant sailboat, the island town of Sviyazhsk – the cradle of Christian Orthodoxy in the Volga region – cuts through waters of the Sviyaga and the Volga rivers. If you look at it from the water, the first things that will attract your attention are the numerous church domes. Sviyazhsk was built from wood by Ivan the Terrible in four weeks and played a key role in conquering the Kazan khanate. It became the first Christian town on the territory of Tatarstan. Later, Sviyazhsk lost its political and economic importance and the course of time stopped within it. However, the town escaped the fate of an open air museum and remains in the stream of history continuing its evolution and living a full life. It was able to retain the status of a spiritual center and sustains the flow of pilgrims from all over Russia wishing to revere the shrines on the island town.
The red-brick[АЕ6] colossus of the Mother of God Cathedral "All the Mourners’ Joy," built in the early 10th century, rises above Sviyazhsk. When seeing the majestic and somewhat stern-looking temple, one involuntarily recollects the creation of the Constantinople masters – the Hagia Sophia.
The humble Trinity Church — the only building left in the heroic wooden fortress of Ivan the Terrible — hides in the Cathedral’s shadow. Blackened by the breath of time, its log walls saw the Russian Tsar, heard prayers for victory, and witnessed the departure of warriors for the Kazan campaign, which was the last for many of them.
Nearby stretches the white tape of the walls of the God’s Mother Dormition monastery which was founded in 1555 and has frescoes from the Ivan the Terrible era as its main attraction. This is the only Russian monument of canonical iconography, miraculously spared, of the 16th century. The monastery enshrines the hallows of St. Herman, the Kazan wonderworker and sanctifier and the protector of the island town of Sviyazhsk.
On the way to Sviyazhsk, in the depths of the Volga left bank, the white walls soar between the sky, smooth surface of the lake, and multi-colored cupolas of the Raifa God’s Mother Monastery. It was founded in 1613 by the monk Filaret, who was searching for solitude in these dense forests. In 1661 the humble hermitage was given the status of monastery with its main shrine as the wonder-working copy of the Georgian Icon of the God’s Mother.
Some people come to Raifa in their search of God, others look for a new reason to live, and others dream to find themselves after being lost in the fuss of everyday routine. Everybody finds bliss and gains inner strength within the faithful monastery walls. Departing, the pilgrims carry a piece of spiritual light that will protect them in the whirl of the present day world.
So, what is Tatarstan like? The land of a thousand mosques and churches? A Muslim country? No doubt. An Orthodox one? Clearly yes. The truth is that whatever is your faith, you can expect a warm welcome and caring attitude towards your religious feelings.