Hopes Rise For Archaeological Revival In Tatarstan

When Tatar parents want to show their children the exquisite wash basins that were excavated at the ancient town of Bolgar, they have to pack up and head to Moscow’s State Historical Museum.

Due to the legacy of Soviet and Russian laws on artifacts, the lion’s share of Tatarstan’s archaeological treasures wind up in large national museums far from the republic.

“Always the best, shiniest gold and silver discoveries were sent to the State Historical Museum or the Hermitage in St. Petersburg,” says Fayaz Khuzin, a professor of history at the History Institute of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences and a leading expert on the Bolgar civilization.

As a result, major archaeological sites like the one at Bolgar – the epicenter of the Volga-Bolgar state that flourished from the seventh century until the Mongol period – have languished, unable to attract any but the most serious visitors. Read more.


Bolghar was intermittently capital of Volga Bulgaria from the 8th to the 15th centuries, along with Bilyar and Nur-Suvar. It was situated on the bank of the Volga River, and some 130 km from modern Kazan. 

The city was sacked by Bulaq-Temir in 1361, endangered by Timur, looted by Russian pirates (ushkuiniki), and destroyed in 1431 by Vasily the Blind of Muscovy. As a Muslim religious center Bolgar persevered until the mid-16th century when the Khanate of Kazan was conquered by the Russian czar Ivan IV and incorporated into the Russian state.

During the Tsarist rule the site of the ancient town was settled by Russian commoners. During the Soviet period, Bolgar was a center of a local Islamic movement known as The Little Hajj: Muslims from Tatarstan and other parts of the Soviet Union could not participate in the hajj to Mecca, so they travelled to Bolgar instead. The Tatars refer to the medieval capital of Volga Bolgaria as Shahri Bolghar, that is, “the City of Bolghar”. The town is part of their cultural heritage, because Volga Bolgaria is viewed by many Tatars as a predecessor state of the Khanate of Kazan, which in turn has cultural links to today’s republic of Tatarstan in Russia.

Today, the capital of Tatarstan is Kazan, but many Tatars consider Bolghar to be their ancient and religious capital and to allow a glimpse of Muslim Bulgar life before the Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria.

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