The last time Jeonghee and I went on a day trip from Kazan, the ferrys had not yet started running. For Sviyavsk, which is only about an hour away, the train was fine, but for last weekend’s excursion to Bolgar, I was happy that the boat was running.
Only two hours away by ferry, Bolgar is a site of much historical value to Tartarstan, where Islam was first accepted by the Tartars, which is still their predominant religion, and where the capital of one of the greatest Mongol states, or Khanates, was established. Now there are some reconstructed ruins, plenty of archaeological digs, and a brand new mosque to check out there.
Our first stop was the Black Chamber, a building which originally was a courtroom, but preserved because it was later used as a smokehouse. Like other sites in Bolgar, it was an interesting piece of architecture, but rather plain on the inside.
Nearby were the Khan’s mausoleum and a reconstructed minaret, once the highest structure in the city. You could climb to the top of the latter using extremely narrow, freakily uneven steps. There’s not much of a view, but the climb certainly was interesting.
We next took, the 20-odd minute hike to the new buildings on campus, the suitably named White Mosque and the Bread Museum. Oddly, we spied a herd of cattle with a bona fide Russian cowboy on the walk over. The White Mosque was very pretty, with a pool and fountain for it to reflect off of and a small but ornate prayer chamber at its heart.
The Bread Museum is pretty much what it sounds like- an ode to traditional bread-making and grain farming. The spread of bread styles were impressive, although I wish there were samples to try. There was also a huge windmill which was cool to go inside. I never realized how massive the machinery inside a windmill really is.
The last complex we visited was centered around the still impressive ruins of the Congregational Mosque, which the local priest later destroyed, even though Peter the Great expressly ordered him not to. The unimpressive little church he built next to it still stands, but even the stark pillars of the ruins (and, admittedly, the reconstructed minaret towering above them) put it to shame.
Nearby is another mausoleum similar to the Khan’s and the foundations of the Khan’s palace, which have been converted into an interesting open-air pavilion with various examples of masonry and building materials to take a look at. It’s a very interesting concept for preservation and display.
After finally buying our return ticket (for some reason you can’t buy round-trip tickets, and the ticket office in Bolgar is only open an hour or so before the ferry leaves… which caused some anxiety of course), we checked out the multi-level museum of Bolgar and Tartarstan history that takes up the majority of the terminal building. It had a very interesting collection of artifacts and state of the art displays to peruse, and while the English translations on them weren’t the best, unlike many museums in Russia, at least they were there.
Some different game pieces, including chess.
The ferry ride back was marred a bit by a twenty minute refueling when we were almost home (why not refuel after you’ve off-loaded passengers?), it was a nice cruise, particularly on the small smoking deck, with the cool breeze dissipating the aerosolized cancer and a clear view of the high red bluffs and green foliage passing by, broken by the occasional collection of dachas cross or crescent-tipped places of worship.