IO – Russia, the world’s largest country, has some 120 ethnic groups. The Tatars are one major group who occupy the Republic of Tatarstan. Despite the fact that the majority of believers in Russia are Orthodox Christians, the next in numbers is Islam; and the Republic of Tatarstan is said to be where Islam was first introduced in Russia back in 922.
Let us now take a look at two beautiful mosques in Tatarstan. One is in Kazan, the capital city of Tatarstan; and one is in Bolgar, about two hours by boat from Kazan River Port.
The Qolsharif Mosque: The blue mosque with the most minarets in Russia
The Qolsharif Mosque is the most iconic attraction in the city centre of Kazan. It has more minarets (eight) than any other mosque in Russia and can accommodate 6,000 worshippers. This mosque is super tourist-friendly. It is open at 9 am and closes at 9 pm and is of course free of charge.
If you only come to pay a visit, there are two balconies that will take you to the upper part of the mosque. You do not need to take off your shoes as the balconies are specially designed for visitors. From there, you can observe the ornate wall and ceiling, as well as view the faithful praying. Just as in other respected places, you should cover your body when you enter the mosque. They provide scarfs at the entrance, and there is a donation box as well.
If you come to pray, the ladies can take a special entrance, along different stairs, marked to deter visitors from proceeding, as the stairs are dedicated only for those who come to pray. A peaceful feeling seeped through me when I entered the main praying room.
Built the first time in the Sixteenth Century, the mosque was destroyed in 1552 when Ivan the Terrible was gaining power throughout Russia. The Qolsharif Mosque was rebuilt in 1996 and was inaugurated in 2005.
The White Mosque: The only all-white mosque in Russia
Situated in Bolgar, the White Mosque is also called “Kazan Taj Mahal”. It is considered new as it was opened in 2012. To get here from Kazan, hop into a boat from Kazan River Port; return tickets cost 680 Rubles. The journey is about two hours and you will need to take a bus (pay 30 Rubles) from Bolgar port to reach the beginning of your Bolgar UNESCO archaeological site trip. No, you will not see the White Mosque right away. In fact, Bolgar will serve you with ancient buildings with minarets and churches standing next to each other in harmony. There is a shuttle car that charges you 30 Rubles to arrive at the White Mosque yard, but I strongly recommend you walk after you explore this first area. Bolgar’s landscape is just too amazing to miss. It will take you more than thirty minutes to reach the White Mosque but it is a walk that will bedazzle you. It is worth the sweat!
A low blue sky makes you realize how small you are in this world. Empty wide grassland flanks the road on your way to the White Mosque. It is simply amazing. On your way to the White Mosque, there will be ruins of old buildings, as well as mausoleums (burial vaults of noble Bolgar families), and a tower you can enter and from which you can enjoy Bolgar from above.
Just like the Qolsharif Mosque in Kazan, the White Mosque is also tourist-friendly. It has balconies for visitors (only here you will have to take off your shoes), and if you want to pray please tell the ladies at the entrance. They do not speak English, but they will understand your gestures.
The White Mosque is always filled with Al Qur’an recitation. There is a man who just does not stop reciting verses from Al Qur’an; another peaceful feeling seeped through me during my visit. The White Mosque is also free of charge, but you are welcome to put some money into the donation box.
Visiting mosques in the Republic of Tatarstan was the highlight of my Russia trip. (Mita Yulian Sasmita)