Bolghar ( _tt. Болгар|Bolğar, _cv. Пăлхар) was the capital of Volga Bulgaria from the 8th to the 15th centuries. It was situated on the bank of the Volga River, about 30 km downstream from its confluence with the Kama River and some 130 km from modern Kazan. North of it lies a small modern town, since 1991 known as Bolgar.


The city is supposed to have been the capital of Volga Bulgaria from as early as the 8th century. Regular Russian incursions along the Volga forced the Volga Bulgars to move their capital to Bilar. After the destruction of Bilar during the Mongol invasion, the older capital became the centre of a separate province (or duchy) within the Golden Horde. During the period of Mongol domination Bolghar acquired immense wealth, many imposing buildings, and grew tenfold in size.

The Tokhtamysh-Timur war saw a marked decline in its fortunes. It 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 Bolghar 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. Peter the Great issued a special ukase to preserve the surviving ruins, which was probably the first Russian law aimed at preserving historical heritage.

During the Soviet period, Bolghar was the 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 Bolghar instead.



The Tatars refer to the medieval capital of Volga Bolgaria as "Shahri Bolghar" ( _tt. Шәһри Болгар|Şähri Bolğar), that is, "the Great 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 Russian republic of Tatarstan.

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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