Bolgar, the capital of Volga Bulgaria

This article is also available in: Italiano

Bolgar is a now decayed city but extremely interesting to understand the evolution of Russia from Turkish to Slav

The words of Ibn Battuta

“Having heard of the city of Bulghar, which was only ten days’ walk from the sultan’s camp, I wanted to go and see [if it was true] what was said about the extreme brevity of the night – or of the day, in the opposite season. “

Ibn Battuta

Bolgar, capital of Volga Bulgaria

In the territories of today’s Bolgar, remains have been found that date back to the Neolithic age, however the first culture capable of leaving a stable impact will be that of Imenkovsk, later conquered by the Proto-Bulgarians. These arrived here following the collapse of the second Khanate Göktürk, succeeding thanks to their leader, Kubrat, to establish themselves in the Pontic-Caspian steppes. This kingdom will not be able to establish itself for long, undergoing increasing pressure in the East by the Khazars who in 668 will destroy the army, forcing the Proto-Bulgarians to emigrate to the regions of the then Idel-Ural. Here, on the bank of the Volga, about 30km from the confluence with the tributary Kama, Bolgar was born, destined to become the capital of Volga Bulgaria.


Here the Bulgarians grew in power, managing in about a century to break free from the Khazar domination and starting to assert their power over the region. In 922 Almış, the Bulgarian ruler, converted to Islam, immediately finding a valid ally in Baghdad who, not surprisingly, sent him Ibn Fadlan, then an expert in Islamic law who later became famous for his trip. It should be noted that this event will anticipate the Christianization of the Kievan Rus by about 60 years, although it is very difficult to establish exactly when the latter was completed. Strengthened by the new faith, the Bulgarians imposed themselves more and more as protectors of local trade, making increasingly close agreements with both Constantinople and Baghdad and thus contributing to the latter’s salvation during the Crusades.

The Golden Horde, Berke and the decline

Already starting from the 11th century, Bolgar will suffer several raids by the Rus, so much so that the Bulgarians will move their capital to nearby Bilär. The biggest enemy, however, will always be the Mongols who will arrive here in 1223. Even if the Bulgarians won the first battle, this will not be enough to stop the army of Genghis Khan, who in 1236 will return, conquering all the cities in a short time of Volga Bulgaria and selling most of its inhabitants as slaves. Under the Mongols these territories will become part of the Golden Horde, however, from now on, Kazan will emerge as the center of the region, bringing Bolgar more and more to the margins of real power.


Things will be minimally reversed by the conversion to Islam of Berke, grandson of Genghis Khan and, from 1257 to 1266, lord of the Golden Horde. The latter is known above all for having blocked the Ilkhanids from their destructive intentions, however thanks to his influence, Bolgar will still see his decline slow down, so much so that he even witnesses the construction of several palaces. The subsequent meeting with Tamerlane and with the Volga princes will however mark its end, so much so that in 1431 the voivode of Vasily II, Fyodor Paletsky, will definitively raze it to the ground.

Russian Bolgar

With the conquest of the Kazan Khanate in 1552, the area on which Bolgar once stood passed definitively into Russian hands, remaining for a long time a devastated place but extremely rich in memory; in fact, it is said that both Tsar Peter the Great and Catherine the Great went here to observe the ruins and reflect.


In 1781 the city of Spassk was founded here, renamed Kuybyshev during the Soviet period; it should be noted that, in that historical moment, the Tatars, given the impossibility of going to Mecca, made a small pilgrimage here. the city has recovered its ancient name. Today it has fewer than 9,000 inhabitants.

Follow us on our facebook page, Spotify, YouTube,Twitter and Instagram, or on our Telegram channel. Any like, sharing or support is welcome and helps us to dedicate ourselves more and more to our passion: telling the Middle East ..

Leave a Reply