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Tatar National Traditions, Culture and Art

Minaret of Bournaevskaya Mosque
The Republic of Tatarstan enjoys the richest historical and cultural heritage.

Combination of at least four types of cultural interaction (Turkic, Finno-Ugric, Bulgarian and Slavonic-Russian) and two religions (Islam and Christianity) account for unique features of this locality, originality of art, cultural and historical values.

The life of our ancestors, national features, beauty ideal and religion, changes in socioeconomic conditions and contacts with other nations were mirrored in national art and cultural heritage.

When it comes to historical heritage and culture, we should remember that along with common cultural traditions, there are different ethnic groups of the Tatars with their inherent features. And Kazan was a spiritual center of the main ethnic group of the Tatars - the Kazan Tatars, which became a basis of forming the Tatar nation.


Bulgarian Woman
Vivid original art and culture of the Tatars inherit the traditions of the state of Volga Bulgaria, the Golden Horde and the Kazan Khanate. The influence of Islam adopted in 922 was significant too. The existing Runic character was replaced by Arabian, inciting the development of science, philosophy and literature. Islam created and strengthened the principal traditions of Tatar-Bulgarian culture. Muslim spiritual affinity promoted commercial and diplomatic relations of the Volga Bulgars with a vast Islamic world, opened the road to the East - to the Sacred Mecca, Egypt, Turkey, Iran. Images of the pre-Islamic pagan mythology - birds, animals and sometimes man - are replaced by ornamental designs of flowers, plants and geometrical figures to become dominant. Parallel to the establishing of biblical-christian pictorial motives in the Russian art, patterned design and rich ornamentation become the aesthetic and art principle of the Bulgarian decorative art. Marvelous products of Bulgarian craftsmen - ornamental patterns, bronze, silver and golden pieces of work reached our days.

Soldier's Costume
The Golden Horde
A new stage of cultural and artistic development is connected with the 1236 annexation of Bulgaria to the Golden Horde, the imperial culture of which combined Turkic, Mongol and Central Asian traditions remarkable for the ornamental splendor and decorative richness, use of various precious metals, jewels and gems. Special importance is attached to making the articles of harness and uniform, manufacture of weapons and other artworks typical of Turkic nomadism.

The Volga Bulgaria town-planning traditions were developed. Travellers and rich merchants, diplomats and politicians were amazed at the beauty of majestic khan's palaces, cathedral mosques with high minarets, mausoleums decorated with white and light-blue tiles, glass glaze and gold leaves. The city of Bulgar in the 13-14th centuries appeared to be a huge town-planning complex. The area of the second-largest city of Bulgaria - Bilyar was 530 hectares. (At that time Kiev occupied 150, Paris - 439.)

Black Palace
Disintegration of the Golden Horde involves the appearance of several independent Tatar states: Astrakhan, Kazan, Siberian and Kasimov khanates. The Kazan Khanate, with its capital Kazan, played a special role in the destiny of the Tatar ethnic group, as it was the Kazan Tatars who became a consolidating core in formation of the Tatar nation. The capital kept on developing the best architectural traditions. Many white-stone and brick buildings were erected in the Kazan Kremlin. Prince Andrei Kurbsky, one of Kazan's conquerors, wrote: "On a mountain, there is a fortress, a palace and high stone mosques, where their dead kings lie". Ivan the Terrible was also surprised at "extraordinary beauty of a fortress-town ..". Appearance of stone grave steles richly ornamented, metal works and decorations with elements of "eastern" baroque, prevailing in Azerbaijan and Asian art, was typical of the time.

In the second half of the 16th century, the Kazan Khanate joins the Russian state. Arriving in Kazan, migrants from Moscow, Novgorod, Pskov and other Russian cities introduce some elements of Russian culture, which, in turn, had not escaped the influence of Eastern culture. This became apparent in altered church architecture (decorative methods, oriental ornamentation), appearance of magnificent oriental design, polychromy which were unusual in Russian art, however, took roots in it through borrowing the art patterns of Tatar culture. Thus, the eight-minareted cathedral mosque Kul-Sharif, destroyed in the Kazan Kremlin in 1552, according to the assumption of historian M.Hudyakov, served as a prototype of the Moscow St.Basil's Cathedral in Red Square. The ninth central dome of this cathedral, towering the other eight, personified victory of the cross over the crescent. The cathedral had no analogues in Russian architecture of that time, but had much in common with oriental architecture.

Petropavlovsky Cathedral
Architecture of the Kazan Petropavlovsky (Peter and Paul) Cathedral also has many oriental elements in addition to Russian and European ones. Scientist I.Khalitov writes: "We did not meet such coloration in church architecture of other Russian regions, while it prevailed in Tatar mosques: an ochre-yellow background and light-blue, green, white, red details". Architect S.Aidarov considers the cathedral to be a monument of Russian baroque employing most typical features of Bulgar-Tatar architecture, with its Eastern and Asian components.

Kazan Cap
Other brilliant samples of historical and cultural interaction between Russia and the Kazan Khanate are the famous "Kazan cap" and "Monomakh's cap" - the crowns of Russian kings. Both crowns passed on to the Russian kings from the Tatar khans and are classical samples of the Tatar decorative and applied art, with rich incrustation of precious jewels and gems and elaborate decorations of typical plant ornamental design. "Kazan cap"

as well as the khan's throne brought from Kazan by Ivan the Terrible, known as Boris Godunov's throne, are stored in the Moscow Armory Museum.

Tatar influence evolved in everyday-life culture as well. It concerns Turkic names of certain objects of clothing, trade and household. Many famous Russian names are of Tatar origin: Aksakov, Derzhavin, Karamzin, Turgenev.

The Russians also acquired some bases of state culture from the Tatars. Population was registered by means of census, a harmonious system of taxes and duties appeared.

These are the evidences of a close interaction between the cultures of Moscow, Bulgar and Golden Horde states, and later the Kazan Khanate, which traded, waged wars, and exchanged skilful craftsmen and architects.

Jug with the Arabic Inscription
By the 19th century, with the rise of manufacture, decorative art had flourished. Classical samples of gold and tambour embroidery with rich ornament, jewelry with graceful filigree, colorful female headgears - kalfaks, decorative towels with fine patterns were produced. This was a period of creation of the Tatar national costume, uniform national dwelling style, ritual and household articles.

Today original traditions of the Tatar national arts acquire a special artistic significance. Owing to research works and expeditions, the collections of Kazan and other museums are enriched with exhibits of cultural and historical value. As a form of the national arts, there is a manufacture of mosaic footwear (Arsk Association) and artistic weaving (Alekseyevsk Factory). Studying national artworks, modern artists create jewelry employing filigree technique, embroidered table-clothes and towels, incrusted leather footwear, national souvenirs and memorable gifts.