Bolgar Fortified Settlement Mausoleums

Numerous mausoleums of the Bolgar Fortified settlement surrounded by cemeteries is a fascinating phenomenon. They tell a story of architecture and religious life in the capital of the
Islamic Volga Region and anthropology of its residents, their tastes and everyday life, writing and prejudices. Besides, these necropoleis are of significant importance for expanding our knowledge of the entire city between the 14th and the 15th centuries and helping in the interpretation of other complexes, which are larger in size. The expedition of the Institute has explored two mausoleums.

The ruins of the mausoleum built in the middle of the 14th century in the south-eastern part of the city not far from the South Gates (2012 excavations) were hidden under a low hill. The construction now lies in ruins; however, its size and form can be reconstructed. It is a rather large (10.2 by 97 m) building, octagonal inside, and rectangular outside in plan (slightly stretched from north to south). The entrance, which is 2.7 m long, is on the north wall between two thick pylons.

Nine burial pits, rectangular in plan and placed in two rows close to each other (three pits were plundered by looters), were uncovered in the southern part of the mausoleum. The dead were placed in coffins of a box type made from thick and wide boards and half-beams.

One burial yielded remains of a female headdress made of (at least) three textile items (including a silk kerchief with gold embroidery) and nine temporal gold rings shaped as finger-rings and suspended on a tape that had decomposed.

The mausoleum sub-footing is made from elongated stones placed in rows without mortar in a slanting position in a narrow trench. Besides, the mausoleum foundation was encircled by a ditch round in plan (measuring around 10 m in diameter, from 0.9 to 1 m in width and from 0.8 to 0.9 m in depth) made in a virgin humus layer. It is quite possible that the mausoleum replaced an earlier structure (a kurgan with a small ditch around the mound?) erected at the site with no residential housing (the explored remains of the deposits are sterile).

A cemetery was in operation near the mausoleum; more than 90 graves were discovered. Burials were made in accordance with the Muslim rite. The dead were lying in an extended posture on the right side, with the head facing the west and the face turned to the south; their arms are tightly pressed to the body (the left arm is placed on the left side), the graves were made in flat burial pits. Deviation from the Islamic tradition (such as incomplete cremation; box-type coffins and tree-trunks; remains of ritual funeral feasts; animal sacrifices) are rare but quite illustrative. Funeral offerings placed near the skeletons or in the fillings of the burial pits are extremely rare. However, grave 52 yielded a set of 14 jewelry pieces (7 silver plated bracelets with terminals featuring lion heads; a pendant made of a dirham; two talisman miniature Koran or Muslim prayer holders; decorative pins with a dome-shaped head). The items were compactly wrapped in a silk cloth and placed (thrown) in the fill of the grave pit.

A white-stoned memorial sign, which is a stele with an ogee termination and a relief inscription on the obverse (the inscription was obliterated by age and cannot be read), was discovered in the north-western part of the excavated trench.

Items not related with funeral assemblages such as copper and silver coins, ceramics and implements were recovered from the cemetery layer. Apparently, it is the layer of a settlement, which appeared at the site in the first half of the 14th century. After construction of the mausoleum and the cemetery the plot was used for other purposes.

The second mausoleum, which is simpler and in worse conditions, was unearthed further to the south outside the boundary of the city rampart, near the north-eastern edge of the four-sided ditch that surrounded Maly town. It is a building rectangular in plan (measuring 7.4 by 6.2 m on outside and 5.5 by 4.5 m inside; the long axis runs from north to south; the entry is not traceable; the wall width is not less than 0.9 m). The walls were placed right on the construction surface without a foundation and were surrounded by a pavement made from flat stones without mortar. Roughly dressed stones of various shape and size set in mortar, traces of which are still visible, were used as the base; the stonework contains many large pieces of congealed mortar and stone spolia, i.e. reused secondary parts of pulled down buildings (similarly to what was used in Maly town). Five flat burials rectangular in plan made in accordance with the Islamic rite (one was made in a wooden box-shaped coffin made from thick semi-beams) were explored inside the mausoleum. The mausoleum was surrounded by a two meter wide and up to one meter deep ditch (the remains of the ditch are traceable from the east and south-east) and small ditches of a palisade that extended for many meters (running from the west). The building with ‘water storage’ right in the center of Maly town may be regarded as another strong case for interpretation of this site as a religious building (a mosque-musalla?) in Moslem Bolgar.

L.A. Belyaev,
I.I. Yelkina, A.V. Lazukin

Digital Version of the Booklet