The excavations at the ruins of Bolgar city have been ongoing since 1946. In 1989–1990 M.D. Poluboyarinova from the Institute of Archaeology discovered remains of a monumental brick construction on a white stone foundation in the center of the fortified settlement, but the excavations at the site were resumed only in 2011 by joint efforts of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan under the program for Bolgar rebirth financed by the Yanarysh Foundation headed by M.Sh. Shaimiev. The resumed excavations admirably confirmed M.D. Poluboyarinova’s suggestion that the ruins of the building uncovered were remains of a bazaar dating to the mid-14th century.
In 2012–2014 the excavations led by the Institute specialists uncovered the area of 766 m2, identified the contours and three corners of the monumental bazaar building, which measured 37 by 34 m, suggesting that it was the largest construction in Veliky Bolgar (its internal volume is more than 1,100 m2). The bazaar was built at the intersection of two streets right in the center of the city, with one street running towards the Cathedral Mosque. Though the bazaar was completely destroyed and its ruins were 20–30 cm beneath the contemporary surface and were heavily damaged by contemporary ploughing for vegetable gardens, main features of this building were completely reconstructed using a modern methodological approach to archaeological exploration such as excavations of layers 10 cm thick; sieving and flotation of a large portion of the occupation layer.
It has been established that the bazaar building was encircled with a wall placed on thick foundation made from white-stoned blocks bonded by lime mortar. The bazaar walls were made from burned bricks and were erected on the foundation; the walls supported the beamed ceiling of the roof above the trading places and internal passages of the bazaar. Inside the bazaar consisted of various sections with walls made from timber and mud bricks. Technical design features imply that bazaar builders came from the east. Judging by almost one thousand finds of coins, the bazaar was built in the 1350s and was destroyed by fire in the 1360s–1370s. Though the most valuable things were removed from the charred ruins after fire, the layers of destruction still contain numerous finds, among which of special interest are 17 Western European (Flemish) lead seals that authenticated quality of woolen cloth, which was, most likely, sold at the bazaar. Numerous parts of the scales, lead, bronze and iron weights were used by traders. Spices and Chinese silk cloths that, unfortunately, decompose without leaving any trace that could be captured by archaeology were among the most expensive goods of the medieval times. On the positive side, several small gold billets were preserved; apparently, the fire melted down jewelry into billets. Along with the jewelry pieces and imported goods, a concentration of iron stirrups (not less than 70 pairs) was unearthed in the layer of destruction; most likely, it was a batch prepared for sale, which was damaged by the fire and left unclaimed. The location of the building in the middle part of the 14th century city implies that it was a central marketplace in Bolgar.
In addition to the bazaar remains, several large cellars, which, most likely, were located under residential houses owned by wealthy citizens, were explored in the earlier occupation layers dating to the first half of the 14th century. Hundreds of expensive glazed ceramics and transport ware brought from China, Iran, Byzantium, Spain and from other places located not so far, such as the Crimea, the Lower Volga Region, Central Asia were collected in the cellar deposits. Several coin treasure hoards dating to the second half of the 13th – early 14th centuries, including a treasure hoard of silver boat-shaped ingots used as a payment instrument, 3.7 kg of weight each, were found in the excavation area. For the first time in the history of Bolgar studies a huge osteological collection (more than 100,000 pieces) was prepared by examining the occupation layers of the excavation area; it enabled the scholars to reconstruct the dietary pattern of the city residents over the period of almost 400 years was put together.
The program for the exploration of the 14th century rampart surrounding the Bolgar site was launched in 2014. A six-meter wide trench was cut through the rampart and the ditch for the first time, and the rampart was divided into layers 0.1 m thick. The following examination established that the rampart did not contain any interior constructions and consisted of an embankment with an intricate interior structure that included soils of various origins.
V.Yu. Koval, D.Yu. Badeev, P.E. Rusakov,
A.N. Smirnov, L.V. Yavorskaya