A Far-Flung Silk Road connection – the Great Mosque of St. Petersburg Russia

St. Petersburg’s skyline says it all. From the banks of the Volga the views include the golden cathedral towers of the Peter and Paul Fortress and the pointed towering Minerats and bright blue tiles of the mosque dome just to the right of it. Peter the Great wanted his capital to reflect the cultural make up of his vast empire.

The Mosque - St. Petersburg
Central Asian-style St. Petersburg Cathedral Mosque

Russian southern cities which lie on the Caspian Sea were the only real Russian ports  linking the nation to the Silk Road trade.  St. Petersburg is just up the Volga River from the trading post village of Novgorod. Russia supplied furs, honey and slaves to Muslim lands as far as Baghdad.  The original route connecting the Volga River to the Caspian Sea until the 11th century. By the 13th century, another route linking the Black Sea to the Byzantine and Persian Empires replaced the original.  This is the route workers travelled when Peter the Great invited all Russians  to help construct their new capital St. Petersburg.  This included the first large number of Muslims to travel to this part of the country.  They were the Tatars from the Volga Region.

The Russian Empire connects the east to the west making it more Eurasia then Russia and covers almost one sixth of the earth’s surface. This being said – there has always been a rich cultural, linguistic and religious diversity among all of its people.   Peter the Great had genuine interest in the affairs of the muslim community since Russia was beginning to extent it’s empire into Ottoman territory.  Among many things, he personally ordered the first Russian language Qur’an to be published in 1716 to help welcome in Russia’s new subjects.  It wasn’t until much later that a proper mosque was built for those how made St. Petersburg their home.

The Mosque - St. PetersburgSt. Petersburg wasn’t established as Russia capital until the early 18th century but today is home to one of the largest and northern most mosques in Europe. Csar Nicolas I gave the Emir of Bukhara permission to buy land near the tombs of the Romanovs in the Peter and Paul fortress island to build a mosque for muslim worshippers in the city. This location was important to the Emir because he wanted to show respect for the rest of Russia and to symbolize the Muslim citizens loyalty to the Russian Empire. The mosque wasn’t completely supported by all of the city but it was able to collect money from donors from inside and outside of Russia and was completed in 1920 after ten years of construction.

The Mosque - St. Petersburg
The Mosque – St. Petersburg

The mosque has suffered a lot over the centuries. It was shutdown by the Bolsheviks – like most religious institutions – and later used as a storage warehouse during World War II. The mosque’s doors remained locked through 1956 but didn’t get any major renovations until the 1980’s.

The Mosque - St. Petersburg
The Mosque – St. Petersburg

Today, nearly where a half a million residents and many descendants of the Tatars.  The Great Mosque with its tall blue dome is hard to miss even on a foggy day.   Most non-muslim visitors can only view the mosque from the outside gates since it is a working mosque. The exterior was originally designed to resemble Tamerlane’s Gur Emir Mausoleum in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The inside design is a combination of both the art nouveau popular in the beginning of the 20th century and traditional mosque motifs. I didn’t see but pictures show the interior filled with blue and green tiled ceilings and scripted passages of the Qur’an.  The outside views are amazing and maybe the inside will be open for visitors next time.

Its something worth seeing while in St. Petersburg and not too far away from other wonderful sites like the Peter and Paul’s fortress and the former Bolshevik headquarters – Kshesinsky Palace.  It’s just a short walk across the river or an easy tram ride from most parts of St. Petersburg.

Efim Rezvan, deputy director of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography states it best:  “There is no panorama of the center of St. Petersburg that does not show two minarets. And this symbol is not only of St. Petersburg. This reflects the country itself, and the dramatic history of the mosque reflects the dramatic history of the country.”

The Mosque - St. Petersburg copy
The top of the Mosque dome in St. Petersburg Russia
The Mosque - St. Petersburg
Detail of St. Petersburg Mosque dome

2 thoughts on “A Far-Flung Silk Road connection – the Great Mosque of St. Petersburg Russia

  1. farflungistan January 27, 2012 / 7:48 am

    Thanks for sharing my pic of the Mosque in St. Petersburg. Lovely place 🙂 Cheers!

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