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Russia, The Golden Horde/Tatars, and the Volga River

11 days
10 nights

Rates

Dates

Rates:

$ 3,390.00 (double occupancy)

Dates:

ALL YEAR ROUND

Included:

3 nights in Moscow
3 nights in Kazan
3 nights in St. Petersburg 
Air from Moscow to Kazan

Air from Kazan to St. Petersburg
Daily Breakfast, 7 lunches, 7 dinners
Sightseeing Tours by motorcoach
All admission fees
English speaking guide
Airport/train/hotel transfers
Tax and Service Charges

Highlights & Experience:

Moscow City Tour
Novodevichiy Monastery
Red Square and Kremlin
Metro Tour
Tretyakov Gallery
City Tour of St. Petersburg
Spilled Blood Churh (outside)
Peter and Paul Fortress
St. Isaac's Cathedral
Hermitage Tour
Pushkin Museum
Yusupov Palace
Grigoriy Rasputin Cellars
Tour to Pushkin
Catherine Palace and Amber Room
Tour to Petergoff

Itinerary:

Day 1  : Embark on Long Journey to Moscow

Participants will come from all over the world and arrive on July 7th. Transit from Moscow airports will be provided.

Day 2  : Moscow City Tour by Bus

Check into the Courtyard Marriott in Moscow upon arrival and relax (depending on when you land). Lunch will be open at 3 PM. Use this time to meet group participants and be ready no later than 5 PM in the lobby to board buses for a Moscow City tour. During the city tour we will stop for a light group dinner and social time for participants to meet one another at Alishan Restaurant. Overnight Moscow.

Day 3  : Exploring Moscow

Breakfast buffet in hotel followed by a guided morning walking tour (we will not board buses as our hotel is only 10 miniuts walk from the Red Square) of Red Square and the Kremlin Armory. In the afternoon we will have lunch at Taj Mahal Restaurant. We’d like to eat and conclude on time so we can transfer to the Cathedral Mosque with sufficient time to get space for Juma prayer. Following Juma prayer, we will go to the Danilovsky Cemetery in the Zamoskvorechje District, which has a Muslim section.

The Moscow Congregational/Cathedral Mosque is over 100 years old. It is often viewed as the central mosque in Russia. It was built in 1904 according to the design of the architect Nikolay Zhukov and has undergone some reconstructions since then. It is also sometimes called Tatar Mosque because its congregation is still mainly Tatar ethnically. The Mosque is undergoing an expansion to quadruple its size from accommodating 1,500 to 6,000 at one time. This first phase of construction calls for an extension to the existing mosque prayer hall of the new size of 38x38 meters, with a dome 53 meters in height and four minarets 67 meters in height.

We will then return to the hotel for a free night – no dinner provided. We have two optional shows scheduledfor tomihjt: the Moscow Circus or the Kostroma Folk Show. Overnight in Moscow.

Day 4  : Farewell Moscow

Breakfast followed a tour of the historic Moscow Metro and a stop at the famous Arbat Street. We will split up into 4 groups with 4 guides. During the tour, it is important that you stay with your group. After Arbat we will visit a Historic Mosque followed by lunch. We will then continue the city tour with a view place near “Christ the Savior” and the Kremlin Embankments. Dinner at Taj Majal Restaurant and transfer to the airport for a late evening flight to Kazan. Overnight in Kazan.

Day 5  : Welcome Kazan

We’ll begin with breakfast followed by a walking tour of the Kazan Kremlin, where we will see the beautiful Kol Sharif Mosque, Islam Museum and the State Museum.

The Kazan Kremlin is the chief historic citadel of Tatarstan, situated in the city of Kazan. It was built on behest of Ivan the Terrible on the ruins of the former castle of Kazan khans. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. Of special interest is the Qolsharif mosque, recently rebuilt inside the citadel. Originally, the mosque was built in the Kazan Kremlin in the 16th century. It was named after Qolsharif who served there. Qolsharif died with his numerous students while defending Kazan from Russian forces in 1552. It is believed that the building featured minarets, both in the form of cupolas and tents. Its design was traditional for Volga Bulgaria, although elements of early Renaissance and Ottoman architecture could have been used as well. In 1552, during the storming of Kazan it was destroyed by Ivan The Terrible. The re-opening of the biggest mosque in Europe, the Qolsharif Mosque, was held in Kazan on June 24, 2005. Roughly 17,000 people gathered for the celebration. Delegations from forty countries attended the event. It also contains the Islam Museum.

Return to hotel for lunch. Next, we’ll take buses for a larger city tour and also visit the Marcani Mosque.

The Märcani Mosque (formerly Äfände, i.e. Seigniorial, The First Cathedral Mosque, The Yunisovs' Mosque), was built in 1766-1770 by Catherine the Great's authority and on the city's population's donations. After several decades of persecution of the Muslims in Imperial Russia the Märcani Mosque was the first mosque, built in Kazan. It is the oldest acting mosque in Tatarstan and it was the only mosque in Kazan that escaped closure during the Soviet period. The mosque is currently named after Tatar scholar Aihabetdin Märcani who worked there as imam since 1850. The mosque was built in traditions of the Tatar medieval architecture combined with provincial baroque style, and it represents a typical Tatar mosque. It is believed that the architect was Vasily Kaftyrev. The mosque is situated in the Old Tatar Quarter (Iske Tatar Bistäse) of Kazan at the bank of the lake Qaban. Märcani Mosque is two-storied and has two halls. The interior is designed in The Petersburg Baroque style. In 1861 merchant I. G. Yunisov donated the addition of stairs, and in 1863 he donated the extension of mirhab and the breaching of new window. In that period the mosque was called Yunisovs' mosque after his family. In 1885 merchant Z. Gosmanov donated the renovation of the minaret. In 1887 merchants W. Gizzätullin and M. Wäliºin added the tracery balcony to the minaret. We’ll end earlier than normal with a special Tatar Cuisine Dinner. Overnight Kazan.

Day 6  : Daytrip to Bolghar

If you weren’t already tired… early breakfast followed departure for a day-trip to Bolghar (~130km). Upon arrival in Bolghar, we will endeavor to visit mosques, as well as engage the local Muslim community as time allows, have lunch, and shop in the local market (if time allows).

Bolghar was intermittently capital of Volga Bulgaria from the 8th to the 15th centuries, along with Bilyar and Nur-Suvar. It was situated on the bank of the Volga River, about 30 km downstream from its confluence with the Kama River and some 130 km from modern Kazan. North of it lies a small modern town, since 1991 known as Bolgar. The city is supposed to have been the capital of Volga Bulgaria from as early as the 8th century. Regular Russian incursions along the Volga, and internecine fights forced the Volga Bulgar kings to intermittently move their capital to Bilyar. After a destruction of Bilar during the Mongol invasion, the older capital became a centre of a separate province (or duchy) within the Golden Horde. During the period of Mongol domination
Bolgar acquired immense wealth, many imposing buildings, and grew tenfold in size. The Tokhtamysh-Timur war saw a marked decline in its fortunes. It was sacked by Bulaq-Temir in 1361, endangered by Timur, looted by Russian pirates (ushkuiniki), and destroyed in 1431 by Vasily the Blind of Muscovy. As a Muslim religious center Bolgar persevered until the mid-16th century when the Khanate of Kazan was conquered by the Russian czar Ivan IV and incorporated into the Russian state. During the Tsarist rule the site of the ancient town was settled by Russian commoners. Peter the Great issued a special ukase to preserve the surviving ruins, which was probably a first Russian law aimed at preserving historical heritage. During the Soviet period, Bolgar was a center of a local Islamic movement known as The Little Hajj: Muslims from Tatarstan and other parts of the Soviet Union could not participate in the hajj to Mecca, so they travelled to Bolgar instead.

Afternoon/evening drive back to Kazan. Dinner at Parus Restaurant in Kazan. Overnight.

Day 7  : Kazan and Volga River

Today we get back to the Kazan tour. Breakfast and later departure for the Kazan city tour – the Novotatarskaya outskirts. We will visit the Acem (Azim) Mosque and the Gabdulla Tuqay Museum.

The Äcem Mosque is a prominent cathedral mosque in Kazan, Tatarstan. Its constructing was donated by Mortaza Äcimev and realized in 1887-1890. The architect is unknown. The architectural style is national romance eclecticism. The mosque has a 51-meters height minaret near the door, two halls, it is onestoried. The interior is designed in the medieval Oriental traditions. In 1930-1992 the mosque was out of use due to the Soviet authorities. In 1990-1992 it was under restoration and in 1992 it was returned to the believers.

Gabdulla Tuqay (1886 - 1913) was a Tatar poet, a classic of the Tatar literature, a critic and a publisher. Tuqay is often referred as the founder of the modern Tatar literature and the modern Tatar literary language, replaced Old Tatar language in literature. Despite of denial of Tuqay's genius during the early Soviet years, he soon became renowned as the greatest Tatar poet. His name transcended across the arts, with the Tatar State Symphony Orchestra dedicated to Tuqay's name. During the Soviet rule his most cited were his social poems, whereas now the most popular are poems about Tatarstan nature, Tatar national culture, music, history and, of course, the Tatar language. 26 April, his birthday, is celebrated as The Day of Tatar.

Return to lunch with short break at the Marriott Hotel. Then visit The Anniversary of Islam Mosque (aka Qaban Mosque) and Park.

The Anniversary Mosque was built in Kazan, Tatarstan to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Islamization of the Volga Bulgars in 922. The alternative name of the mosque, and the most commonly used name, is The Mosque across the Qaban), because most of Kazan's mosques are situated on the other side of the Qaban, where the Tatar community was traditionally located before the October Revolution. The part where the mosque was situated was inhabited predominantly by the Russian community. Based on a design by Pechnikov from 1914, the mosque was built from 1924 to 1926 with private donations by Muslims. It was the only mosque built in the region during the Soviet period. It was closed in the 1930s as part of the Soviet Unions persecution of Muslims and was only reopened and used by Muslims in 1991.

We’ll then make our way to the Volga River for a scenic cruise, followed by a Kazan farewell dinner at Riviera Restaurant providing a view of the Kazan Kremlin.

The Volga River is the largest river in Europe in terms of length, discharge, and watershed. It flows through central Russia, and is widely viewed as the national river of Russia. Out of the twenty largest cities of Russia, eleven, including the capital Moscow, are situated in the Volga's drainage basin. Some of the largest reservoirs in the world can be found along the Volga. The river has a symbolic meaning in Russian culture and is often referred to as Volga-Matushka (Volga-mother) in Russian literature and folklore. The downstream of the Volga, widely believed to have been a cradle of the Proto-Indo-European civilization, was settled by Huns and other Turkic peoples in the first millennium AD, replacing Scythians. The ancient scholar Ptolemy of Alexandria mentions the lower Volga in his Geography (Book 5, Chapter 8, 2nd Map of Asia). He calls it the Rha, which was the Scythian name for the river.

Overnight: Kazan. Be ready for morning departure the early the next day.

Day 8  : Off to St. Petersburg

Early morning transfer via air to St. Petersburg. Upon arrival, head out to Peter and Paul Fortress. Enjoy lunch at Chaikovsky Restaurant followed by the Yusupov Palace with the Gregory Rasputin Cellars.

The Moika Palace or Yusupov Palace was once the primary residence in St. Petersburg, Russia of the House of Yusupov. The building was the site of Grigori Rasputin's murder in 1916. The palace was first built around 1770 by the French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe. Over the years numerous wellknown architects worked on the palace, and it is known for the hodgepodge of architectural styles. The palace is most famous, however, because of the actions of its last prince Felix Yusupov. The exact events surrounding Rasputin's death are much in dispute. Rasuputin had often been called the “Mad Monk” and was seen as a psychic and faith healer. The story, according to Yusupov, is that on the night of December 16, 1916 he, along with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of the House of Romanov, invited Grigori Rasputin to the Moika Palace. Supposedly, they served Rasputin cakes and red wine laced with cyanide—supposedly enough poison to kill five men. Concerned that Rasputin appeared unaffected, Yusupov retrieved a gun and shot Rasputin in the back. Taking him for dead, the party prepared to leave. Yusupov returned a short while later to find Rasputin still alive. He and his conspirators shot Rasputin, at close range, three more times, but Rasputin was still attempting to stand back up and flee. Desperate they clubbed Rasputin in the head repeatedly with an iron bar, wrapped him in a blanket, walked outside and tossed him into the Moika River. His autopsy supposedly found that neither the poison, nor the multiple gunshot wounds, nor the clubbing caused his death—instead he died of hypothermia. Much of the account, from Yusupov, is considered implausible.

Time permitting we’ll take the Rivers and Canals cruise followed by Dinner. For those registered, there will be an optional performance. Overnight St. Petersburg.

Day 9  : St. Petersburg

Breakfast followed by a bus trip to the Petergoff, a park with foundations. We’ll have lunch at Karavan, an Uzbek Halal Restaurant. Next we’ll visit the famous Hermitage. Free evening with no dinner provided this evening and there will be a transfer to the optional Marinsky Theater performance. Overnight St. Petersburg.

Day 10  : Farewell St. Petersburg

Breakfast followed by a bus trip to Pushkin to see Catherine Palace and the famous Amber Room. We’ll have lunch and then stop for Juma prayers at the St. Petersburg Mosque.

The Saint Petersburg Mosque when opened in 1913, was the largest mosque in Europe, its minarets attaining 49 meters in height and the impressive dome rising 39 meters high. The mosque is situated in downtown St Petersburg, so its azure dome is perfectly visible from the Trinity Bridge across the Neva. It can accommodate up to five thousand worshippers and is prominently located just opposite of the Peter and Paul Fortress. Worshippers are separated by gender during a worship service; females worship on the first floor, while the males worship on the ground floor. The Mosque was closed to worshippers from 1940 to 1956. The founding stone was laid in 1910 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reign of Abdul Ahat Khan in Bukhara. By that time, the Muslim community of the Russian capital exceeded 8,000 people. The projected structure was capable of accommodating most of them. The architect Nikolai Vasilyev patterned the mosque after Gur-e Amir, the tomb of Tamerlane in Samarkand. Its construction was completed by 1921.

After prayer, we’ll have free time and we’ll conclude the trip with a farewell dinner at Polovtsev Restaurant near the River and Canals area. Overnight St. Petersburg.

Day 11  : Departure

Excerpt, "Oh My Mother Tongue!"
Oh, beloved native language
Oh, enchanting mother tongue!
You enabled my search for knowledge
Of the world, since I was young
As a child, when I was sleepless
Mother sung me lullabies
And my grandma told me stories
Through the night, to shut my eyes
Oh, my tongue! You have been always
My support in grief and joy
Understood and cherished fondly
Since I was a little boy
In my tongue, I learned with patience
To express my faith and say:
"Oh, Creator! Bless my parents
Take, Allah, my sins away!"

Gabdulla Tuqay (1886 - 1913) - Tatar poet, a classic of the Tatar literature

Notes:

Optional:
Dinners and lunches
Performances