Bilyar ancient settlement (Bilyarskoe gorodishche)

Location: Alekseevsky district, Bilyar

The cultural layer of a major medieval city, the capital of Volga Bulgaria from the 10th century to 1236. It was a centre of economic, political, and cultural life known by the name of Bilyar, Bulyar and in the Russian chronicles Velikyi Gorod (the Great City). This is a whole complex of archaeological monuments, which includes, apart from the fortified parts, extensive non-fortified suburbs, town necropolis-cemeteries, and estates beyond the town. All this complex, the area of which amounts to almost 800 hectares, occupies a large roughly right-angled square, surrounded by concentrically arranged earth ramparts and ditches – the remains of defensive fortifications. The latter divides the territory into two parts – the inner and outer city. Two lines of ramparts and ditches 5 km in length surrounded the inner city with an inhabited area on 116 hectares. The outer city, with an inhabited area of 374 hectares, by three lines of fortification more than 10 km long, the overall area of the ancient settlement together with fortifications amounts to about 700 hectares. It has been archeologically established that as early as the 10th-11th centuries the town occupied an impressively large area and from the very beginning had the division into two parts. The city perished in the autumn of 1236 as a result of the Mongol conquest. It never recovered after that.

A number of monuments of Bulgar monumental architecture have been discovered in the central part of the inner city. The most important are the remnants of the cathedral mosque consisting of two parts: wooden and white stone with a large separately standing minaret (as early as the 18th-century researchers had noted the remains of the walls, the pillar-minaret, and the portals). The overall area of the prayer halls of the mosque amounted to about 2500 m². Among the remains of other structures of particular note are the brick building with central (under-floor) heating in the close vicinity of the mosque, and the brick caravanserai and baths.

In the middle of the 17th century, the fortifications of the Bilyar Gorodishche were included in the system of defensive lives of the Zakam’e line, and an encampment of musketeers (streltsy) was established here under the name of Bilyarsk suburb, which later grew into the village of Bilyarsk.

The archaeological monuments of Bilyarsk includes:

  • Bilyar trading quarter (posad) (10th-13th centuries)
  • Bilyar burial grounds (10th-13th centuries)
  • Bilyar mosque complex (10th-12th centuries) is one of the biggest buildings of medieval Eastern Europe known today – the area of its interior was no less than 2000 m². Preserved to the level of foundations.
  • Bilyar feudal lord’s house (10th-13th centuries) preserves to the level of the foundations and the foundations of the walls. It was equipped with an extensive system of underground heating. The earliest brick dwelling to have been discovered in the central part of Eastern Europe.
  • Bilyar “caravanserai” (10th-13th centuries) remains of the walls and foundations of the brick building, which had under-floor heating and of the courtyard paved in brick.
  • Bilyar “bathhouse” (11th-13th centuries).
  • Bilyar well (12th-13th centuries) is one of the 12 wells in the ancient settlement has been studied. The depth is 7.6 m it was restored and subjected to conservation measures in the 19th century.