There are many places in Poland we would like to visit. Some time ago we put Podlasie and its Tatars Route on that list. It’s a place with a very interesting history, traditions, completely different than other places in Poland. Podlasie is an interesting region with amazing people. We were enchanted by the diversity of the place: Catholics, Orthodox and Muslim Tatars live there.
Where do Polish Tatars come from?
Let’s start with an explanation of the origin of Tatars in Poland. Unfortunately, still not many people know that this minority exists in Poland.
Between 14th and 15th century, during the reign of Vytautas the Great, numerous groups of Tatars came to Lithuania. In exchange of military service they received lands and were granted with the liberty of religion. Tatars fought together with Polish and Lithuanian army in the Battle of Grunwald 🙂 The amount of Tatars in Lithuania was growing and after the creation of Polish-Lithuanian Union, the Tatars became subjects of the Polish king.
In Poland Tatars also received lands and they had to render military service. They were building wooden mosques; they had a lot of privileges. The situation of the community worsened in 17th century. They lost permission of the construction of mosques, their settlements were destroyed during the Swedish Deluge. Finally the state wasn’t able to pay the Tatars the soldier’s pay and started to imposition taxes that the minority didn’t have to pay before.
In these circumstances, in 1671 there was a rebellion and Tatar troops went over to the Turkish side right before the Turkish attack. The historians called that event “Lipka Rebellion” (Tatars living in Poland were named Lipka Tatars due to the Turkish name of Lithuania Lipki). The Tatar cavalry remained loyal and fought with Polish army in the Battle of Chocim. The king John III Sobieski was so grateful for their help that as the result he let Tatars join his army again. They got previous privileges again and full amnesty for treason. In 1679 in order to pay the Tatars back their soldier’s pay, John III Sobieski gave them villages in Podlasie, among others: Kruszyniany and Bohoniki 🙂
We decided to visit Kruszyniany and Bohoniki because there are the oldest mosques in Poland. Actually apart from recently built mosques in bigger cities like Warsaw, Gdansk and Poznan, those are the only mosques in our country.
We entered the mosque while Mrs. Eugenia was telling other people about the history of the village, its inhabitants and the rules of Islam. We learned that nowadays there are only 4 Tatar families in Bohoniki. People mostly go to the mosque only on Fridays and during festivals.
The first mosque was built there 300 years ago but unfortunately it was burnt. The one you see in the pictures is from 19th century. The mosque is small, made of wood and very modest. Fortunately, it’s in very good condition. Since 2012 it’s considered a historical monument.
From Bohoniki we went to Kruszyniany. We took a longer route to go through another village Malawicze Górne. There used to exist one of many windmills of Podlasie. At the moment most of them are completely ruined. That’s the case of the windmill of Malawicze too.
We arrive there late in the afternoon. The weather is awful. It’s very cold and windy. We start visiting by going to mizar (Muslim cemetery) located several meters away from the mosque. It was very interesting to see the same tombs as on Catholic cemeteries but with inscriptions in Arabic and Arabic names written with Polish pronunciation like Aisza of Husajn.
We go back to see the oldest preserved mosque in Poland. Exactly as the one in Bohoniki it’s wooden and together with its mizar it is a historical monument. Inside the mosque we find Jamil – a Tatars who lives in Kruszyniany – he is telling a group of people about his minority, religion, that nowadays there are Muslims, Catholic and Orthodox in the village. One of the tourists asks how do they celebrate religious festivals and if they don’t have problems about that. Jamil answered:
We celebrate Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim festivals. There are so many of them altogether that sometimes we don’t have enough time to work 🙂
Jamil tells about Tatars’ traditions, how since centuries they have combined Polish and Tatar culture, about mixed marriages. You will learn from him a lot about the religion, history and culture of this minority. When we came inside the mosque, Jamil asked M. if he was a Muslim and he refused to take money from us for the visit. He explained he couldn’t accept money from another Muslim for visiting a mosque. It was a really nice gesture 🙂
At the end of our trip, tired and frozen we go to have dinner we deserved. I read many good opinions about Tatarska Jurta and we just had to try Tatar food. We had no idea that the restaurant closes at 18 and we arrived there only few minutes before closing. Despite that fact we got amazing dishes! We had pilaf and sweet manti. What can I say? I could eat sweet manti every day! If it wasn’t for the distance between our home and Kruszyniany I would go there more often.
If you ever go to Kruszyniany, don’t miss eating in Tatarska Jurta. It’s a place created by amazing people and you can try real Tatar specialties there 🙂
Why should you go to Podlasie?
We had an impression that time in Podlasie stopped. If we compare it to noisy and crowded Warsaw, we were delighted that we could spend some time away from big cities. Silence, peace, people don’t rush anywhere. And apart from that beautiful places, full of history and traditions.
- A ticket to enter each mosque costs 5 zł. The money is used in their renovations.
- Before entering the mosque you have to take off your shoes.
- Women should cover their hair. (It was surprising that in the mosques in Podlasie, they didn’t require that women who come to visit cover their hair. Nevertheless it’s usually necessary in order to enter the mosque).
- If you want to stay longer in Podlasie, you can rent a room in Tatarska Jurta 🙂