Intercultural Dialogue as an Imperative for the Preservation of World Heritage

The Republic of Tatarstan is rightfully considered one of the leading regions in the Russian Federation for attracting major investments. The region has successfully implemented large-scale initiatives in industry and agriculture, energy and construction, and the social sector. This success can be traced back to the creative work of generations upon generations of local inhabitants.

For centuries, Tatarstan has been at the crossroads of the Eastern European, Central Asian and Arab worlds. This unique position has resulted in a complex cultural tradition that is reflected in the region’s architectural masterpieces and intangible heritage. We have a historic mission to preserve and strengthen this rich cultural heritage, allowing younger generations to share in the centuries-old legacy of peace between our many ethnic groups and religions.
We have introduced a new dimension to the traditional values of harmony and mutual understanding that have served the republic for the past 100 years; that of a “Renaissance”. As we well remember, the 1000th anniversary of Kazan in 2005 was marked by the revival of the historic Kul Sharif mosque and the restoration of the Annunciation Cathedral, both located within the Kazan Kremlin. The Foundation was established to renovate these sites, receiving support from both large and small enterprises, as well as the local population. These changes undoubtedly signified the powerful beginning of a spiritual renewal for our people. The contemporary revival of the historical and spiritual values of Muslims and Orthodox Christians forms the basis of our state policy, guaranteeing the prosperity and stability of the region. This revival became increasingly evident in the later restoration of the historical and cultural monuments of Bolgar and Sviyazhsk.
Work on the “Cultural Heritage: Ancient Bolgar and the Island City of Sviyazhsk” project took place between 2010 and 2019 —a remarkably short timespan by historical standards. Extensive archaeological research and excavations were carried out over an area of 80 thousand square metres in Bolgar and about 31 thousand square metres in Sviyazhsk. The project required novel approaches and new methods of research for the conservation of archaeological sites and artefacts.
A total of 59 historical and cultural monuments underwent full-scale work and scientific restoration. These included outstanding sites of Muslim religious architecture, such as the medieval white-stone monuments from the 11th-13th centuries in Bolgar and the majestic Orthodox monasteries from the 16th-19th centuries in Sviyazhsk. Tens of thousands of artifacts were added to museum collections and 28 new museum expositions were created. We managed to build new communication facilities, including river terminals, docking areas for tourist ships and entrance lobbies with informational centres. We developed modern transport and engineering infrastructure and improved the territory of settlements. Most importantly, this work was completed with scientific support on the international level and complied with all UNESCO requirements. As a result, the Kazan Kremlin, the Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex, the Assumption Cathedral and the Monastery of the island town of Sviyazhsk are all included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and their outstanding universal value has received worldwide recognition.
Over those years, we not only built and restored, studying both history and archaeology; we also uncovered the wisdom of our ancestors and the spiritual significance of Islamic and Orthodox holy sites.
Today, the restored Bolgar, boasting centuries of history, testifies to the adoption of Islam by the Volga Bulgars in 922 AD and remains a sacred place of worship and pilgrimage for Russian Muslims and other Muslim groups in Eurasia. Thousands of people visit this site to touch the walls of the Small Minaret and the Black Chamber, drink water from the Gabdrakhman well, walk through the halls of the Museum of Bolgar Civilization and see the world’s largest printed Koran. Many come to stand under the arches of the White Mosque, harmoniously situated among the ancient monuments, symbolizing purity of thoughts and deeds, and the strength and steadfastness of faith.
The Orthodox holy sites of the island-city of Sviyazhsk epitomise architectural grandeur and grace, preserving magnificent traditional frescoes. The wooden Church of the Holy Trinity was erected over just one day in 1551 and remains the only surviving monument of 16th-century Russian wooden architecture in the Volga region. Sergievskaya Church was built in the early 12th century out of white stone. The Assumption Cathedral serves as an embodiment of Orthodox culture and is decorated with renowned frescoes, unmatched by any of the ancient Russian schools of mural painting. The extraordinary Museum of Archeological Wood has become a special point of pride in Sviyazhsk.
Today, more than one million tourists and religious pilgrims visit these historic landmarks.
Five years on, the realities of modern life have allowed us to expand our operations. New projects have emerged: we began construction on the Bolgar Islamic Academy and restoration work on the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God.
We built the Bolgar Islamic Academy in one year. Today, the academy uses the wisdom of outstanding Tatar theologians to train modern religious leaders as high-level practitioners with in-depth knowledge and authority, as well as the ability to admonish and resist extremist movements.
The restoration of the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, built on the site of the icon so revered in the Christian world, is a significant event for both Russia and the world. All major construction work on the cathedral has now been completed and the unique Cave Temple has been restored. Our efforts are currently centered on the design of the iconostasis and the painting of the Upper Church interior. Soon, I hope that we will all see how the replica of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God from the Vatican finds its place in this majestic church.
The success of these large-scale projects was made possible by the approval and support of Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, and Rustam Minnikhanov, President of Tatarstan. Funding came from federal and republican budgets, active contributions from businesses and their workers, the people of the Republic and benefactors throughout the country and abroad. The names of all 63,571 people are included in the 11 volumes of the Commemorative Book of Benefactors. We are grateful to everyone who became a benefactor of the Foundation and helped us over the years, giving from the heart and for the soul!
For many years, the Republic of Tatarstan has been a reliable partner of the Commission for UNESCO in the Russian Federation. Kazan, the capital of the Republic, has hosted a number of important events, including the UNESCO International Volunteer Camp; the “Civic Education — a Global Problem of the Transforming World: Russian Experience, International Dimension” international conferences under the auspices of UNESCO; the “Kazan Model of UNESCO” from Kazan Federal University; the “Tatarstan-UN-UNESCO: a model of partnership”, based on scientific and practical readings from the Kazan State Institute of Culture; the “UN Mission in the context of a fractured history” round table; the Kazan Forum on Intercultural Dialogue under the auspices of the UNESCO Special Envoy for Intercultural Dialogue Mr Shaimiev; the 65th anniversary of the International Network of UNESCO Associated Schools; the presentation of the international Aga Khan Prize for architecture; and the Sixth International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS VI).
We look forward to continued cooperation in areas of common interest, the preservation of historical heritage, the development of multilingual and multicultural education, and the strengthening of dialogue between peoples.

Mr Mintimer Shaimiev, UNESCO Special Envoy for Intercultural Dialogue and State Counsellor of the Republic of Tatarstan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Renaissance Regional Foundation