Oriental Poland – not completely lost

About 50 kilometers east from the city of Białystok (the capital of region called Podlasie), near the border with Belarus, you can find an extraordinary piece of Poland. In small villages Bohoniki and Kruszyniany you may touch the unique history of this piece of our country. What’s so special about it? Well, here you can meet the Tatars. In the 17th century they were settled in the area by Jan III Sobieski, the king of Poland. It was a reward for their return to the service of the Commonwealth. Of course the complete history of the Tatars in the former Kingdom of Poland is long and complicated – it’s started in the 14th century. For hundreds of years Tatars (devoted to Islam) have been the important piece of the multicultural mosaic of Poland and Lithuania. Right now the population of Tatars in Poland is 4000-5000 people who live in diaspora in Białystok, Gdańsk, Warszawa, Gorzów Wielkopolski. Last two Tatar villages are Bohoniki and Kruszyniany…

In each of these tiny villages you will find a mosque and a cemetery (mizar). The mosques serve the believers but are also open to the public (for sure May-September; tickets, possibility to talk to a guide or hear a story of a place in Polish).

Bohoniki, the mosque

The first mosque in Bohoniki was built in the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, right now we may enter the building which is older than 100 years. During the II World War it was devastated by Nazis. Nowadays after few renovations it looks beautiful, especially in its peaceful surrounding. On the other side of the street there is a pilgrim house, where you can taste an original Tatar food. After your visit in the mosque do continue your trip and find the biggest Muslim cemetery  in Poland. If you go from the Białystok direction, you need to pass the mosque (on your right) and after 700 m you will see the cemetery on your left, situated about 200 m from the main road (marked by the white wall and trees on the hill) . Enter the gate and have a walk inside the cemetery where you can find the old graves made of stones. One big stone marks the head of the dead, the other one – his/her legs. What’s also important all of the graves are oriented toward Mecca. You can find the old inscriptions written in three alphabets: Arabic, Cyrillic and Latin. The oldest inscription comes from the 1786.

Kruszyniany, the mosque

The green painted mosque in Kruszyniany is the most recognisable and popular Tatar (and Muslim) monument in Poland. The building from the end of the 18th century looks  similar to the small Christian temples in Polish villages (but only from the outside) and is the oldest mosque in Poland. The cemetery is not bigger than the one in Bohoniki, but it is picturesque and definitely worth seeing. It’s situated only two minutes walk from the mosque, in the high trees – you’ll find it easily. To finish your visit you can taste some typical Tatar food in a local restaurant, but please remember – there is still a lot of beautiful places to visit in the area! We should continue our trip through multicultural Podlasie soon…

P.S. To make that trip easily you need to use a car or… a bicycle! In general Podlasie is a flat land loved by cyclists.

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