Russia

The Mosque in the Snow

Writer

Jacob Lassin

Photographer

Michael Valeev

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These minarets frame the worship hall, which is accessed via a main entrance made up of a series of expanding triangles. The entire body of the mosque is built according to a strictly geometric plan, appearing like a deconstructed cube when viewed from above. Such a modern façade is at once both intimidating and awe-inspiring. The colours of the mosque, an array of alternating reds and whites, contrast with the characteristic grey of the Soviet architecture that dominates the city and country.

No other mosque in Russia has such a modern structure. Regina Bukharbaeva, 24, a journalist in Ufa, speaks of how the ‘architecture just draws you in, both outside and inside.’ Other famous mosques throughout the country tend to reflect more traditional and classical Islamic design elements, such as domed roofs. But Lala Tulpan is more in line with a style of contemporary architecture that’s fit for a museum rather than for a house of worship.

To fully comprehend the significance of the Lala Tulpan Mosque, it’s also important to understand the city in which it was built. Today, Ufa is the capital of Bashkortostan, a republic of Russia and the homeland of the Bashkir people. A sort of ‘country within a country’ feel runs throughout both Ufa and Bashkortostan. The historically Muslim Bashkirs live alongside sizable Tatar and ethnic Russian communities.

This mix of cultures has given it a cosmopolitan character. City authorities have attempted to market Ufa as a place that embraces its cultural heritage, but is also modern and ready to host global business, travellers and international conferences. Lala Tulpan stands as the perfect symbol for this public image, presenting a contemporary face while paying homage to the deep roots of religion in the city and among the Bashkir people.

The presence of such a mosque in Ufa comes as no surprise to those who know the history of the place. Historically, Ufa was one of Russia’s main centres of Islamic life and culture. Since the time of Catherine the Great it has been home to the Central Muslim Board of Spiritual Administration (CMSB Russia), an organisation that represents the nation’s Muslim community. The CMSB survived the religious repression of the Soviet period and is still located in the city today, ending to the needs of the country’s Muslims.

Construction on Lala Tulpan began in 1989. During this time, the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapsing and great uncertainty prevailed throughout the nation; such a large investment of resources was not deemed prudent back then. The Lala Tulpan worksite remained quiet for the next seven years. In 1997 construction started again, and the mosque was finally completed in 1998, offering a symbol of progress and stability.

Entering the mosque, one quickly realises that much of the starkness and geometric pattern of the exterior continues throughout the building’s interior. The walls are snow white with sections that jut out, creating triangular nooks throughout the prayer hall. The decorations are rather minimal. Tiles line the bottom halves of the walls, enormous chandeliers hang sumptuously from the ceiling and there are stained glass windows towards the back.

One’s eyes are drawn away from the primary entrance towards the interior’s main flourish – a narrow vertical window extending to the ceiling. This minimalistic yet imposing detail allows light to stream in at a rather direct angle, compelling all in the mosque to focus upon this singular point in the room, and creating a profound, yet calming, effect.

The peculiarity of the structure does not diminish local enthusiasm for the building. In fact, because of its unprecedented look it has become a source of pride for the city and its population. Alexei Kotelevski, 29, a Muslim resident of the city, notes that the mosque is ‘beautiful and pleasant, thanks to the height of its minarets and the grandeur of its architecture,’ and praises Allah for giving the people of Ufa a mosque that is both original and graceful. Such positive responses are not uncommon. Since the building was completed in 1998 it has become a popular tourist spot for visitors and residents alike.

Such a magnificent structure for worship stands as an incredible reminder of the resilience of religious culture in Russia and the faith of so many of its citizens, despite the atheist ideology espoused by the Soviet Union. Constructing the monumental, majestic minarets that Lala Tulpan is now famous for would have been entirely inconceivable before a mere 25 years ago.

Watching visitors stream in and out, snapping pictures and admiring the building, one can fully appreciate the entire meaning of the mosque’s name. ‘Lala Tulpan’ does not only refer to its minarets, blooming like flowers in the spring; it also speaks to the flourishing of religious and cultural activity in the aftermath of the Soviet Union.

This article appears in the issue44Buy Now