If you think that Poland is homogeneous in terms of culture and religion, you’ll be surprised. People of different faiths, Catholics, Orthodox, Jews, and Muslims, have lived here for centuries. A distinctive place where these religions mix is Podlasie, a region located in the north-east of Poland, near the border with Belarus. It is a great example of the traditional Polish countryside, as well as a place where the Polish Tatars live.
To understand how come there are Tatars in Poland, we need to go back in time to the 17th century, when the Polish King John III Sobieski assigned them land in the region of Kruszyniany, Bohoniki, Trzcianka, Kobylany and Malawicze Górne, to settle their military pay, because the Tatars had fought on the side of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth against the Ottoman Empire.
Today, Kruszyniany and Bohoniki are the main points on the tourist map for anyone who wants to learn more about the history and culture of the Tatars.
It is a picturesque village situated in the heart of the Knyszyńska Forest, where you will find a historic mosque and a Muslim cemetery. The green, wooden mosque with two towers is quite surprising in terms of architecture, because it doesn’t resemble typical mosques. Instead, you can see a clear resemblance to the local wooden churches.
Kruszyniany is also where the National Tatar Cuisine Festival, ‘Sabantuj’, attracts visitors every year. During the festival people can learn more about this extraordinary culture, taste the dishes of Tatar cuisine, see the Tatar costumes and watch the Tatar dances.
When in Kruszyniany, don’t forget to visit the Tatar Yurt, where the hosts offer not only accommodation, but also delicious and extraordinary food (even Prince Charles ate here during his visit to Poland!) . They also keep their guests entertained with stories about the Tatar culture and history of these places.
The main attraction of this little village is the wooden mosque from the second half of the nineteenth century. Inside we can see decorative carpets and traditional muhirs, i.e. decorative fabrics with verses from the Quran. Similarly to the mosque in Kruszyniany, this mosque is by no means typical in terms of architecture. It has no minaret, but it does have a dome with the crescent on top.
During World War II, the mosque was transformed into a field hospital by the Wehrmacht. After 1945, the mosque underwent numerous renovations.
In Bohoniki we can also visit one of the largest Muslim cemeteries, a mysterious and extraordinary place with interesting gravestones with an unusual combination of names that reflects the law from the past: the Tatars were allowed to take local women as wives, but only under the condition of taking their names after them.