Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category

Islam in Poland?

Wandering around Krakow the other day I happened to glance up at the roof line of a building I’ve passed a hundred times and noticed that it had an unusual feature. Perched on the sky line were three towers that looked for all the world like minarets, and the middle one was unmistakably a platform for the adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) with an incongruously obvious Muslim crescent perched on top.

Those are minarets or I’m a Dutchman.


Islam… in Poland? I initially assumed it was an architectural folly. The whim of some 19th century aristocrat who had spent some time in the Middle East. But the middle minaret is just too functional looking. That door is real and the balcony is no mere decoration. Why would anybody go to the trouble, unless it was built for exactly the purpose it seems to have been built for?

Of course I’ve seen the occasional Middle Eastern tourist on the streets of Krakow (and we can guess that he or she is Muslim), even the very occasional hijab, but it never occurred to me that there might be an indigenous historical population of Muslims in Poland; the place is just so overwhelmingly… well, Catholic. I did a little googling. Turns out I was wrong.

A fellow blogger pointed out a YouTube vid the other day entitled “The History of Poland in 10 minutes.” In general it’s a dangerously inane piece of romantic nationalism (complete with stirring militaristic music and pics of chaps getting their heads chopped off), but it does mention a period of Polish history known as the Warsaw Confederacy that I wasn’t aware of before. The key feature of the Warsaw Confederacy was that it guaranteed religious freedom and consequently became the chief place of refuge for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims fleeing persecution and war in the 16th and 17th centuries. I know it’s hard to believe, but there was a time before Radio Maria. I began to wonder if there might have been an historical population of Muslims in Poland; especially in the south and east, so close to the historical and fervently defended border with the aggressive Muslim world of the past.

“Tartars” is the word. The Tartars are a Turkic people who originated somewhere in central Asia and settled all across southern Russia, the Balkans, and Turkey. By the time they arrived in what is now eastern Poland in the 14th century they were Muslims, and they have been there ever since. Poland’s Muslim Tartar’s were heavily involved in many of the nations’ critical moments from wars with the Teutonic Knights to the German invasion of 1939. The current population of Muslim Tartars in Poland is put at somewhere between three and seven thousand. Not a lot, but remarkable that they have survived with their faith intact at all. Here are some images of other Muslim Tartar mosques in Poland. Are there some similarities are am I mad?

The minaret of the Marcani Mosque in central Russia, one of the last surviving Tatar mosques in Russia. The conical roof, the iron balcony, and the spire topped with the crescent are very similar, if a little more ornate, to the Krakow example.

Marcani Minaret

The new Muslim Tartar mosque in Gdansk. Again a very similar roof and balcony.


Ok maybe not this one, but this is the oldest surviving mosque in Poland.

I would love to know more about this building in Krakow.

This is a full view of the building. It’s at the corner of Długa, Pędzichów, and Filipa.


Some interesting links:

History of Tartar Muslims in Poland</a>
Loyal Muslim Tartars in Polish history

The Wikipedia treatment


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