Located in downtown St Petersburg, creating an oriental atmosphere in the cozy historic centre of the city, the Saint Petersburg Mosque with the capacity to accommodate up to five thousand worshippers, is one of the largest mosques in Europe. Although the Muslims have lived in St Petersburg since the times of Catherine II, the Islamic community of the Imperial capital of Russia substantially increased with the expansion of the country, as new territories joined the Russian Empire.
However, for a long time, they did not have any place for worshipping of their own and by the time the foundation stone of the much needed mosque was laid in 1810, the Muslim community of the then Russian capital exceeded 8,000 people.
The history of the Saint Petersburg Mosque is dated back to 1865, when Selim-Girei Tevkelev was appointed the Mufti of Orenburg. In 1882, he obtained permission, from Minister Count Dmitry Andreyevich Tolstoy, a member of the State Council of Imperial Russia, to build a mosque in St. Petersburg. The Minister in his turn, formed a special committee in 1906, headed by Ahun Ataulla Bayazitov, to proceed in the matter and at the same time, took a drive to collect funds as much as 750,000 rubles within a span of 10 years of the construction of the proposed mosque. Apart from organised collection from all over Russia, the fund was substantially inflated by donations from several sponsors, which included the largest donor, Said Abdoul Ahad, the Emir of Bukhara.
The plot of land for the construction of the mosque, located in the city centre, opposite the Peter and Paul Fortress, the original citadel of the city, founded by Peter the Great in 1703, was purchased with the permission of Emperor Nicholas II, on 3 July 1907.
After that, during the autumn of the same year, the committee approved the commissioning of architect Nikolay Vasiliev and engineer Stepan Krichinsky, along with Alexander von Hohen as the supervisor for the project. The founding stone was laid by Ahun Ataulla Bayazitov, the head of the committee, on 3 February 1910, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reign of Said Abdoul Ahad, the Emir of Bukhara, attended by the government, social and religious figures namely Mohammed Alim Khan, the ambassador of Persia and Ottoman Empire and also Tevkelev, the leader of the Muslims party in the Duma, the Federal Assembly, one of the chambers of the Russian parliament.
Although the opening of the Mosque took place in 1913, the year of the 300th anniversary of the Romanovs, the construction of the huge 147.63 feet (45 m) long and 105 feet (32 m) wide mosque, complete with a couple of 157 feet (48 m) tall minarets and a fascinating blue dome placed at the height of 128 feet (39 m), was completed in 1921.
The design of Saint Petersburg was evidently inspired by the mosques and tombs of Central Asia dating back to the days of the legendary Tamerlane, also known as Timur. While the dome of the mosque in many ways reminds the famous dome of Gur-e-Amir, the Mausoleum of the Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur in Samarkand, the shape and geometrical patterns of the entrance portal resemble the famous Shahi-Zinda Mausoleum, a necropolis in the north-eastern part of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Numerous skilled craftsmen from Central Asia contributed to the construction of the massive Saint Petersburg Mosque. The walls of the building, decorated with rich ornamental paintings, are made of grey granite of rough texture, which makes the building look monumentally and relative to the northern architecture of St. Petersburg, while the portal, the high dome and the minarets are covered with delicate cerulean ceramics of sky blue colour, created by the Russian ceramic artist Peter Kuzmich Vaulin in his workshop. The façade of the mosque is ornamented with verses from the Koran in fanciful Arabic calligraphy and its interior columns, supporting the arches under the dome, are lined with green marble. The centre prayer hall, located on the ground floor is covered wall to wall by huge specially made carpets woven by Central Asian craftsmen and is further embellished with a huge chandelier in the centre. The mihrab, directed towards the holy city of Mecca, is lined with blue ceramics. While the first floor of the mosque is reserved for the ladies, the second floor contains a school, where Arabic and Tatar languages, as well as the basics of Islam, are taught.
In 1940, the service of the Saint Petersburg Mosque was banned by Soviet authorities and the building was turned into a storehouse of medical equipment, which continued till 1956, when at the request of Akhmed Sukarno, the mosque was returned to the Muslim religious community, ten days after he visited the city.