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Centre for East European and International Studies
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The Crimean Archipelago
A Multimedia Dossier

Crimean Places

Crimea

Picture © Uliana Stavi

Crimea is a peninsula on the Black Sea. With its steppes in the north, mountains and the subtropical southern coast, the landscape of the peninsula is varied and unforgettably beautiful. Situated at the symbolic intersection between East and West, North and South, Crimea has drawn different ethnic groups to settle here since ancient times, many of whom left an enduring cultural legacy on the peninsula. Toponyms, architecture, archaeological sites, legends, songs and national narratives – often mythological narratives about the history of a nation that the historical record cannot confirm – form a colourful multi-ethnic map of Crimea. Thus, the peninsula is a repository of the desires and aspirations of many peoples, not just the three largest ethnic groups in its present-day population – Russians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars – but also of Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Roma, Bulgarians, Germans and many others.

Yalta

Summer on Crimea’s southern coast: The promenade in Yalta is a popular place for a stroll or to sunbathe / Photo © Marcin Konsek

The epitome of Crimean tourism: the city of Yalta, with its subtropical climate and, of course, its seafront promenade. The combination of 19th century architecture and Soviet infrastructure is a tangible reminder of the importance of tourism in Crimea, and the ways it has changed over time. The seafront promenade is closely associated with Anton Chekhov’s story The Lady with the Dog, published in 1899. The novella tells a story of seduction, love and the fin-de-siècle mood among privileged Russians seeking relaxation.

A monument to Lenin at one end of Yalta’s promenade commemorates the 1920 decree transforming Crimea into a place for the treatment of the working people. After 1991, the old tourism infrastructure collapsed. Holidaymakers stayed away, preferring new and cheaper destinations, despite efforts to keep up the tradition of this cultural landscape with music, street art and light shows on the Yalta promenade on summer evenings. It appears that a wider Russian middle class, rather than the nouveau riche, has been rediscovering Crimea as a tourist resort since Crimea’s 2014 annexation.

Gwendolyn Sasse is the director of the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) in Berlin and a professor of comparative politics at the University of Oxford.

Yevpatoria

Eye-catching architecture on the coast: The orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas is one of the coastal city’s main landmarks / Photo: sovraskin under CC BY 2.0

Eupatoria or Yevpatoriya (Russian: Евпатория, Ukrainian: Євпаторія), Kezlev (Crimean Tatar) or Kerkinitis (Ancient Greek): the city’s multiple names are a reflection of its multi-ethnic history. This same history can be read in the religious architecture here. In the quarter known as Little Jerusalem, Orthodox, Greek and Armenian churches coexist with mosques, synagogues and kenasalar (or kenesalar), houses of prayer of the Karaite Jews, a Tatar-Jewish minority. Yevpatoria is at once a port, an industrial area and spa town famous for the curative properties of its mud. Nikolai Ostrovsky and Vladimir Mayakovsky, iconic writers of socialist literature, spent time here. The latter celebrated Crimea as a “forge of health”, where human beings were swiftly put to rights. He also sympathised with all those who had never been to Yevpatoria.

Henrike Schmidt, a Slavic studies researcher, is a research associate in the project The European Spa as a Transnational Public Space and Social Metaphor

Ayu-Dag

Numerous legends surround Ayu-Dag. Pre-revolutionary postcard with a view of the town of Gursuf and the mountain Aya-Dag / Photo: CatherineByTheSea under CC BY-NC 2.0

The mountain Ayu-Dag ( meaning “bear mountain; “Medved-gora” in Russian) on Crimea’s southern coast is one of several striking landforms in Crimea. There are many legends surrounding it and they are told frequently. In one version, Allah turns a bear to stone after it and its fellow bears disobey his orders to destroy the land. A more romantic version of the tale tells of a maiden who lives amongst the bears but falls in love with a shipwrecked youth. When the two attempt to flee by boat, a bear tries to bring her back to shore by drinking the water. It is turned to stone – either by Allah, as punishment, or, in another variation of the tale, by the maiden’s beautiful voice.

The Ayu-Dag is one of the most impressive examples illustrating how the multi-ethnic identity of the Crimean population (Krymchane) is woven into the fabric of Crimea’s actual and imagined landscape. The numerous Crimean Tatar toponyms and the stories associated with them survived the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, were given new life by the return of many of them after 1991 and are still anchored in the consciousness of the local population today, in the post 2014 period.

Gwendolyn Sasse is the director of the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) in Berlin and a professor of comparative politics at the University of Oxford.

Dzhankoy

“When you go to Sevastopol, Not too far from Simferopol, There’s a little depot there. Why seek your luck elsewhere? It’s a special kind of depot. In Zhankoye, zhan, zhan, zhan…”, from the Yiddish folk song Hej Dshankoj / Video © Bronisliva/YouTube

In the mid-1920s, Jewish settlement projects were the subject of heated debate on the Yiddish-speaking left. The East European Jewish workers’ movement supported such projects, particularly in two places – Zion (Jewish settlement in present-day Israel) and Crimea. Over 80 Jewish agricultural production cooperatives were set up in Crimea. Almost 20,000 Jews lived and worked in them. There were two autonomous Jewish national districts on the peninsula, Fraidorf (1931) and Larindorf (1935). As it had for other peoples over the centuries, with the settlement movement, Crimea became a repository for the aspirations of Eastern European Jews, as the Yiddish folk song Hej Dshankoj testifies. The song extols Dzhankoy, where settlers travelling by rail arrived in the region.

However, its existence as a place of Jewish aspirations lasted less than two decades, before the violent history of the 20th century washed them all away. The Jewish population in Crimea, as elsewhere, was deliberately targeted for destruction during the German occupation.

Jakob Stürmann, doctoral student at the Institute for East European Studies, Freie Universität Berlin

Republic of KaZantip

The festival drew up to 100,000 ravers from various countries each year / Video © KAZANTIP REPUBLIC II/Youtube

The electronic dance music festival KaZantip, originally a side event at a surfing competition, was first held as an independent event in 1997. Year after year, it drew as many as 100,000 ravers, “citizens of the Republic of KaZantip”, answering the siren call of the fictional party republic. The festival owes its name to its unusual venue: for its first two years, it was held in an unfinished nuclear power plant (construction was never completed) in Crimea, south of the Kazantyp headland. Many things came to an end upon the annexation of Crimea though, and the Ukrainian incarnation of KaZantip was one of them. The festival had to be moved to Georgia in 2014 because it could not be held at its pre-annexation venue, the beach front village of Popivka. There followed a three-year interruption, and then, in 2018, KaZantip was revived – but in the Turkish seaside resort of Kremer.

Students of the Department of Eastern European Studies at the University of Hamburg (Seminar of Prof. Monica Rüthers)

Artek

“We are pioneers of our great homeland, always surrounded by the solicitude of the Party.” – On the Warm Sea (1940), Soviet documentary about Artek

The Pioneer camp Artek is synonymous with a happy Soviet childhood. Opened as a camp for preventive tuberculosis care in 1925, in the 1930s Artek was the source of iconic imagery of children in shorts and little white Pioneer caps, against a background of cypresses rising up between white marble stairways, palazzi and the blue waters of the Black Sea. Only the most deserving Pioneers, and the children of the elite, were sent here for a stay of three or six weeks in the summer. In the early 1960s, the camp was expanded into an extensive complex. Dormitories, built along slender lines well-suited to the coastal landscape, meant that a wider circle could enjoy what had once been a privilege of the few; notably, a circle that now included international youth groups. The Soviet children’s paradise would ultimately become an important trophy associated with Crimea’s annexation.

Monica Rüthers, Professor of Eastern European History at the University of Hamburg

Sevastopol

Ivan Aivazovsky, Russian Squadron on the Raid of Sevastopol, 1846

The myth of Sevastopol as the city of Russian glory was born out of the humiliating defeat of the Russian imperial army and navy at the hands of the united British, French and Ottoman forces in the Crimean War of 1853–1856. In 1905, the panorama of “The Siege of Sevastopol” was opened in the city, turning it into one of the holy places of the Russian Empire. The imperial myth that presented the heroism of the multi-ethnic imperial army as a purely Russian heroism survived the Revolution of 1917, and then received an additional boost from the Nazi siege of the city in 1941–1942 and the Cold War rivalry with the West. It became a powerful instrument in advancing Russian claims for Crimea in 2014.

Serhii Plokhii, Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University


Livadia Palace (Yalta)

In February 1945, Livadia Palace became the main venue for the Yalta Conference

In February 1945, the Livadia palace, built in 1911 as the summer residence of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, became the living quarters of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the main venue of the Yalta Conference where he met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. It was there that the three leaders decided on the common strategy against Nazi Germany, agreed that the Soviet Union would enter the war with Japan, argued over the fate of Eastern Europe, and drew up the blueprints for the post-war world order, complete with the voting procedure in the United Nation’s Security Council and the UN membership of two Soviet republics, Ukraine and Belarus, in addition to that of the Soviet Union.

Serhii Plokhii, Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University

Aivazovsky Museum (Feodosia)

Ivan Aivazovsky, The Ninth Wave, 1850

The coast by Yalta, the rocky cliffs at Sudak and, again and again, the open sea viewed from Feodosia, his hometown – the Black Sea was the inspiration for countless paintings by the artist Ivan Aivazovsky over his lifetime. With his monumental work, the painter created a tribute to the ephemeral natural phenomena of the Crimean coast.

The work of Ivan Aivazovsky, born in Feodosia, Crimea, 1817, consists almost entirely of seascapes. Of Armenian descent, Aivazovsky – who some like to call the “Russian Turner” –completed his training at the Art Academy in Saint Petersburg. After extensive travel and international success, he returned to the town of his birth. Settled in ancient times and shaped by its turbulent past under Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule, Feodosia became his home port. Here, Aivazovsky founded his own museum, which is still one of the coastal town’s chief attractions today.

Miriam Leimer, Art historian

White Dacha (Yalta)

Anton Chekhov in the White Dacha, Yalta, 1900 or 1901 / Photo © Anton Chekhov Foundation

Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) and his “The Lady with the Dog” (1898) are the facets of the Crimean myth known throughout the world. The novella contributed substantially to the perception of Crimea as a place that Russians long to be, a perception that gained an international dimension with the 1987 film adaptation with Marcello Mastroianni. However, the story, a subtle depiction of a tragic love in conflict with the social norms, plays out against a purely Russian background. The environment in which Crimeans actually lived is absent or, in the case of the 1960 Soviet film adaptation, serves at most as an exotic background. Chekhov himself spent the last years of his life in Yalta, in the vain hope of curing his tuberculosis. A gathering place for Crimean intellectuals during his lifetime, his house, the “White Dacha”, is now a museum.

Henrike Schmidt, a Slavic studies researcher, is a research associate in the project The European Spa as a Transnational Public Space and Social Metaphor

Sanatorium Mellas (Yalta)

View of the idyllic Sanatorium Mellas / Photo © Henrike Schmidt

Sanatorium Mellas (Greek “silvery”, an allusion to the surrounding mountains) was created in the 1920s on what had been the estate of Count Perovski, a Russian nobleman. The Moorish-style castle still forms the heart of the sanatorium today, together with the historical park, the beach promenade and the mineral spring. After the revolution, the estate was expropriated, and functional buildings were added to accommodate patients and medical facilities. For many years, the sanatorium was in the possession of Moscow’s city government, which sent its senior officials there for the coveted cure (putyovka). In 2012, it was sold to a private company. The eclectic style of Mellas (Russian imperial/Oriental combined with Soviet/functional) embodies the continuities and breaks in Crimea’s history as a spa region. Under the new ownership, the sanatorium specialises in treating sleep disorders, reflecting the shift in patterns of illness: from tuberculosis to burn out.

Henrike Schmidt, a Slavic studies researcher, is a research associate in the project The European Spa as a Transnational Public Space and Social Metaphor

House of the poet (Koktebel)


Painters, poets, esoterics, mystics – they all visited the free spirit Maximilian Voloshin at his house in Koktebel. Painting by Boris Kustodiyev, oil on canvas, 1927 / Photographic reproduction

A few meters from the sea in the coastal town of Koktebel stands the “House of the Poet”, the only group of dachas built here in the late 19th century to have been preserved as originally built. The house belonged to Maximilian Voloshin (1877–1932), a poet, painter, translator, art and literary critic of Russian-Ukrainian-German origin. His home in Koktebel, with its relaxed and inspiring atmosphere, became a mecca for Russia’s literary and artistic elite. Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam and Mikhail Bulgakov are among those who visited Voloshin here. The poet also gave shelter to political refugees of all stripes. He later bequeathed his ship-like villa to the Soviet Writers’ Association. Today, the building is home to the Voloshin Museum, which hosts the Voloshin Poetry Festival every year.

Tatjana Hofmann, researcher in Slavic and literary studies at the University of Zurich

Тsvetaevа Museum (Feodosia)

The Тsvetaeva sisters, Marina and Anastasia, lived in Crimea for a while. Their former home now houses a museum dedicated to the two writers / Photo: © Ihorpa under CC BY-SA 3.0

Marina Тsvetaeva (1892–1941) is considered one of Russia’s greatest female poets. She was also a writer of prose and a translator. In 1905, Tsvetaeva lived in Crimea with her mother and sister Anastasia, initially in Yalta. In 1910, having spent time at health resorts and at university in Western Europe, she met Maximilian Voloshin in Moscow. The poet became her sponsor and mentor, as she recalled in an essay entitled “Zhivoe o zhivom” (“The Living about the Living) in 1932. She visited him at the House of the Poet in Koktebel several times between 1910 and the revolution, episodes she later described as some of her happiest memories. In 1941, having seen her second daughter die of starvation, lived as an exile in Paris and seen her oldest daughter and her husband arrested, Тsvetaeva committed suicide in Yelabuga, far from Crimea. In 2009, a Tsvetaeva Museum was opened in Feodosiya.

Tatjana Hofmann, researcher in Slavic and literary studies at the University of Zurich

The fountain of Bakhchisarai

A bust of Pushkin gazes at the fountain of Bakhchisarai, to which the poet erected a literary monument

In 1820, a sentimental legend inspired a young Alexander Pushkin to write the poem The Fountain of Bakhchisaray (“Бахчисарайский фонтан”), a tale of longing, unrequited love and jealousy in a dramatic love triangle entangling the khan and two rival women: Maria, a Polish captive and Zarem, the Khan’s passionate ex-favourite. Pushkin’s depiction of the self-contained world of the palace and harem gives literary form to (male) fantasies of European Romanticism, which centre around passions, socio-cultural otherness and the magic of the South. Even now, visitors flock to Bakhchisarai, drawn by its reputation as the most romantic place in Crimea, for which it has Pushkin to thank.

Angela Huber, Slawistin und Literaturwissenschaftlerin an der Universität Potsdam

Mangup

Ruins on the Mangup tableland: traces of a turbulent settlement history

The mighty tableland of Mangup was once the centre of Gothia, the land of the Goths. Emperor Justinian I (527-565) had a fortress built on the plateau. The Gothic tribes living in the area had close, though not always conflict-free, relations with the nearby Byzantine city of Chersonesus. Scholars do not agree on whether the plateau still belonged to Byzantium in the eighth century; at the time, semi-nomadic Khazar people were an influential force in Crimea, but just how influential they were is still under debate. The influence of Mangup declined in the second half of the ninth century, but the bishopric established there in the early eighth century remained active as late as the 18th century. Mangup was besieged and destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th and the 14th century and fell into Ottoman hands in 1475.

Stefan Albrecht, researcher in East European history at University Mainz

Sudak

Did ancestors of the Bulgarians once settle on the site of the famous Genoese fortress at Sudak? Probably not, but the site has its place in the Bulgarian national myth nonetheless / Photo © Dar Weter under CC BY-SA 3.0

Crimea plays an indelible part in the Bulgarian national myth, despite the fact that the earliest Bulgarian settlements there did not appear until the early 19th century. For instance, the Bulgarian national narrative says that it was proto-Bulgarians who established the fortress at Sudak/Sudgeya, although there is no evidence for this in the historical record. The Proto-Bulgarians were Turkic-speaking nomadic populations who moved westwards out of Central Asia, advancing as far as Crimea. Precisely where they originated or whom they were descended from has not been clearly established. Led by Khan Kubrat (605-665), they founded the kingdom known as (Old) Great Bulgaria, Magna Bulgaria in the Byzantine sources. The charismatic figure of Khan Kubrat plays a major role in the cultural memory of Bulgarians, one with great significance for ethnic Bulgarians living in Ukraine – even though it was not Kubrat but his son Asparukh who led the Turkic-speaking proto-Bulgarians into the Danube region and formed an alliance with the Slavic tribes there.

Iskra Schwarcz, Assistant Professor of Eastern European History at the University of Vienna

Kishlav (Kurskoe)

Ethnic Bulgarians established their first settlements in Crimea in the early 19th century, including the town now known as Kurskoe

Founded in first part of the 19th century, Kishlav (now Kurskoe), like Staryi Kryim (Eski Qirim), is one of the earliest Bulgarian settlements in Crimea. This first wave of immigration was followed by a second (1828-29) and a third wave of ethnic Bulgarians arrived after the Crimean War, settling in Kerch, Koktebel and elsewhere. The 1939 census recorded the largest population (15,300) of ethnic Bulgarians in Crimea. During the mass deportations of non-Russian ethnic groups in the summer of 1944, nearly all of the ethnic Bulgarians in Crimea were resettled in Siberia or Central Asia. About a sixth of them returned in 1988 or thereafter. They set up their own cultural associations and were able to publish newspapers and run their own television programme. The majority of them now live in Simferopol, Kerch and Sevastopol. A majority of the ethnic Bulgarians in Crimea supported the annexation. Ivan Abazher, who represents the Republic of Crimea as a member of the Civil Chamber of the Russian Federation, is an ethnic Bulgarian.

Iskra Schwarcz, Assistant Professor of Eastern European History at the University of Vienna

Ozbek Han Mosque (Staryi Kryim)

One of the central places in Crimean Tatar history: The Uzbek-Chan Mosque in Staryi Kryim / Photo: Piotr Matyga under CC BY-SA 4.0

Ozbek Han Mosque in the town of Staryi Kryim is the oldest mosque on the peninsula. The mosque was built in 1314 and had a medrese or educational institution associated with it.

The mosque is especially significant because its founder, Khan Ozbek (1283–1341), was the one who introduced Islam as the state religion of the Crimean Khanate. This was crucial in the ethnogenesis of the Crimean Tatars, who had previously seen themselves as entirely separate clans. In other words, Khan Ozbek’s decision provided the basis for a Crimean Tatar collective identity.

“Staryi Kryim”, or “Old Crimea”, served as the capital of the Crimean khans until the 16th century, when the capital was moved to Bakhchisarai. The town continues to be noted for its picturesque beauty today.

Greta Uehling, anthropologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Khan’s Palace (Bakhchisarai)

Once the centre of the Crimean Khanate’s power, now a unique architectural monument: The Khan’s Palace is one of the most famous sights of Bakhchisarai / Photo: Fluid70 under CC BY-SA 3.0

Constructed in the 16th century, this khan’s palace is a walled enclosure containing a mosque, living quarters for the khans, harem, gardens, fountains, and a cemetery. The architecture reflects Ottoman, Persian, and Italian influences.

The compound was initiated by Khan Haji Giray, who aimed to consolidate his power by moving his residence from Solkhat to the southwestern part of Crimea, specifically Chufut Kale. Chufut Kale is the name of a bluff sheltering the valley of Bakhchysarai that provides natural protection to the complex and the town. The complex is believed to have escaped the destruction that was the fate of many historical landmarks in Crimea in the wake of its annexation by Russia at the end of the eighteenth century due to the presence of the Fountain of Tears here. The fountain was envisioned by a khan who was grieving the death of his most beloved wife. He ordered the construction of a fountain adorned with flowers (made of marble) that would “weep” as he did.

Behind the palace is a cemetery for the khans where thirteen Crimean khans are buried. The tombstones pictured here reveal the gender and status of the person underneath. The cemetery has been vandalized periodically. Outside the cemetery are two palace baths with domed roofs, architectural monuments that have survived without alteration since the 15th  century.

Greta Uehling, anthropologist at the University of Michigan

Zincirli Madrasa (Bakhchysarai)

Founded in 1500, the medrese in Bakhchysarai is considered to belong to the core cultural heritage of Crimea / Photo: Ira5567 under CC BY-SA 3.0

Zincirli Madrasa is in the town of Bakhchysarai. Madrasa is the Arabic word for “educational institution”. This madrasa has the distinction of being the second institution of higher learning established in Eastern Europe. Built in 1500, Zhindjili takes its name from a word meaning steel chain.

For many, three sections of the chain that meet in the centre symbolize the coexistence of three religions – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – in one place. After all, there were ancient Jewish and Christian communities cohabitating in close proximity peacefully. The chain, which hung across the entrance door so that people had to bow their heads in order to enter, also signified devotion to God.

Greta Uehling, anthropologist at the University of Michigan

Juma-Jami Mosque (Yevpatoria)

Built in 1552, the Juma-Jami Mosque is the largest Islamic house of worship in Crimea / Photo: Neovitaha777 under CC BY-SA 4.0

If Ozbek Han mosque is the oldest, Juma-Jami is, for now at least, the largest mosque in Crimea. The mosque was founded in Yevpatoria by Khan Devlet I Girey in 1552. An architect from Istanbul was commissioned to oversee its construction, and the Ottoman influences are evident. The mosque is distinctive in part because it has not one but twelve domes arranged around a central dome, giving the structure a very open feeling in the interior.The words “Juma-Jami” mean “Friday Mosque.” One of the most important activities that took place here was ordination of the khans who ruled the Crimean Khanate, which controlled a territory much larger than that of present-day Crimea for several centuries

During the Soviet period, the structure was converted into the Museum of Religions and Atheism for ideological reasons. The building fell into disrepair but has since been restored.

Greta Uehling, anthropologist at the University of Michigan

Ak-Kaya (Belogorsk)

Ak Kaya, the White Rock: symbol and former gathering place of the Crimean Tatars / Photo © Seitmemetoff under CC BY-SA 3.0

Ak Kaya is a stunning white cliff in the Belogorsk region of Crimea. The cliff provides a natural landmark that figures in the legends of the Crimean Tatar people. In addition to the legends, the cliff has political and cultural significance because the Kurultai (or Qurultay) or Congress of the Crimean Tatar People used to gather here.

A Kurultai is a democratically elected assembly of 250 delegates who are elected for 5 year terms. Its job is to represent the interests of the Crimean Tatar people. It also elects the members of the Mejlis, or highest executive body who serve the people between meetings of the assembly.

An additional layer of significance arises from the fact that imams, intellectuals, and insurgents who refused to cooperate with the Russian authorities were assassinated here during Russian colonization.

Greta Uehling, anthropologist at the University of Michigan

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People (Simferopol)

The Mejlis is the self-governing body of the Crimean Tatars. Until 2014, the Mejlis met in this house in Simferopol / Photo © ShakhFor under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, also known as the Milli Mejlis or Supreme Mejlis is located in the capital city of Simferopol. This mejlis is the highest executive body of the Crimean Tatars and brings to fruition the ideas of the Kurultai. Under the Milli Mejlis, there are 250 smaller, local mejlises that listen to the people’s concerns.

The current Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People was founded in 1991 after the Crimean Tatars had begun repatriating from places of former exile in Central Asia. Ultimately, the Mejlis seeks to promote the well-being of the Crimean Tatar people by mitigating the consequences of the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Soviet state against the Crimean Tatars. .

Russian law enforcement seized the building in 2014 and the organization was banned by the Russian Supreme Court in 2016. During the same period, the Ukrainian government recognized the body. The Ukrainian government has taken steps to protect the institutions by recognizing both the Kurultai and the Mejlis in Ukrainian law.

Greta Uehling, anthropologist at the University of Michigan

Neapolis (Simferopol)

Revealed by archaeological excavation: Neapolis, the capital of the Crimean Scythians / Photo © Dimitri Wankewitsch under CC BY-SA 3.0

The settlement Kermenchik is located within the territory of the modern-day city of Simferopol where the steppe meets the foothills. Since the beginning of the 19th century, it has been thought to have been Neapolis, the capital of the Crimean Scythians, as recorded by the Ancient Greek geographer, Strabo. Pedestals supporting statues with Greek inscriptions were discovered here, carved into the rock of the hillside. An excavation carried out in 1946 unearthed a fortress wall, the ruins of an administrative building and a stone mausoleum containing the remains of Scythian nobility, including King Skilurus. The discovery of a new Greek inscription here in 1999 confirmed the presence of the residency of the later Scythian kings, who themselves had dynastic ties to the Bosporan kings. The archaeological remains of the Southern Palace and mausoleum became part of the national park “Scythian Neapolis” and are open to the public.

Valentina Mordvintseva, archaeologist at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow

Memorial for the victims of the holocaust (Simferopol)

“My God, shelter all the dead in the shadow of Thy wings …”. Memorial to the victims of the Shoah in Simferopol / Photo © Klaus Norbert under CC BY-SA 3.0

A memorial near Simferopol commemorates the Jewish men and women murdered at the site during the Holocaust. On 22 June 1941, circa three million German soldiers crossed the border to the Soviet Union; no declaration of war had been issued. By late October, they had conquered large parts of Crimea with the assistance of Romanian soldiers. Evacuations carried out by the Soviet authorities brought part of the population to safety: according to the latest estimates, approximately 25,000–30,000 Jewish residents of Crimea were evacuated. Nearly every member of the Jewish population that remained behind was murdered. Over a period of five days in early December of 1941, approximately 13,000 Sevastopol Jews and 1,500 Krymchakhs were shot dead; another 600 members of the Roma minority also fell victim to the Nazi ideology of annihilation during this massacre. There were mass shootings in other places in Crimea as well.

Jakob Reuster, student of history at Humboldt University, Berlin

Ust-Alma (Palacus)

Archaeological excavation in Ust-Alma yielded important Scythian finds / Photo © Oleksa Haiworonski under CC BY-SA 3.

The Ust-Alminskoe settlement is commonly regarded as historical Palakion, one of the fortresses of King Skilurus mentioned in Greek sources. Situated on the estuary of the Alma River, it is likely to have been an important trading port in ancient times. Discoveries at the necropolis would suggest that this place acquired further significance during the period when Romans occupied Crimea: underground tombs attributed to this period contained large amounts of gold jewellery, bronze Roman crockery and Chinese lacquer boxes – this being, incidentally, the westernmost site where the lattermost have ever been found. After the Goths invaded, the settlement Ust-Alminskoe ceased to exist. However, the elites continued to be interred at the burial grounds of Ust-Alminskoe in Late Antiquity (during the Hunnic period).

Valentina Mordvintseva, archaeologist at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow

Kul-Oba (Kerch)

Vases like this are among the many Scythian gold objects found in Crimea, including at Kul-Oba / Photo © Joanbanjo under CC BY-SA 3.0

Kurgan Kul Oba, situated near modern-day Kerch, was the first royal Scythian burial mound (kurgan) to be excavated in the modern period, on land that had only recently (in the late 18th century) become part of the Russian Empire. Discovered in 1830, the stone tomb, contained the remains of a Scythian king and queen. The grave goods were mainly gold objects of particular artistic value, like jewellery (diadems, earrings, bracelets and more), an array of items from a burial feast (including bronze cauldrons, amphoras with wine and a goblet) and military equipment (a sword in its ceremonial sheath, a helmet, arrow heads). The majority of these items represented symbols of power. Their discovery in Kurgan Kul Oba triggered a flurry of public interest in the Scythians, their burial mounds and art works in what was termed the “animal style”. After the events of 2014, „Scythian gold“ from Crimean museums became the subject of international dispute.

Valentina Mordvintseva, archaeologist at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow

Kotsiubynsky house (Simeiz)

Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, the author of stories collectively known as the Crimean cycle.

From 1892 to 1896, Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky (1864–1913) worked in Moldavia and Crimea in conjunction with the Russian government’s agricultural pest control project. His experiences and the people he met there inspired him to write the stories in his Crimea cycle. The stories, collected in three large volumes, tell of the Crimean Tatars and their culture; a film adaptation of them was released in 2004, as a Crimean Tatar / Ukrainian co-production. They relate to the social and cultural situation in the Crimean Tatar village and in the city of Bakhchisarai, the cultural and political centre of Crimean Tatar life. They also address issues of modernization and the problems this poses for Crimean Tatar culture since the late 19th century in its connection with the society of imperial Russia. At the same time, the project of Crimean Tatar modernization figures as a parallel to contemporary Ukrainian activities in the areas of culture and society, those associated, for example, with language reform or raising the level of education, literacy and the linking of national and social issues. A museum devoted to Kotsiubynsky opened in 2011 in Simeis but was converted to a general city museum in 2015.

Alexander Kratochvil, researcher in Slavic studies at the University of Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder

Gorbachev’s dacha (Foros)

Mikhail Gorbachev spent his holidays at Zarya (Dawn), his dacha in Foros. He was there when the August Coup began in 1991 / photo © Vadim Indeikin under CC BY-Sa 3.0

The town of Foros, on the southern coast of Crimea, traces its name back to an ancient Greek settlement here. Foros served as the country residence of a series of princes in the Russian Empire period until the late 19th century, when a health resort was built here. The town drew the world’s attention during the attempted coup d’état in August of 1991 when Mikhail Gorbachev was detained from 19th to 21st August at Zarya, the dacha on the Foros cape where he had been holidaying when the coup began. This final attempt by the conservative elite to stop Gorbachev’s reform process and the renegotiated union treaty ultimately failed due to the fact that Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Soviet Republic, put himself at the forefront of the protest against the coup. Politically weakened, Gorbachev returned to Moscow where he was unable to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991.

Gwendolyn Sasse is the director of the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) in Berlin and a professor of comparative politics at the University of Oxford.

Simferopol

The Simferopol train station

In the second century BC, a Scythian city was built on the territory of present-day Simferopol. A city bearing the Greek name of Neapolis Skythika still existed here as late as the third century AD. In the early 16th century, the Tatar settlement Aqmescit (also Ak-Metshet) was built here. For a while Aqmescit was the residence of the governor of the Crimean Khanate, which was dependent on the Ottoman Empire at the time. The city bearing today’s Greek-sounding name was founded by Catherine the Great following the Russian Empire’s conquest of Crimea. Simferopol was occupied by the Wehrmacht during World War II. Hitler intended to rename the city Gotenburg in memory of the Gothic tribes who inhabited Crimea long ago. After 1991, Simferopol, like Sevastopol, became a central locus of the Russian-influenced independence movement in Crimea. It was later named the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which was anchored in the Ukrainian Constitution.

Gwendolyn Sasse is the director of the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) in Berlin and a professor of comparative politics at the University of Oxford.

Deportation memorial (Kerch)

Many towns in Crimea have monuments commemorating the deportations of various Crimean peoples in the summer of 1944, such as this one in Kerch / Photo © Visem under CC BY-SA 4.0

Accusations of being unreliable traitors, collaborators and posing a risk to the security of the entire Soviet people led to the deportation of various population groups after the Germans were driven out of Crimea. In Crimea, it was first and foremost the Crimean Tatars, then making up about 25% of the population, who were affected. Isolated instances of collaboration with the Germans had in fact occurred at both supply and military levels; there had even been a Crimean Tatar SS unit. However, the deportation did not only target this minority segment of the Tatar population, but the Crimean Tatar population in its entirety, including soldiers who served in the Red Army and partisans who had actively fought the Germans in Crimea. Between 18th and 20th May 1944, they were loaded onto trains and deported. Eight thousand people lost their lives in the course of the deportation. Shortly thereafter, the ethnic Bulgarian, Greek, Italian and Armenian communities were also “resettled”. In the first years after the resettlement, the extremely primitive housing, disease and a shortage of food resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, again with the Crimean Tatars in the first line of suffering. This remains the core trauma of the Crimean Tatar people to this day. Many places have monuments or plaques commemorating the deportations, and a new central memorial complex is currently being built near the Siren train station near Bakhchisarai.

Jakob Reuster, student of history at Humboldt University, Berlin

Krasnogorskoe (Neusatz)

Postcard with view of “Colony Neusatz”, ca. 1900.

After the 1782 annexation made Crimea part of Russian territory, Catherine II pressed for a Russification and Christianisation of the peninsula, almost 98 percent of whose population was made up of Muslim Crimean Tatars. Many of them emigrated to the Ottoman Empire, and Ukrainians, Armenians, Bulgarians and Russians were settled there in their place. A quarter of a century later, some German families also decided to emigrate to Crimea, many of them winegrowers, farmers and craftsmen from southern Germany and Mennonites from Western Prussia. The tsar, Nicholas I, promised the newcomers land and privileges, such as tax relief and exemption from military service. The first settlements sprang up mainly in the central part of Crimea, for example, Neusatz, present-day Krasnogorskoe. Later, in the Soviet period, two autonomous German districts were created in Crimea: the Bijuk Onlar Rayon (1930) and the Telman (Thälmann) Rayon (1935).

In August of 1941, shortly after the Wehrmacht’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin had almost 53,000 Crimean Germans deported to Kazakhstan, having placed them collectively under suspicion of collaboration. Today there are, once again, about 2500 persons of German descent living in Crimea.

Jakob Reuster, student of history at Humboldt University, Berlin

Koktebel

One of Crimea’s most popular beaches is in Koktebel / Photo © Tiia Monto under CC BY 3.0

Koktebel – a place where “the South” is more a mind-set than a compass point, more the promise of a place adrift in space and time, free from the obligations and constraints of home. For the past 28 years, the sleepy reverie of this town on the south-eastern coast has been overrun by the (sometimes more, sometimes less) booming tourism industry. The alternative travellers drawn here have played no small part in maintaining Koktebel’s claim to the title “artists’ village”, but so too did the free spirits who moved here in Soviet times, who found a way to use the town as an endless source of inspiration. By doing so, they followed the lead of artist Maximilian Voloshin who turned his back on city life to settle here in 1917 and whose poems and paintings contributed substantially to the town’s fame.

Students of the Department of Eastern European Studies at the University of Hamburg (Seminar of Prof. Monica Rüthers)

Ukrainka Museum (Yalta)

Crimea was frequently in the thoughts and works of Lesya Ukrainka, the well-known Ukrainian writer.

Crimea became a second home for the Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka (1871–1913), thanks in part to its mild climate. The writer’s preoccupation with the Orient as a whole was reflected in her early work, and Crimea became a theme and motif in many of her essays and other literary works. She wrote three sonnets about Bakhchisarai, the former capital of the Crimean Khanate; in addition to the beauty of the place, the sonnets deplore the poor condition of Tatar cultural monuments and imperial officials’ ignorance of Crimean Tatar culture. On the whole, the Crimean Tatars and their culture figure in Ukrainka’s writing as an authentic part of Crimea. The author drew on her long and repeated stays in Crimea in her unfinished novel, Ekbal Hanem, which deals with the status of women in a society shaped by Islamic religion and traditions and the attempt to emancipate them. Ukrainka lived in Yalta for two years and other places as well. The museum that was formerly the Ukrainka Museum has been showing an exhibition on Yalta in the 19th century since 2016. u Jalta im 19. Jh.

Alexander Kratochvil, researcher in Slavic studies at the University of Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder

Chersonesus (Sevastopol)

Testimony to the colonising activity of the ancient Greeks: the ruins of Chersonesus / Photo © Dmitry Mottl under CC BY-SA 3.0

A plethora of columns and stone walls mark the site of the ancient city of Chersonesus (also: Chersonesos, Khersones), which was built near present-day Sevastopol by Greek settlers, starting in the sixth century BC. At the site where this city once stood – excavated in 1820 – Crimea is once again revealed to be a repository of the collective memory of Europe. Chersonesus was recognised as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2013. Yet Chersonesus bears another kind of significance as well, thanks to the legend-steeped baptism of Prince Vladimir there in the 10th century, for which no conclusive evidence has been found. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, this means that Russia’s spiritual and cultural roots lie here. At present, visitors can view the millennia-old foundations of the city in an open-air museum. Should Putin’s plans come to fruition, the site – declared one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine as recently as 2007 – might soon become a “Russian Mecca”.

Studierende des Fachbereichs Osteuropastudien der Universität Hamburg (Seminar von Prof. Monica Rüthers)

Do you still miss something?

Picture © Uliana Stavi

We will continue to add new entries detailing this rich and varied cultural landscape on this map of Crimea. If you have researched Crimea and would like to write a new entry, please contact us. Comments of all types are also welcome.

We will continue to add new entries detailing this rich and varied cultural landscape on this map of Crimea. If you have researched Crimea and would like to write a new entry, please contact us. Comments of all types are also welcome.