What does the Crimea start with? It starts with the sea. Perhaps it was on this narrow junction of sky, land and sea at Chersoneses that this how you see in the photograph came to know the Crimea. As he listens to the humming in the shell it is as though he can hear the murmur and the roar of all the seas and oceans in the world. To him it is a magic tape recorder on which the waters of the earth have left their voice since the beginning of time. Perhaps he can even hear the winds and the waves sweeping Odysseus to this land of the legendary Lystrigones by the furious blowing of Boreas.
As he listens to the shell the boy tries to discern the voice of Greek antiquity: he can see on the high Chersonese coast numerous excavations of settlements of those distant centuries.
Bathed in pink by the morning sun, the white marble columns proudly display their beauty. Further along one sees “corridors” of ancient living quarters, town squares, a mint, churches and mausoleums, and the workshops in which sculptors produced masterpieces of art in ancient times.
During excavations archeologists have discovered many authentic works of art of ancient times devoted to Hercules.
In this way they have also learnt the fate of many ancient Greek works of art during the Byzantine epoch, when Christianity became the state religion in Chersonesus. Many statues of pagan gods and goddesses and sarcophagi with portrayals of them were broken up and the pieces utilised in the building of Christian basilicas.
The architecture of Chersonesus is also interesting. Even today the imposing tower of Zenon is one of the biggest structures from those times in the northern area of the Black Sea Coast, having been built by the population of the town during a war against the Scythians.
For over a hundred years excavations have been in progress on the Chersonesus promontory. The archeologists are anxious to see the never-dying images of long ago, cast in bronze and gold, carved by ingenious tools of the ancient Greek sculptors but so far hidden beneath the dust of ravaged walls, and ruined buildings. Page by page scholars are restoring the time-scattered “stone chronicle” of this ancient city.
Not only the stone but even the sea shells have preserved for us the scarcely discernible but melodious voice of those times that once swept over this ancient yet for ever young land—the times of the Tauri and the Cimmerians, the times of the Scythians, the ruins of whose capital—the Scythian Naples—can be seen even today not far from Simferopol; the times of the Kingdom of the Bosporus which went down in history for the serf uprising headed by Savmak, a Spartacus of the Black Sea coast; the times of the rich merchants of Kaffa and Surozh; the times of the resounding victories of Suvorov and Nakhimov; those times of unparallel bravery displayed by the defenders of Sevastopol during the Second World War.
I have seen shells from the Black Sea even in the yurt of a Kazakh sheep breeder who brought them from here to his steppe home and with them the hum of this fairy-tale land, subdued by the passage of time; I have seen them on the desk of a famous scholar in Moscow; I have seen them in the Far North, amidst the tundra, where they whispered their enchanting tale about the Crimea, land of eternal spring, to the reindeer breeders during the long winter night.
From a distance Sevastopol looks like a snow-white ship with many funnels floating forth with its white stone palaces and deck-like embankments from the numerous little bays cutting into the steep shores, breasting the blue sea and the sky, and reflecting its evening illuminations of many colors in the waters of the Black Sea.
Even as you wander through the streets of Sevastopol you sometimes catch yourself thinking that you are on a ship, a feeling that is heightened by the sight, not infrequent here, of a tall mast, apparently amidst the buildings. At a moment like that it is brought home to you especially vividly that Sevastopol is a port, a sailors’ city with many roads leading forth into the world, beckoning one to go travelling—to far-away seas and countries. Such voyages begin from Kamyshovaya Harbour, where since the war an up-to-date fishing port has developed, and from Grafskaya Quay whose history takes us through pages of Sevastopol’s glorious past.
Famous Russian admirals—Ushakov and Lazarev,
Kornilov and Nakhimov—once walked the quay, and up the steps here walked the hero of Sinop, towards Malakhov Hill, where, after Admiral Kornilov was mortally wounded Nakhimov led the first defense of Sevastopol. Symbolically and significantly, the crowning point of this path into immortality is marked by a flight of stone steps famous throughout the world with its bronze statue of the legendary admiral.
The name of Nakhimov is inseparable from that of Malakhov Hill; they are synonyms of bravery and devotion in the service of one’s country.
Malakhov Hill affords a panoramic view of the first defense position of Sevastopol. In the album we see Admiral Nakhimov, from the bastion, watching the movement of the enemy troops—it is part of the unique work of battle-painting by F. A. Rubo. This work of art helps us to travel back in time: to visit Malakhov Hill as it was on June 6-18, 1855, when the defenders of the city repelled the first general storming of all fortifications by the British and French armies.
According to eyewitnesses that day, the defenders of Sevastopol excelled themselves. Brave men, every one of them, they drove the enemy back, secured victory, and pursued the enemy to their very trenches.
It was only one day out of the 349 that have gone down in history as the First Defense of Sevastopol. For 349 days the Russian character was tested on Sevastopol soil for bravery and staunchness, to the accompaniment of salvoes from their heroic batteries. That Russian character has become the subject of many legends.
During those glorious and grim days of Sevastopol, Leo Tolstoy, then an officer, fought their side by side with the future heroes of his “Tales of Sevastopol”. It is about this blood-drenched land that he wrote, “It is impossible that at the thought that you, too, are in Sevastopol, a certain sense of courage and pride does not fill your heart, and your blood quicken on its course through your veins...”
A memorial bas-relief of Leo Tolstoy is not only a monument to the great Russian writer, it is also a monument to the modest Russian officer Leo Tolstoy who fought as a
volunteer at the fourth bastion, which was considered to be one of the most difficult sectors of the defense line, along with the legendary Malakhov Hill fortifications.
Malakhov Hill has been immortalized both in the pages of Tolstoy’s writings and in granite. On its crest an eternal flame burns—a torch lit on a defense tower in 1958 by Admiral F. S. Oktyabrsky, Hero of Soviet Union, and former commander of Sevastopol Defense Region and Black Sea Fleet in the Second World War. Here, by the eternal flame, newly recruited sailors—who carry forward the military valour of the Black Sea Fleet—take the oath of allegiance.
An unforgettable panorama of present day Sevastopol, which has spread out for many kilometers, is revealed from the parapet of Malakhov Hill. The furthest away is the sea anchorage, seen almost in outline—the area where the defenders of Sevastopol sank naval vessels in an attempt to stop the enemy fleet from penetrating into the harbor.
A monument to the sunken ships in the form of a column surmounted by the figure of an eagle with wings outspread stands on a tiny artificial island.
Take any road from Malakhov Hill, take any street in Sevastopol, any square, any boulevard, and you will find the imprint of the city’s heroic past. You will read on the memorial plaques and monuments the names of the legendary seaman Koshka and Dasha Sevastopolskaya, the seaman Matyushenko, and the first Red Admiral—Lieutenant Schmidt, and also of those who repeated the heroism of their predecessors during the Second World War.
Climb up Sapun Hill and you will see for yourself that this route, though the shortest one, was the most difficult and the only path to besieged Sevastopol. Here you can see the traces of enemy fortifications on the steep slopes of the Hill—like old wounds on a soldier’s body.
Memory... It takes one back again and again to those heroic days when one of the greatest battles in history, the battle of Sevastopol, was fought.
The storming of Sapun lasted nine hours. When one soldier fell another took his place. Companies marched into battle with banners unfurled and in the evening the victorious red standards waved and fluttered on the crest of Sapun.
The way to Sevastopol was cleared!...
During the early days of the liberation of Sevastopol the writer Leonid Sobolev visited the city, and wrote: “This is all that is now left of Sevastopol: the rocks, the sea and the sun—and immortal glory, which will bring these stones back to life.”
Sevastopol is often compared to the phoenix. Twice it arose from fire and ruins even more beautiful than ever—a toiling city, a hero city. A city of heroic people. A city of unforgettable encounters. A city of eternal youth, for the youth of the city are its children, the busiest, the most talented and the most ubiquitous folk on earth.
Here you are bound to meet some small boy on the point of testing a little boat skillfully cut from a piece of paper, perhaps fashioned out of a piece of cardboard or a page torn from a school exercise book.
Children dream about the sea. About the sea, with white horses riding the waves; the stormy sea and brave sailors...
Or simply the sea with sandy beaches where one can laze in the sun and get sunburn, and where there are plenty of water-smoothed pebbles and shells.
The world’s first ever town for children, Artek, was built in Soviet times on the Black Sea coast. It can be said without hesitation that Artek is indeed a children’s paradise.
This Young Pioneers’ city is situated between the sea and the Mount Ayu-dagh at Gursuf. The area takes on an especial fascination when you recall the legend of Ayu-dagh, the Great Bear, which new arrivals at Artek hear from the older hands on the very first day.
Long ago, in olden times, Allah was displeased with the dwellers of the Crimean Coast, and decided to punish them severely. He ordered Great Bear, his fierce avenger, to swim to this land where people seemed to have forgotten his beheasts, and to punish them. As Great Bear was climbing out of the water he stirred up such great waves on the sea that a number of people were drowned and several villages along the coast were swept away. Great Bear set forth into the country, crushing everything in his path, for his enormous paws destroyed everything they touched—forests, herds of animals and entire villages.
In this way, Great Bear reached the beautiful flourishing Partena Valley, and saw that this was the finest spot in the whole of the Crimea and possibly the entire world. The stony heart of the avenger softened. He turned to the sea, soaked his front paws in its cool waters, opened his terrible mouth and drank eagerly and deeply.
Allah urged Great Bear to continue on his way and destroy the beautiful valley. But Great Bear disobeyed his master. So Allah said: “You were my great avenger, now I shall punish you. Remain forever in this place as a lesson to future generations.”
Great Bear became Bear Mountain—Ayu-dagh—and remained forever in this spot. All the villages, remembering that terrible destruction, continued to keep away from Ayu-dagh.
But then one day boys and girls with red scarves round their necks landed by Ayu-dagh and set up a big camp by the very side of Great Bear. This is, of course, the well-known Young Pioneers’ camp of Artek.
That was the legend about Artek. And that was how it actually happened. In June 1925, a camp was set up, on present day reckoning only a small camp—just 30 Young Pioneers were present at the first parade. They lived in canvas tents.
That time involuntarily springs to mind as one sees Artek today. Modern buildings stand in enormous grounds; and even the very word camp sounds outdated for present-day Artek—it is an anachronism, for Artek is actually several camps, each one of which has its own name—Lazurny, Kiparisny, Gorny and so on. And while in the year 1935 a total of 300 children spent their holidays at Artek, in 1964 there were 20,000 Young Pioneers from the USSR and about
1,0 children from 34 different countries. Children live here as in one great friendly family; they get along beautifully together, because even the children from foreign countries speak the same language, the language of friendship. Early in the morning the children are wakened up by a bugle call summoning them to physical exercises. In a noisy chattering crowd they run out of the houses into the open air. Then after breakfast the time is filled with the sea, the beach, the sun, laughter, and the splashing of the waves.
The young pioneers of Artek have plenty of interesting things to do. They get to know one another in study groups where they can build models of ships or rockets; where they write poems or sing the songs of Artek; they contact heroes of the Second World War who were once Young Pioneers at Artek, visit border-guards nearby. And then there are so many gay festivities, sports competitions, amateur talent contests, and meetings with famous people of our country and with guests from abroad.
Artek is a world of its own, a Young Pioneers’ world. It has its own poets and model aircraft builders, sports champion’s singers, and artists. So far, their names have become known only within this Young Pioneers’ republic. But give them time and we are certain to hear their names at international competitions of musicians and singers, at Olympic Games, we shall read their books, we shall travel by planes designed by them. Meanwhile, the children enjoy themselves doing what may later blossom into a full-time occupation. Often the youngsters go climbing Ayu-dagh where, the story goes; a Pioneer bugle was hidden in a crack of a cliff during the Second World War. The fascists failed to discover it, while it continued to sound like an Aeolean harp during stormy weather, giving no rest to the enemy.
Having played their fill, tired with the energetic activities of the day, the children grow quiet towards evening.
It is so good to sit thinking and dreaming to the accompaniment of the constant murmuring of the sea. The camp bugle sounds “Lights Out”. The day is over, now is the time for dreams which are full of wonderful things: the sea, enchanted lands and cities.
Alexander Green, a popular Soviet author, loved the sea and children. He also loved to dream. He was a romantic and a dreamer.
Alexander Green had a rich imagination. He invented a country of his own, populated it with people who were courageous, yet gentle as children. Perhaps because of this we love him still more, Alexander Green, the writer whose creative work was in a way the work of an explorer. But man’s imagination is limited by our knowledge of the world. That is why we recognize the Crimea in Green’s countries, seas and cities. His Liss and Zurbagan resemble Sevastopol. It was the Crimea with its blue sea, the most cheerful sea in the whole world, with its endless strip of sandy beach with cliffs and dense mountain woods that provided the fertile ground on which grew the talent of this unique writer.
As you wander through Sevastopol, walking up and down the steep inclines yellow from the lime soil and bright sunshine, down to the fanciful twists and turns of the bay, passing by the delicate tracery of the palaces through which the salt sea breezes blow unhindered, your mind goes back to Alexander Green.
Wandering along the golden beach at Feodosia, meeting handsome, sunburn people laughing and enjoying themselves, Soviet people inevitably recall Alexander Green.
Alexander Green can truly be considered the bard of this legendary land, and his “Crimson Sails” is looked upon as a symbol of hopes come true.
He always wanted to live in the Crimea and in fact spent nearly all his creative life here. He lived in the small town of Stary Krym (Old Crimea), a mass of orchards and enormous spreading walnut trees, in one of the many small white-washed houses.
Stary Krym is like dozens of other Crimean towns in the midst of the steppe.
Green must have loved the town and the steppe which, with its golden glow of sun-scorched grasses undulating in the fresh breeze blowing from the coast, is so like the sea itself when the feather grass sways and murmurs...
At the very horizon, where the steppe seems to come to a sudden end, the mountain chains rise, clad in pure white morning clouds. The bright dawn colors them so that the mountains look like a caravan of fairy-tale ships setting forth with their crimson sails billowing. As he wandered through the outskirts of the little town Green used to gaze at the steppe and the mountains, dreaming his wonderful dreams.
Here in Stary Krym you realize again and again that Alexander Green’s writings are very necessary to the people, and it is because of that fact that so many of them come to visit his house-museum.
Stary Krym is a town of age-old trees, a town of flowers and tranquility, of ancient relics and picturesque ruins.
After the Crimea had been conquered by a Tatar Khan, Stary Krym became the capital of the Khanate. The ruins of the mosque and the Medresseh of Khan Uzbek and the tombstones of that period remind us of those times.
Not far from the town, in a picturesque spot, tourists can still see an ancient Armenian monastery.
The Crimean Steppe is an ancient and yet young land. In the area where only recently there was nothing but a sea of feather grass undulating in the wind wheat is growing, young orchards are blossoming and new villages are springing. On this land surrounded on three sides by sea, water was in short supply, but now roses bloom here and clusters of grapes hang heavy on the vine.
Dreams come true. The pure waters of the Dnieper now quench the thirst of this somewhat saline earth—the first part of the North Crimean canal is already in use.
This is an important event for the Crimea. More than one generation has dreamed about this water—there were other projects, some involving desalination of the Sea of Azov and others no less daring, and meanwhile those who lived in the mountains used to gather the morning dew because water was worth its weight in gold.
As usual it was the boys who were the first to get used to the canal. From almost the moment it was filled with water you could see them sitting on the banks with rod and line. Today they are to be seen in all kinds of weather, bathing or angling. And of course they are as happy with their canal as are children whose parents take them to the sea for the first time in their lives.
The Crimea has a charm of its own. It is easy to understand why it inspired many generations of Russian writers, painters and poets who created fine lyrical works behind which was deep thought.
On finding himself alone with awe-inspiring nature, Pushkin, impressed by the immobile beauty of the Kara-dagh, the majestic expanse of the evening sea, wrote of poignant memories:
The light of daytime’s orb has faded, The sea’s deep blue is veiled in evening mist. Blow on, blow on, О wind that does my bidding, Sway, sway beneath me, ocean, grim, morose. Far distant shores I see on the horizon, Enchanted regions of a sunny, southern land.
I speed towards it, agitated, longing, Filled with intoxicating memories...
From aboard ship Pushkin saw the strangely-shaped Kara-dagh “gates” which in his time were known as those of the devil. They impressed him deeply and it is not surprising that Pushkinian scholars consider that there is a direct link between the poet’s recollections of his visit to the Crimea and a drawing Pushkin made on the margin of his “Eugene Onegin” manuscript depicting a rocky arch facing the sea and a devil surrounded by cavorting imps and a witch riding a broomstick.
Years have gone by but the Crimea continues to move everyone who sees its beauty even once.
The rebellious poet Adam Mickiewicz who devoted his poetic gift to the struggle for his people’s liberation, stayed here for a short time. Even here he pined for his native Poland and expressed his feelings in musical verses that hailed the future liberation of his country.
The great Ukrainian poet Kotsyubinsky saw his enchanting homeland in the feather grass-covered steppes of the Crimea.
It was here, at the height of his creative ability, that Anton Chekhov wrote his “Lady with a Dog”, and Alexander Kuprin his “The Lystrigones”, “The Garnet Bracelet” and an essay on the uprising on the cruiser Ochakov in which he describes the inhuman reprisals meted out to sailors—an essay for which Kuprin was punished by a ban on visiting the Crimea.
Several centuries earlier the famous Saadi, after visiting the Crimea, had extolled this enchanting country so resembling the Tales of Scheherazade.
The names of many writers are connected with the Crimea: Maxim Gorky, Lesya Ukrainka, and Ivan Bunin, to name a few. And then the painters who worked here—Korovin, Bogayevsky, Krymov, Deineka, and, above all, Aivazovsky.
Ivan Aivazovsky was born and lived in Feodosia in a house on the very edge of the sea. Here he spent his childhood and the years of his maturing as a painter; here his great and inimitable ideas were born, and pictures which still move the world were painted. In the famous Aivazovsky Gallery in Feodosia are assembled all the principal pictures which the artist left his native town. As you move from room to room, from picture to picture, you see the unique and eternal life of the sea—perhaps boiling and raging and dashing against the cliffs; echoing to the roaring of victorious guns; reverberating in a furious, howling wind as in “The Shipwreck” or “The Battle of Chesma”; or quiet and peaceful as in “The Monastery of St George”; now at fever-pitch, poised between calm and storm, as in “By the Lighthouse”.
Aivazovsky’s pictures are full of sounds—they are full of the gentle sounds of a moonlight night, or the thunderous sounds of a storm, of distant subdued beating of waves against a rocky shore.
Here in the gallery looking at the seascapes of Aivazovsky you understand the enormous importance of the sea as a symbol of perpetual movement. To Aivazovsky the sea represented the entire world, the universe as it is reflected with amazing daring in his “ Chaos at the Moment of the Creation”.
I do not know whether perhaps it is a personal impression, but it seems to me that all the canvases of this great sea painter are imbued with the grandeur of the past, the elusive patina of antiquity... This is understandable when one recalls that Aivazovsky was brought up and worked in this land with an immensely rich history and culture. The dramatic passage of time, the dramatic events of life, could not help but be reflected in his paintings.
What rich content there is in his famous “Shipwreck”! Enormous waves are mercilessly carrying the ship to its inevitable destruction on the rocks... In the foreground is a dinghy with some sailors. Two have been flung out by the waves and one still holds to floating wreckage while the second clings to the side of the tossing boat in a last desperate effort. In the distance there is another boat suffering the same fate.
It is not only the sea that is impressive in Aivazovsky’s pictures. It is also the other ocean as yet unconquered—the sky. Look closely at Aivazovsky’s sky, which like the sea, lives on the canvas, ever-changing, now in complicity with the stormy sea, scowling and threatening, now glowing with the gentle hues of sunset.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky loved Aivazovsky’s pictures. Of the elements in Aivazovsky’s paintings, so close to his heart, he wrote: “In his storms there is intoxication, that eternal beauty that strikes the spectator in a real storm...”
The beauty and history of the Crimea are poetry, for the Crimea and poetry are inseparable.
The live, incessant hum of a fishing port, the hoots of fishing fleets starting on their long voyages—perhaps as far as the Indian Ocean; the silvery glistening of fish scales, the murmur of heavy summer foliage, itself not unlike the fish scales; the voices of the sailors; the fishermen’s talk with its salty tang; the creaking of the cranes. All these sounds and voices are the glorious fishermen’s town of Kerch.
The town has no striking architecture, no unity of style or profusion of beautiful legends; it is a hard-working city which is creating its own legend in an unhurried, businesslike way, spelling it out in white foaming letters, the wake left by its well-known fishing fleets on many seas and oceans of the world. And perhaps the legend being created by this tenacious, industrious Kerch is a story more worthy of becoming legend than any other on earth—that of the fishermen and sea-captains.
Kerch is a noisy, very modern fishing port. Kerch is not only a port; it is renowned for its fish curing. And its market is famed along the entire Crimean coast. Here one may buy some seashell of unusual size or shape, a favourite souvenir for anyone in love with the sea. You can also buy sumptuous smoked fish unobtainable anywhere else.
But perhaps Kerch is famous above all for its beautiful glass tableware and stylised figures of birds and animals, which are produced at the local glass works. This is a highly mechanised and automated enterprise, but there is one workshop where everything is done in the traditional way and where the glass blowers make many interesting and original souvenirs.
History has not dealt with Kerch lightly—the town remembers the hurried exit of the White Guards as they fled abroad, the echoing advance of the Red cavalry in the Civil War, the heavy tread of nazi jackboots, and the bursts of the automatic rifles of Soviet avengers in the stone quarries that were their hideouts near Kerch...
Every inch of this land holds memories. Walk into one of these little courtyards full of grapevines and roses next to a vegetable plot or the slate roof of a cool cellar. One of these cellars has turned out to be an unusual one—it is an ancient Scythian burial place, now known as Demeter’s tomb. The ceiling still retains a representation of ancient Greek Goddess Demeter. Its colours are strikingly bright—though experts date it to the first century A. D.! There is a genre scene on the wall, depicting Persiphone, Demeter’s daughter, being carried off by Pluto, God of the Underworld. A number of gold rings and small plaques once used in the ancient Panticapaeum as adornments were found in the tomb.
This is not an isolated case. Interesting ancient objects—cups and plates and amphorae—have been found on many occasions during excavations for the foundations of new buildings.
Kerch is famous for its history which is not surprising as the town stands on the site of Panticapaeum, a city renowned throughout the ancient world.
Its greatness can be judged best by what has been revealed during excavations on Mount Mithradates. A cleared area revealed the bases of mighty columns. Historically and archaeologically another burial mound, the Tsar’s barrow, on the outskirts of Kerch, competes with the dig on Mithradates, and is striking in its beauty and unusual aspect. Especially intriguing is the stone dromos or corridor leading into the Tsar’s barrow, describing concentric circles, ever narrowing, to form an impressive dome under which, according to the legend, was buried one of the most famous Bosporus kings.
After the Kingdom of Bosporus fell, the new town of Korchev became part of the Tmutarakan principality, which went back to the time of Kievan Rus.
The fate of the Church of St John the Baptist, presumed by scholars to have been built in the eighth century, is an interesting one. During the Tartar and, later, Turkish rule it was “masked” as a mosque. Only several centuries later, when repairs were being carried out was it discovered to have been a Christian church. But every cloud has a silver lining, and the Church of St John the Baptist is now famous as being one of the earliest Christian churches to have survived practically intact to our day.
Kerch also retains and cherishes the memory of those who fell defending this land that has been through so much.
There is a cemetery in Kerch where the heroes of Mount Adjimushkai are buried. Here, tombstones stand in ranks like so many soldiers. There are many of them, these heroes, very many, a constant grim reminder to the living.
When our troops left the town in 1941 a partisan garrison continued its unequal and bitter fight against picked nazi troops, in the caves near Kerch.
There, in the stone quarries, were the headquarters of the troops that covered the retreat of our army, as well as hospitals patients and old men, women and children, who could not be evacuated in time.
There was terrible, stubborn fighting for every inch of ground in the underground passages, and this defence of Adjimushkai continued for five and a half months. Only when every possibility had been exhausted did the defenders of the stone quarries abandon their underground fortress and fall to numerically superior forces.
But even after that fighting for the town continued. Day after day the people’s avengers dealt the enemy terrible blows, leaving the enemy no respite day or night until Kerch was liberated.
It is with those days of fighting that Kerch hard-won glory begins. Here are the lines the Soviet poet Ilya Selvinsky wrote about Kerch stone quarries:
Afire with the sacred flame of pure emotion, Inspired by the glorious legend of an earlier day, In closed ranks, generation after generation, You march courageous from your caves into the fray.
Even today you can hear in the Crimea the legend of Kara-dagh— the Black Mountain which was populated since time immemorial by a one-eyed ogre, a Cyclops who devoured people. Perhaps this was the legend recounted by Homer in his famous Odyssey, for it must have come from the Cimmerians about whom we have been able to read so far only in ancient Greek authors. The Cimmerians dwelt at the foot of Kara-dagh a millenium before our era.
The legend tells about the courage of an ordinary man and about his quick wit. The ogre was defeated by a youth and his girl who loved one another with great devotion.
The legend ends with a description which is valid today: “The sea was no longer angry, it lapped caressingly at the steep cliffs and flooded the numerous little coves and caves, its waters murmuring cheerfully.
“People walked about the shore gathering pebbles of all colours and admired the wild beauty of the ogre’s dead kingdom. Whenever any one wanted to hear the voice of the ogre they would step towards two cliffs forming an arch, and shout loudly: ‘Hey ogre!’”
Indeed even today Kara-dagh is famous for its beauty and for the wonderful multy-coloured pebbles one can find at its foot. They are found, after a storm, near the Kara-dagh and, of course, at Serdolik (Cornelian) Bay, which is very popular with everyone who stays at Planerskoye. Here, at a special jewellery stand, you can buy a highly polished or faceted cornelian or a Kara-dagh opal...
Konstantin Paustovsky referred to Kara-dagh as a geological poem. It is difficult to find a better description of this mountain and its fellows. Geologists study this tiny mountainous “country” almost the way archeologists do: not only from the point of view of usefulness of the minerals they find, but also to discover more of the geological history of this part of the world.
The valley in the foothills of Kara-dagh is of great beauty, surrounded as it is by mountains on all sides. Before sunset the mountains acquire a blue tinge. To the east is a crescent-shaped bay broken into by many little headlands, each is beautiful in its own way. The Chameleon Promontory, for example, fully justifies its name : in one day it changes colour innumerable times, ranging from lilac to yellow, then to bluish grey.
In this valley lies resort of Koktebel, or Planerskoye as it is now known. Each to his taste, but those who spend their holidays at Koktebel consider it the most beautiful part of the Crimea. For my taste, Novy Svet, with its beautiful Mount Orel, can successfully compete with Koktebel. I love its majestic cliffs, relic vegetation, the flying spume of the waves amidst the wild conglomeration of rocks, the unique grottoes, so suitable as wine cellars—and after all Novy Svet is the homeland of Soviet champagne. One of the grottoes still retains the remains of a stage on which Fyodor Chaliapin once performed.
From Novy Svet it is just a step to Sudak—the Sukdeya or Surozh of antiquity. The tarmac road runs between living dark walls of trees which arch overhead. Here there is no sky, no space and only somewhere far ahead is a light aperture at the end of the green tunnel. It is like this all the way to Sudak, where you emerge and find yourself in broad valley under the southern, dark blue sky. The first thing you see are the walls of a splendid fortress high above the sea.
This is an old Genoese fortress. In the centre, at the highest point, is the tower popularly known as Maiden’s tower because legend has it that here a daughter of the local ruler used to stand gazing out waiting for her beloved to return from across the sea.
The legend is a very old one, and no one can tell what is true and what is fancy. But somehow you want to believe it —this tale from the time of the first Greek colonists here.
It also tells about Diathant, the treacherous general of King Mithradates, who was accustomed to conquering nations and cities, and suppressing people’s uprisings by bloodshed and sword, and who decided to take the daughter of the ruler of Sukdeya as his wife. He could not conquer the proud heart of the beautiful Greek girl, so he appealed to her father, upon whose orders the girl’s beloved was done to death. Then Diathant thought he could force her to marry him. But the girl scorned her suitor and threw herself from the ramparts to remain eternally faithful to her beloved.
Other legends lead us to Feodosia, the Kaffa of ancient times. There are many legends about this town. However strange it may sound, an old legend asserts that it was here that the notorious Khan Mamai met an inglorious end.
Feodosia has been in existence for 25 centuries. The first reference to it is found in the writings of Herodotus, the Greek historian, who states that the town was built on the land of the stern Cimmerians by the citizens of Miletus, a city in Asia Minor, in the sixth century B.C.
Many historical names and events are connected with this ancient land. Afanasy Nikitin of Tver, the first Russian Vasco da Gama, stopped here on his return from the “travels beyond the three seas”. And the Feodosians are proud that this great Russian explorer once visited their town. It was here that he heard his native tongue spoken after a lengthy period.
It was from Kaffa that he set out on his last journey to his native city of Tver, a journey that cost him his life. In the notes that he left there are lines devoted to this town. He saw Kaffa as a bustling multilingual city of picturesque crowds, customs, and ways which impressed even this experienced and widely travelled Russian merchant.
That was how Kaffa struck a contemporary who thought of it as a new type of Babylon on the Black Sea coast. It was a city of commerce, unusual handicrafts, a city of wealth and fame, of riches and poverty, the merchant city and a slave city.
Centuries passed and Kaffa became Feodosia. And now the people proudly display the sights of the town—among them the grotto, where Alexander Pushkin loved to meditate while he was here, and the Aivazovsky Picture Gallery. They are proud of the heroes who brought fame to their town during the Second World War. They are proud of the new streets, parks and gardens created by themselves.
Here peace and quiet prevail amidst the beech and pine woods of the Crimean reservation, where rare plants and animals flourish. It has prevailed in this place for many centuries. A long time ago this was the territory of the monastery of SS Cosmas and Damian, and later became one of the favourite hunting grounds of the Russian Emperors. Mountain goats were brought here from Daghestan, deer from other parts of the Caucasus, and aurochs from the Belovezhskaya reservation in Byelorussia.
After the Revolution the hunting ground of the tsars was made a reservation. But it was only in 1923 that the reservation received its full legal rights, when on the initiative of Lenin a decree was adopted “On the Crimean State Reservation and Forestry-Biological Station”.
Today the Crimean reservation, with an area of 30,0 hectares, is one of the most interesting reservations in the world.
Some way before you reach the reservation along the road from Alushta a dark blue line of mountains appears on the horizon—as if the waves of the Black Sea had somehow appeared miraculously far inland. You see the outline of the thick woods on the slopes of the Chamny-Burun, of Babuchan—the father of mountains, and the Konyok Mountain Range. Here, on the mountainside, thunder the cold, foaming River Ulu-Uzen and the Golovinsky waterfall.
Its roaring hangs above the heavy moist foliage along the coast and can be heard in the only birch copse in the entire Crimea, on the mountain peak. From here one can see the famous Black Mountain which rises in the very centre of the reservation, or rather its single peak the colour of old silver.
Immediately inside the entrance to the reservation there is a tempting shady green “tunnel”. It is the way to the Kebid-Bogas Pass (“the Narrow Neck”) and on further to the River Alma and the blue mirror-like trout lakes. Here peace envelops you. Peace pervades these thickets of beech trees, where there is not a single tree less than 200 years old; a lonely yew standing at the foot of the mountain as a reminder of the pre-ice age...
The road crosses the central valley and goes up the Chuchelsky Pass. It goes slowly up and up to a height of over one thousand metres above sea level, crossing precipitous gorges and running between the mighty beeches.
At long last you reach the yailas—these are alpine meadows covered with bright tulips, poppies and daisies, now shedding their colourful raiments. Here you might find the rare Crimean edelweiss.
This absorbing journey from one climate to another, from one season to another, takes you through lush forests, thickets of greyish-green juniper bushes, a copse of enormous beech trees whose five-hundred-year-old trunks tower like so many mysterious monuments. In their impenetrable shade it is always cool and dark, and only here and there does one see a faint glow of the sun’s rays.
Among these powerful, mighty trees, the Crimean pine holds its own. A tall tree covered with needles like the feathers of some fabulous birds, it grows on the southern slopes of the reservation near Uch-Kosh gorge. This is the pine which was once used by Genoese merchants for their swift and sturdy boats; the tree whose healing fragrance made it famous throughout the world.
Suddenly in this green pine-scented peace that surrounds a traveller on all sides a faint fleeting patter is heard—and a deer with its splendid crown of antlers crosses the road.
No less beautiful are the roe, of which there are many in Nikitskyaya, Ai-Petri, and other yailas. In summer the roe is covered with fur that is a reddish colour, looking as though it is slightly singed, but in winter the animal is silvery grey, with a white patch round its tail.
Here, too, lives the moufflon, another denizen of the Crimean forest, brought here from Corsica. The animals did not seem to miss their native country for long, but it was more difficult for them to get rid of an age-old habit from Corsican times of seeking refuge from the rain on the mountain summit, where torrents of water could not harm them. Here in the Crimea where grass is soft and luscious, and where there is plenty of beech underbrush with its slightly bitter skin that the moufflons like so much, the animals were threatened by a different kind of danger—snowdrifts. Driven by instinct, the Corsican guests always went up to the highest point came rain or snowstorm.
In the daytime, especially when it is hot, the moufflons keep to the shady spots by the cliffs or under the trees, their characteristic thick reddish fur decorated with round white spots on the flanks and a black stripe down the back, their heavy prominent heads with big twisted horns thrown back.
There are many animals of various kinds here: wild boar from the Ussuri in the Far East, plenty of stone martens and badgers.
ThereJs a great variety of carnivores, herbivores and various birds. Naturally, such a great number of animals requires considerable attention from the staff, from scientific workers down to gamekeepers.
High above the forests here, the mighty eagle, the master of the sky, can be seen sitting proudly on some high rock.
When one leaves the reservation it is not easy to forget this vision of the eagle—motionless, guarding this quiet ancient land.
The road snakes down to the sea, twisting and turning to soften the steep incline. Not far from the highway are the green woods of the famous Nikitsky Botanical Gargens, a veritable gathering of trees from all over the earth, where you can find the strawberry tree, or a gigantic sequoia from Northern America, or a cedar from the Himalayas beside tea bushes from India.
The Botanical Gardens represent not only an extensive collection of plants from all parts of our planet, it is also a green laboratory where selection experts evolve new kinds of fruit trees and grapes, and entirely new, strikingly beautiful flowers.
It is here that now world-famous Bakhchisarai and Ayu-dagh roses were grown, whose fragrance is evocative of the sea and the mountains.
They are fantastic in splendour and beauty, the old palaces of the Crimea scattered all along the coast, with their tall arches, beautifully curved vaults and domes surmounted either with a cross or a crescent.
There is a children’s park in Simferopol where one finds sculptures of various fairy-tale characters: Rusland engaged in combat with a giant’s head—these are characters from Pushkin’s poem “Ruslan and Ludmila”. It is significant that Ruslan “came to life” here in the Crimea. Pushkin wrote his poem before he had ever set eyes on the Crimea, but on reading his poem one sees that all the rooms in the Palace of Chernomor miraculously resemble the notorious and extremely beautiful palace of the Crimean Khans at Bakhchisarai. The castle evoked by the poet’s imagination and the palace which Pushkin hailed later in his poem “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” are remarkably like one another.
A few years later, now in banishment on his estate of Mikhailovskoye, the poet wrote a letter to his friend Delvig full of admiration for this land: “Can you tell me why is it that that sun-drenched coast and Bakchisarai held such unique attraction for me?”
Perhaps Bakhchisarai’s attraction for Pushkin was strengthened by the fact that it was here under the hot sun of the Crimea that he saw the palace which he had seemed to dream about when working on the inspired pages of his “Ruslan”...
The Bakhchisarai Palace, with its numerous vaulted ceilings and labyrinth of passages, its heavy, colourful doors and the fountain, remained the same. This is how Pushkin described it in his “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai”:
Even now the deserted gardens, The empty halls breathe out sweet bliss. The waters play, roses are blushing, Tendrils of the grapevine twining, And gold is gleaming from the walls.
And that is how we see it, set off by the blue enamel of the southern sky; with the clear-cut lines of its minarets, the light carved walls, eerie archways and lace-like grills—the palace which guards its many many secrets in stubborn silence. How many of those secrets, beautiful and terrible, are remembered by the vaults of this palace, how many tragedies did they witness?
There are many legends and tales about the Fountain of Tears by whose side the terrible khans loved to rest, and where their wives and odalisques whiled away the hours in painful recollections of their distant homes. In token of his gratitude for the inspiration and beauty that Pushkin found here he laid two roses, fresh and fragrant, by the fountain before leaving Bakhchisarai. For almost 150 years now those roses remain fresh and sweet-scented—for every morning someone’s loving hands continue to bring new roses which still hold the fragrance of the morning dew and the cool touch of the first rays of the sun. You can see Pushkin’s immortal roses here at all seasons. In this way a poet’s gratitude became the gratitude of the nations.
As for the fountain, it continues to murmur his eternal story in its musical tongue, and its precious drops continue to sparkle in the sun.
It seems that the fountain tells an old legend about Khan Ghirai. When he raided a foreign country the ground burnt beneath the hooves of his horses and fear heralded his approach. He had a handful of wool for his heart—such a heart is closed to everyone. But one day his heart was open to love and it became an ordinary human heart. His beloved Delare pined away and died in his harem. But the Khan could never forget her and remained forever true to her. He called the craftsman Omer and said: “ Make a stone remember my grief, make it cry as my heart cries now.”
Omer answered: “The stone is silent, but as your heart cries the stone will cry too. It will tell people of my grief, for you robbed me of my native country, my family and my honour. No one saw my tears. Now, my tears will be seen by all.”
Omer carved flower petals of marble and the centre of the flower was a man’s eye, where a tear was slowly forming and spilling over. He also fashioned a snail as a mark of doubt of the worth of the Khan’s life.
The fountain continues to shed its tears in the Bakhchisarai Palace; it drops tears day and night, day and night.
Such is the legend which reflects the terrible story of an unhappy life. Most castles and palaces all over the world have legends or stories connected with them, especially in the Crimea, where even the “youngest” of them was built on ancient soil.
Many legends have reached us about the Vorontsov Palace which stands on the coast in Alupka. From afar it resembles a fairy-tale castle on the cliffs, evoking thoughts of those times of the knights, fatal secrets, beautiful ladies and splendid tournaments... Perhaps this air of unreality stems from the faint white mist which hangs over the Palace early in the morning. Actually, Vorontsov Palace was started in 1828 to the design of the English architect Edward Blore for Count M. S. Vorontsov, Governor-General of Novorosiisk Province, and it took 20 years to complete.
The central stairway leading to the sea is decorated with sculptures of lions made in the studio of the Italian sculptor Bonagni.
The fine art of the architect was complimented by difficult, painstaking work on the part of anonymous stonemasons from Vladimir, whose fame in building and decorating buildings with stone carving had spread far and wide.
As one looks at the Crimean coastline from a ship, at the southern part of the Crimea, there is an excellent view of all these palaces which are now sanatoriums and rest homes, guest houses and tourist centres, camping centres and hotels.
The white marble buildings of the Krasny Mayak sanatorium put one in mind of spring and fresh air; they stand by the Diva cliff, and were once known as the Villa Xenia, and the Villa Mechta, built in Moorish style, with a silvery dome.
In the shady gardens surrounding it, children are playing and beautiful girls read books by sparkling fountains. On the sandy beach thousands of people are bathing and tanning in the sun. All these people come here for the sun, the sea, for the sake of their health. Old and young, industrial and agricultural workers, engineers, agronomists, scientists and scholars, artists and students come here, many with vouchers from their trade unions covering all or part of the cost, to spend holidays and take back with them the warmth and the gentle touch of the Black Sea, the southern sun, and many other most pleasant impressions.
As the lazy southern sun slowly sinks behind Ai-Petri, it lights up the cable lift.
Indoors people relax, playing chess, reading, or listening to music. The cool evening air carries the subdued sighing of the sea as one after another the waves keep rolling onto the beach. Even at night the sea calls to those who always love to commune with it in the watchful quiet of the night hours.
The new palaces of the resorts of Gurzuf, Yalta, Gaspra, Koreiz, Alupka, Alushta, Simeiz, and so on, are no less splendid than the old ones. Built for the people, they are known throughout the country. One of the finest on the southern coast is the Ukraina Sanatorium at Miskhor—not only because it is comfortable and its architecture is attractive and fitting for a health resort, but because the old and the new are cleverly merged here, and the parks, the gardens and the green avenues frame it to advantage.
The splendid buildings are not only a credit to the surrounding countryside, they serve man in a most able manner. Beautiful legends and our reality are closely intertwined on the soil of the Crimea.
Soon there will be many more of these wonderful palatial buildings, they will be magnificent, there is no doubt about that, but they will also be up to date.
Imagine for instance, Yalta in the near future. It will have many multistorey buildings, which will constitute an integral
part of the ensemble of this old town. These will be hotels accomodating 600 guests apiece, and also additional buildings for individual sanatoriums. There will be new housing estates, whole new streets. The well-known promenade in Yalta will change: it will be wider, the parapet being replaced by broad steps leading to the sea.
There will be even greater numbers of boats and launches, hydrofoils and hovercrafts, yachts and rowing boats, on the azure surface of the bay. Silver helicopters will compete with regular taxis to serve those who want to move to any point along the coast.
And, of course, the most welcome gift for any visitor to Yalta will be numerous sports facilities and a gigantic sea water swimming pool, and various bases for skin-divers and mountain skiers, though it is a well-known fact that Yalta has hardly ever had snow. Nevertheless, soon one will be able to go to the Ai-Petri plateau for a breath of mountain air and a spot of ski-ing after a swim in the warm sea with the help of the air lift. All kinds of dreams of all kinds of people are being realised here, and it is fitting that tribute should be paid to a man who not only indulged in dreaming, but did everything he could for those of his contemporaries who needed it most here in Yalta. He was Anton Chekhov.
So everyone who comes to Yalta pays a visit to his house museum, which can scarcely be seen from the street for the trees and shrub in the garden, planted by the author himself.
It is difficult to believe today that this enormous Himalayan cedar which Chekhov had planted is still very young, so tall and spreading it is with its thick tent of green needles reaching almost to the sky. The cedar is usually considered the symbol of longevity and eternity. This tree, which Chekhov planted with his own hands, stresses the eternal meaning of the life and work of this great writer. It stands ever green, ever young on the soil which Anton Chekhov loved so dearly.
Our short journey around the Crimea, a short excursion into its history and beauty is coming to an end.
It had taken us from coast to coast, from heroic Sevastopol to the quiet sea front of Alupka. From one mountain path to another, from one historic point to another, even older one, from the pre-revolutionary Crimea to its today, as proclaimed by Vladimir Lenin in the Decree “On the Use of the Crimea as a Resort Area for the Working People”.
What souvenir will you carry away from the Crimea? Perhaps a piece of some ancient bowl found on the sea shore or an unusually large sea shell, or one of those lucky “chicken god” stones; perhaps it will be the address of a friend made here, or the memories of a heart-to-heart talk in some small exotic restaurant at Baidary or Greater Yalta, which stands at a crosroads where travellers meet. These places are like travellers’ clubs where one exchanges the latest news, discusses finds or swaps funny stories; here people learn about new and interesting routes which will take them away to new and wonderful places...
Painters are sure to take with them numerous sketches, studies and drawings providing enough material for a number of years to come. Skin-divers will take with them many photographs of the enchanting underwater world, and will enrich their collections with local sea plants, rare fish, and other sea dwellers. The mountaineers might be lucky enough to take with them a copy of some ancient cliff inscription, or some rare stone, while lovers of history will undoubtedly provide themselves with information about the life and destiny of the ancient dwellers of the Crimea, of the heroic revolutionary past of this part of the country or its activities during the Second World War.
On the other hand, you might leave the Crimea without taking any souvenir with you. Nevertheless, a part of this warm sea, of this glorious Crimean sun, the invigorating breath of the mountain breeze laden with the scent of roses and stocks will remain forever in your memory.
Somewhere deep down you will remain forever a traveller returning from the distant fairy-tale land bringing home stories about the splendid sea, and splendid flowers.
And some time later when the memory of your journey grows dim, you will feel that it has left its imprint on your memory and has made you a dreamer. Every now and then you will think about the blue horizon and with a ship, its funnels smoking, setting out for some distant parts; the moist resilient breeze will brush your face in its travels from the distant shore; you will hear the splash of the waves, for whenever a person sets eyes on the sea he falls in love with it and remains a dreamer all his life.