Crimea is one of the most interesting sites in the world. It is really worth a long trip to see the beauty of that Black Sea peninsula, bewitching with its magnificent natural beauty and amazing because of the blending here of cultures and civilizations. Crimea has a long and uniquely interesting history. It offers tourists not only comparatively new palaces and parks, but also remains of ancient towns and ruins of medieval strongholds. There are no literally. "native" inhabitants on Crimean Peninsula. It is the real Babel Tower of nationalities: Russians (over 65%), Ukrainians (approx. 20%), Tatars (10%), Georgians, Jews, Germans, Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Belarusian, and Poles, of course.
For ages Crimea has been a place belonging to all people living on it, but to none of the ethnic groups specifically. Only in 1783, Czarina Catherine II the Great annexed the Crimean Peninsula into the Russian Empire. And in 1954 Nikita Khrushchev granted the whole Crimea land to the Ukrainian Republic-when the USSR existed, only a symbolic gesture, but today, quite unexpectedly, it has become a political reality. Despite the fact that Crimea forms at present a part of the Ukraine, the Russian language is used nearly exclusively all over its area and only plaques on official buildings and railway stations are written in Ukrainian. We came across places named by its own inhabitants in either of three language: Tatar, Ukrainian and Russian.
We chose Evpatoria as our base, a place beautifully located on the sea. The history of this small town is long. Recently it celebrated the 2500th anniversary of its founding. From Evpatoria we set off on our trips all around the peninsula. At seaside promenades, we could find many offers of travel agents organizing well planned and not very expensive trips. We could choose to travel on our own, following the instructions of some good guidebook. One of the more interesting variants of sightseeing in the area is tracing back the travels of Adam Mickiewicz, described in his sonnets. ,,Musts" for every tourist include undoubtedly such places as Yalta, Livadia (former Potockis` palace, later owned by czars, the venue of the notorious Yalta Conference); Alupka (Vorontsov`s palace, Churchill`s residence); Alushta, which enchanted Mickiewicz so much; Bakhchisaray (former Tatar capital of Crimea),Sudak (fortress built by the Genoese) or ancient Theodosia (Kaffa).
Yalta the pearl of Crimean Riviera
We started our tours of Crimea from Yalta which is a charming and cozy resort surrounded by mountains on three sides, the fourth bordering the Black Sea. First written records on Yalta date back to the 12th Century and are found in memoirs of an Arab traveler, Al-ldri-siju. But, of course, nomadic tribes had been coming to the area much earlier. In the 18th Century Catherine II, after incorporating Crimea into the Russian Empire, granted the south coast to Russian nobility and gentry. And it was when the new history of Yalta started, the period of development and transforming the city into a well known and famous worldwide resort.
Impressive and magnificent palaces were built and beautiful tropical parks were established. Modern and smart hotels and restaurants arose as well and the whole infrastructure created for the convenience of visitors to the city.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, Soviet authorities nationalizedall palaces and villas in Yalta in the course of a few weeks.
Throughout Bolshevik rule, Yalta was the most popular resort of the USSR, but holidays there were often an unattainable dream for an average citizen.
The Swallow`s Nest became a symbol of Crimea. It is a palace perched on a high cliff. One of the ancient Greek myths has it that Jason found the Golden Fleece there. The view of the Black Sea, the whole city of Yalta and its surroundings is just breathtaking. Every itinerary surely must include monuments of architecture such as the Orthodox churches of St Joanna the Golden-Mouthed and St. Alexander Nevski, as well as a visit to Chekhov`s house. If you`re-tired, take a cable car up to the highest peak called Aj-Petri (St. Peter`s Mount). There you will find many restaurants and exotic taverns where hospitable Tatars recommend a broad choice of national cuisine dishes and wonderful Crimean wines. If you`re craving for extreme emotions you can go back to Yalta going along roads with breakneck switchbacks (360 degrees) referred to locally as "mother-in-law`s tongues".
A tour around Crimea evokes many associations and memories. Following the winding streets of Yalta we often met Poles, descendants of Polish borderland inhabitants.
The meetings were always moving as here people of Polish descent are much more patriotic than, Poles living in Poland or in the West. They still cherish the Polish language although only their grand- and great grandparents were native Poles. One day, buying fresh figs from an old woman standing in one of Yalta`s streets, I found out that she also was of Polish descent. Spontaneously she recited to us in our native tongue the Our Father and sang a Polish Christmas carol which she had also taught her grandchildren. We bought many more figs than we needed...
Adam Mickiewicz in Bakhchisaray
A visit to that most Tatar city of Crimea is a real ,,must see". You can listen to a muezzin calling the faithful to prayers from a nearby minaret, visit a few mosques, meet local Tatar men, and women hiding their charms under the veil of black garments. Rocks enclosing Bakhchisaray offer a beautiful panorama of the city itself. Remember also to call at a unique ,,czieburiekowa" restaurant, where only one dish is served, namely “czieburieki", i.e. tasty fried dough pockets filled with meat or a mixture of cheeses. Delicious!
In Bakhchisaray go also to the Khan`s Palace built at the beginning of the 16th c. It used to be the residence of the Crimean Khanate until its downfall. The Khanate of Crimea was among the most dangerous enemies of the Polish Kingdom. Tatar raids for ages horrified Poles and hindered the development of the south-eastern borderland of Poland. Tatars forced their way as far as Lvov or Przemysl and they even happened to endanger Silesia and Warsaw. Every reader of the trilogy by Henryk Sienkiewicz and especially of ,,Ogniem i mieczem" (With Fire and Sword) knows very well who Tuhay-bey was. However, only few know that the Khanate was at the same time one of the most faithful allies of Poland. When we were not at war with each other, we joined our forces to attack Moscow. During the Swedish wars, called the Flood, when all allies failed Poland, it was the Khanate that came to our aid. Tatar raids caused so much horror among Swedish troops that it was enough to shout ,,AHa, atta!!!" and they started running away in panic. The Crimean Khanate ceased to exist at the same time as the Polish Kingdom of Two Nations. When one of the allies was too weak to face it, Russia took the opportunity to get even with the other. Towards the end of the 18th Century, the same as Poland, Crimea became a part of the Russian Empire.
Visiting the Khan`s Palace, we were looking among its many fountains for the one most important to us, the Fountain of Tears described in sonnets by both Adam Mickiewicz and Aleksandr Pushkin. Since 1787 it has stood in a beautiful yard and, as stories have it, was built by the despairing Crimean Khan Gi-rey after the death of his famous, beautiful Polish wife, Maria Potocka.
Mysterious people of The Karaites
Two kilometers from Bakhcheseray is the medieval town fashioned in a high cliff, Chufut-Kale. Crimean Khan used that town-stronghold as a prison for captives, e.g., Polish hetmans and envoys who had not given in to his will or had failed to bring a sufficient amount of ,,gi-fts". The town arose in the Middle Ages and was finally deserted only in the 19th Century. The fortress was inhabited by Armenians,
Greeks, the Genoese, Jews, but mainly by Karaites, the only non-Israeli people following the Judaic religion. They recognize the Torah as their Holy Book, but reject commentaries on it, i.e. Talmud. The Karaites are a nation of Turkish descent, speaking the Tatar language and using the Hebrew alphabet. Some historians claim they are descendants of the mysterious Khazars. Under the Nazi occupation, the Karaites to a certain extent escaped persecution by invoking their non-Israeli roots.
While visiting the Karaites` temples in Evpatoria we discovered a plaque on one of nearby houses reading that Adam Mickiewicz was a guest at Karaites` on 27-28th June 1825. From the town mayor we learned that a museum devoted to the Polish poet is to be established on the site.
We were also sightseeing in Sevastopol. It is really a beautiful city, although little known, as under the Soviet rule foreigners were not allowed within its limits. To enter the city you needed a special permit from the KGB. Communists guarded the base of their Black Sea Fleet with special care. Today, on the basis of the negotiated agreement, it is a port for two fleets, one of Russia and the other of the Ukraine.
In a sense Sevastopol will be always associated with Russia, as it was the site of the ancient city of Kherso-nes that later became one of major places for Eastern Christianity, as there SS. Cyril and Methodius (inventors of the Slavonic alphabet) had been spreading the Gospel. The statue of the Kiev duke, Vlodimir, standing on a hill, commemorates his baptismal ceremony, held in 988. It was thanks to his activity that Christianity took root all over Russia.
There were many other interesting towns I do not include in my reports for the time being, but I may describe them in other articles. We have seen nearly all the Crimean peninsula and i really consider it worth visiting to discover the beauty of Crimean Riviera, which easily .competes with the Italian or French ones. Go there .and experience for yourselves the beauty of that charming nook of the world.
Jolanta & Jerzy Gruca Oslo, Norway