Crimea. A peninsula in the South of Ukraine. A hot touristic destination – the whole of it! A true geographical, climatic, historic and architectural pearl. You heard of it – the one recently annexed by Russia. Politics aside, here is a glimpse of Crimea.
The ancient city of Bakhchisaray, was founded by a Crimean Khan in 1532, became the capital of then powerful Crimean Khanate and has remained the center of culture and political life of the Crimean Tatars (these guys are the most avid adversaries to the Russian rule over the Crimea and speaking historically, they know best!). The Khan Palace (Wiki here), built in the 16th century, is a magical perfectly preserved (what a surprise!) palace with gardens and surrounding walls, very similar to the more famous Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Step inside and you will find yourself in the World of the Arabic Nights.
But the Khan Palace is not the only diamond in Bakhchisaray treasure chest. An ancient cave monastery is just around the corner and long way up, which is undoubtedly worth walking. The Assumption Monastery of the Caves is a monastery literally carved into the cliff by the monks in the 6th century (some say in the 8th cent), but was abandoned after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The gates with the stairs (that you see in the picture below) and some supporting structures were added in the 15th century. Today, it is a working Orthodox Christian monastery, where sermons are held two times a day in the ancient hall carved within the mountain rock.
And even this is not all what the great city of Bakhchisaray has to offer!
The next Big Thing is a Cave City high in the clouds. A long winding path among shady trees takes one to a sanctuary of history.
Chufut Kale is a fortress city, dating back to as early as the 6th century, though historians still argue on the date (Wiki article here) . So, first there was a tribe of Iranian descent, who came and carved the cliff creating a 3-story multi-apartment complex, with fridges in their kitchens.
Another part of Chufut Kale was built by the Crimean Tatars and the Khanate around the 15th century. There are the remains of a mosque, a mausoleum, the fortification wall around the city.
This is one of kenassas, built by the Karaites [pronounced “ka-ra-ee-ts”], representing still another branch in Chufut Kale history. Karaites are an ethnic group, with origins of great controversy (quote from Wiki article). All controversies aside, the karaites are most welcoming and friendly people with rich folk and crafts and cooking traditions, which are rapidly dying out as there are only about 200 or less karaites remaining in the region…
Now I am going to blow your mind completely – all this is just one spot in the Crimean peninsula, which is filled with natural and men-made treasures on Every. Step. The black sea, the mountains, hidden waterfalls, cave cities, monasteries, mosques and churches. Did I mention vineyards and wine tasting?