Chersonesos, the Center of Greece’s Crimean Colonies

The sights and sounds of ancient Greece are alive in Ukraine.

On a bright clear day, you are walk along city walls built in the fourth century B.C. You turn and face an archway reconstructed during medieval times. Passing through it, you are in an agora, or ancient marketplace. The outlines of buildings lost to time are all around you. The smell of wild flowers reaches your nostrils. You hear seagulls call out at sea and see ships heading for the harbor. The ruins of a settlement dating back to the sixth century B.C. surround you. Down a hill you see Corinthian columns denoting an ancient place of worship. But you aren’t near the Mediterranean—you’re near Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine in what was once the heart of the Greek Crimean colonies: Chersonesos.

Diverse History of Occupation
Greek colonists from the southern Black Sea established settlements all along its northern coast in the sixth century B.C. Chersonesos was among the grandest, and its centralized location quickly made it a trade center. Constant raids by the rival Tauri from neighboring Symbolon (now Balaklava) during the Greek-Scythian Wars drove the colony into the protective arms of Mithradates the Great of Pontus (now Turkish Anatolia). At the onset of the first century A.D., Chersonesos was part of the Roman Empire and helped them maintain dominance in the Black Sea. Prosperity lasted through the Byzantine era until the Genoese established control of the Black Sea in the thirteenth century. Chersonesos fell out of favor with the Italian merchants as they adjusted their trade routes to alternative ports. Without external support the inhabitants of Chersonesos suffered punishing attacks from the Golden Horde, invaders from what is now modern Mongolia under the infamous Genghis Khan. By the fifteenth century, the city had been abandoned as the Crimean Khanate state rose to power.

A Walking Tour of the Site
Passing through the city gates, you walk along a tree-lined street. At the end of the street, history opens up before you in the form of the reconstructed Vladimir Cathedral. Monuments to St. Andrew, who is said to have preached here, and Prince Vladimir, credited with the Kievan Rus conversion to Christianity stand nearby. Originally constructed in the Byzantine style in the late 1800s, the church was abandoned by the Soviets and later destroyed by Nazis during World War II. Inside there is a photo display detailing the church’s reconstruction begun in the early years of Ukrainian independence and officially completed in 2004.
Looking down the hill behind the cathedral, you will see the rotunda of the Uvarov Basilica. While the rotunda is new, the underground church dates back to the site’s earliest Christian inhabitants in the sixth century and is perhaps the most historically significant site in the preserve. It was discovered in 1853 and named for its discoverer, Count Aleksei Uvarov. Historians believe it to be the site of Prince Vladimir’s baptism into Christianity in 988, the event that marked the beginnings of the Russian Orthodox Church. To commemorate this date, as well as the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity, a small rotunda was built in 2000.
Walking towards columns in the distance, you pass a large iron bell. Named the Foggy Bell, it was crafted in 1778 from melted-down guns captured from the Turks during the Russo-Turkish Wars. The French claimed it as a spoil of the Crimean War; it was returned to Sevastopol in 1913. When the Soviets closed the cathedral in 1924, the bell was put to use as a sounding beacon for approaching ships.
As you walk along the coastline, the columns distant columns now come sharply into focus. You have arrived at the ruins of the 1935 Basilica. Built in the sixth century B.C., this Greek temple was, at one time, lavishly decorated and some traces of that opulence still exist in the nearby well- preserved mosaics.
Beyond that, nestled among the ruins of ancient wineries, lies the Basilica within a Basilica. A church was originally built on this site in the sixth century, but in the ninth century, it was destroyed by an earthquake. A new basilica was built in the tenth century and remained there until it was destroyed by the Golden Horde in the fourteenth century. What remains reflects an interesting architectural pattern of two very distinct periods.

Getting There
From Sevastopol’s center, catch a minibus to Chersonesos, recognizable by the Russian Херсонес in the minibus’ window. If you’re willing to spend more you can easily travel to and from the site via taxi.

Summer visitors should pack a swimsuit! After a tour of the site’s ancient and medieval wonders, take a refreshing dip in the Black Sea.

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It was this date 66 years ago that the Soviets began their mass deportation of Crimean Tatar from Crimea.

A new study by scholar Otto Pohl hosted with the International Committee for Crimea sheds new light on events that led up to this horrific event.

Highlights as selected by Mrs. Inci Bowman include:

-During April and May 1944, the NKVD arrested nearly 6,000 Crimean Tatars for anti-Soviet activities, amounting to about 3% of the Crimean Tatars then living on the peninsula. Yet, the entire population was
deported without being charged with any crime.

-On 22 April 1944, Beria’s deputies Serov and Kobulov sent a message to Beria, claiming that 20,000 Crimean Tatars had deserted from the Soviet Army in 1941. In fact, this figure (20,000) was the total number of
Crimean Tatars serving in the military at that time. The actual desertions from the Crimean ASSR by all nationalities during the years 1941-1944 was only 479.

-On 10 May 1944, Beria sent a letter to Stalin, not only accusing the Crimean Tatars of desertion but adding that these 20,000 men had joined the German forces and fought against the Soviet Army. (p.2) The German
records show that 9,225 Crimean Tatars served in the Nazi battalions, revealing a figure less than 1% of about 1.3 million Soviet citizens who served with the Germans.

On this anniversary, say a prayer for those who lost family and friends due to the events of May 18, 1944. Lives continue to be effected as Crimean Tatar struggle to return home and adjust to life in Ukraine.

Fridays with Inci

Today I met with Mrs Inci Bowman of the International Congress for Crimea. A Crimean Tatar woman born in Istanbul, she is an amazing woman. Her hospitality swept me back to Ukraine and the hospitality of a Tatar household. We spent the afternoon talking about Crimea, Tatar issues and walking around the Library of Congress.

The visit with her made my trip to DC worthwhile.