The Crimean Tatars

Yalta Travel Blog

 › entry 12 of 15 › view all entries
Dormition Monastery, Crimea
Today we headed out to see the Crimea of the Tatars. The Tatars originate from seven clans of the Golden Horde, who left after Ghengis Khan died and set up summer pastures in the Crimea. Eventually they came to settle permanently in the Crimea. The northern tribes are of Mongol origin, while the southern tribes included components of northern Iranian, Greek, Goth and Germanic peoples. The Tatars are Sunni Muslim peoples, with a very distinct culture from the Russian and Ukrainian majority of the Crimea. There is lots of tension between the Tatars, with resentment from being a minority in their own land, cut out from most of the territory by privatisation. Some Tatars maintain that the Crimea should be ceded back to Turkey, as the original treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1783 (when Russia forced the Ottoman Empire to cede the Crimea) included a proviso that if the Crimea was ever given to a third party ownership would default back to the Ottomans. The Tatars maintain that by Khrushchev gifting the Crimea to the Ukraine, this provision was invoked and they should be allowed to join Turkey.
Chufut-Kale, Crimea
They hold demonstrations on this issue, and land rights, every May 19th (the anniversary of their deportation).


We started by visiting the cave town of Chufut-Kale. This was a well protected town on a stone plateau in the Crimean mountains which had never been taken until the Tatars came along. Legend has it that when the Tatars reached the town they banged kitchenware together for three days straight until the town surrendered from lack of sleep.

Chufut-Kale, Crimea
The town then became a Tatar stronghold, although they later moved the centre from Chufut-Kale to Bakhchysarai. Chufut-Kale means “Jewish Fortress” as the predominant population came to be Karaites (a Jewish sect that only believes in the writings of the Torah and not the subsequent interpretations). The Karaites are only 500 in number in the Crimea, and 2500 in the world. In Israel they consider themselves to be the true Jews, however in the Crimea they were culturally and linguistically Tatar, and successfully petitioned not to be called Jews under the Khanate (for taxation purposes, although it later helped them greatly during the Nazi occupation). They have two synagogues in Chufut-Kale, one built in the 14th century and one in the 18th century.
Chufut-Kale, Crimea
The city is now empty (since the last well failed), but the Karaites from Crimea, Lithuania and Israel still return for special services several times a year. The town also has an old gaol, built into the edges of the plateau, which was built in 1299 by the Tatars as a prison (but when the Tatars moved to Bakhchysarai in 1475 it was converted to a storage room).


Hiking back from Chufut-Kale we saw the Dormition Monastery, founded in the 8th century by Christian icon worshippers fleeing persecution from other Christians who had banned icon worship in 754. We then visited the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysarai, one of the few pre-Russian buildings surviving in the Crimea.

Tatar instruments, the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysarai
The palace was built in 1531 as the capital of the Crimean Tatars under the Ottoman Empire (using Jewish and Armenian builders), however most of the current form was developed in 1787 for the stay of Catherine the Great, and was built to mimic to Topkai Palace in Istanbul (of which it is an inferior and shabby mirror). The Khan was said to be a direct descendent of Ghengis Khan, but actually had relatively little power, with four powerful lords below him and the Ottoman Empire above him. His meeting room, the “Divan Chamber” (Persian for “Council”) included a closed in balcony with wooden grating, so that he could listen in to meetings he wasn’t at (or could get unknown advisors to listen in). We also visited the Summer House, the small palace mosque (16th century) with the Golden Fountain built for ablutions (built in 1733) and the Fountain of Tears. The Fountain of Tears was built in 1764 for the Khan Giray, for a mausoleum for his favourite concubine Diliara Bikech (stabbed by his wife), and later moved in 1784 to the Palace.
Foros Church, Crimea
The fountain drips his tears of sorrow, and was written about by Puskin in his poem “The Bakhchisaray Fountain”. The harem was built with walls 10m high and 3m thick. Originally the rooms only had windows high above eye level (“so only Allah could see their faces”) but extra windows were put in below at eye level for Catherine the Great.


On the way back from Bakhchisaray to Yalta we stopped in at Foros Church, which looks spectacular from a distance, jutting out on a stone ledge from the forest, overlooking the Black Sea coast. The Church was built in 1892 to commemorate the survival of the family of Emperor Alexander III from a train crash in 1888. They were saved by Alexander’s amazing strength (he straightened horse shoes for fun) in keeping the carriage from collapsing while they escaped.


On our last evening in Yalta we had a group dinner on the beach.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Dormition Monastery, Crimea
Dormition Monastery, Crimea
Chufut-Kale, Crimea
Chufut-Kale, Crimea
Chufut-Kale, Crimea
Chufut-Kale, Crimea
Chufut-Kale, Crimea
Chufut-Kale, Crimea
Tatar instruments, the Khan’s Pa…
Tatar instruments, the Khan’s P…
Foros Church, Crimea
Foros Church, Crimea
The Summer Room, the Khan’s Pala…
The Summer Room, the Khan’s Pal…
Foros Church, Crimea
Foros Church, Crimea
Yalta
photo by: Adrian_Liston