Bakhchysarai

In the V-VI centuries on the outskirts of the present-day Bakhchysarai a cave city Kyrk-Or appeared. In the XV century Kyrk-Or became residence of the Crimean Khan Haci I Giray. His son Mengli Giray constructed a new palace Devlet Sarai at the foot of Kyrk-Or. The palace has not made it to nowadays. At the beginning of the XVI century a new Khan palace started being constructed. It was called Bakhchysarai (translated as the “palace in the garden” from the Tatar).

Later this name spread to the city that quickly grew around the palace and became the capital of the Crimean Khanate. In 1532 Khan’s residence was officially moved to the Bakhchysarai Palace. It is also considered to be the year when the city itself was founded.

Khan's Palace

Khan's Palace was built as the capital residence of the Crimean Khanate and a palace for representatives of the Giray dynasty. For centuries Bakhchisarai palace served as the center of political, spiritual, and cultural life of the Crimean Tatars.

Surrounded by mountains with sharp lines of limestone precipices, smooth bends of forest slopes, and orchards, Khan's Palace -- with its majestic mosques, menacing court rooms, hidden harem, fountain of tears (glorified by poets) and sorrowful tombs -- is located in the very heart of the Crimean peninsula, the town of Bakhchisarai.

Khan Palace
Khan's Palace

A vast garden and park zone is adjoined to the Palace. In the days of the Giray dynasty, its area was 12 hectares, although now it is no more than four hectares.

In 1917, the first National Museum of the Crimean Tatars was established in the Khan's Palace.

The palace collection holds more than 100,000 items, including: fabrics, clothes, hammered tableware, wooden items,s and ceramics — everything that the Crimean Tatars used in everyday life. In the museum there are rare books printed in the first typography of the Crimea — the ancient Karaim typography in Chufut-Kale.

Khan Palace
Khan's Palace

The Khan Jami Mosque, built in 1532 by Sahib I Giray, is the most magnificent structure in the Khan's Palace The architectural style of the palace continues traditions of Ottoman architecture of the 16th-17th centuries. The mosque adjoins an old cemetery, whose oldest burial is dated 1592.

The Khan's Palace is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture, which puts the Palace on par with the Alhambra palace complex in Spain and Topkapi in Turkey.

The Monastery of the Dormition

The Monastery of the Dormition is one of the oldest in Crimea and is situated in the most beautiful corner of the peninsula - in the heart of the Mariam-Dere gorge framed with cliffs that rise high into the sky.

The exact date of the cloister's appearance in these lands is unknown. There are dozens of legends - including very fairy - in this regard. Historians incline to the version, according to which, the monastery was founded in the late 8th - early 9th century by Greek monks, who fled to Crimea from Byzantine. The first monks, who came on these lands, carved a temple and caves that served as cells for them in the cliff.

The Monastery of the Dormition
The Monastery of the Dormition

By the early 15th century the cloister numbered several tens of caves already, and a tiny chapel, two houses for pilgrims and several fountains with - as monks believed - healing water were built near the caves.

The Dormition Monastery grew and developed over the next three centuries and turned into the center of the spiritual life for the orthodox residents of Crimea. Moreover, excising side by side with the Khanate capital, it was revered not only among Christians, but also among Muslims. The cloister often received large monetary support from Crimean Khans. But in 1778, when on the decree of the Russian government the majority of the Christians living in Crimea were resettled to the Azov Sea region, the Dormition Monastery became empty.

However, in the middle of the 19th century the monks returned here and the cloister was revived. 50 years later five temples functioned on the Monastery's territory, several brotherhood housings and the house of the father superior were built. During the Crimean War of 1854 - 1855 the military hospital was located in the cells of the monastery; the burials of the killed participants of the defense of Sevastopol can be seen at the ancient cemetery.

The Monastery of the Dormition
The Monastery of the Dormition

In 1921 the Monastery of the Holy Dormition was closed, its property was plundered, and the monks were shot by order of Soviet authorities. It was not until 1993 that the reconstruction of the cloister began: three out of five temples were revived, housings with cells, the house of the father superior, bell tower and the massive stone stairs leading to the monastery were reconstructed.

Nowadays the Dormition Cloister is not only the place of pilgrimage for orthodox believers, but also one of the Bakhchysarai's wonderful sights that rivets tourists' attention and invariably causes admiration.

Chufut-Kale

The renowned Chufut-Kale is located in the Bakhchysarai suburbs and is considered to be its one of the main attractions, equally with Khan palace. In ancient times it was called Kyrk-Or, what meant “forty fortresses”. Today it is called “Judaic city”. The story of this place is much older, than it may seem.

In far XIII century in the fortress lived the most powerful clan of that time. The citizens were busy with agriculture and trade with neighbor countries. At that time the fortress got its name Kyrk-Or. The location and power of the fortress was appreciated and the first khan settled there his residence.

Chufut-Kale
Chufut-Kale

After the Crimean khans’ migration to Bakhchysarai, Chufut-Kale became a citadel of the capital and the place of captives’ imprisonment. In the XVII century tartars left Kyrk-Or and there remained only Karaites. Tartars considered them to be Jews, and renamed the city to Chufut-Kale (Jewish fortress). Chufut-Kale fortress became a home for Karaites for the further two hundred years.

The entrance to the city goes through the south gates Kuchuk-Kapu. Sometimes they are called “secret”, because they are seen only when you are close to them. In some way these gates are a trap. The thing is, that it is possible to come to them only by the right side. As is known, shield was held in a left hand, so coming by this path the enemy was completely unprotected. The citizens used it and poured opponents with arrows from the wall. It was impossible to knock out the gates with a battering ram, because the slope was rather sleep. Even if somebody managed to get there, the enemy got into the narrow passage. In this case citizens should just throw big rocks or pour some boiling water.

Chufut-Kale
Middle defensive wall

One of the Chufut-Kale city’s sights is a well. It is found southwards from the main square and is represented with a reservoir, carved right in the cliff. The approaches are made the way that water always finds itself in the well. Two precipitation tanks are cut nearby. These places are waterless, so water had been brought there from the nearest springs.

There had been also secret deep well on the city territory. During sieges people got water from this well. Later, when the fortress stopped being a military object, the information about the well got lost. The secret knowledge was passed traditionally only by elders and city keepers.

Interesting Facts

The legend of the snakes

There is interesting legend about the origin of Bakhchisaray Palace. Once the son of Khan Mengli Giray went hunting. To hunt turned out to be a good day - he hunted down a lot of foxes, hares and wild goats. Khan's son tired and wanted to be alone. He sent his servants back to the castle and leaped from his horse and sat down on a stump by the Tchuruk-Su river.

Suddenly he heard a rustle. A snake crawled from the bush . It pursued the other one. Mortal combat ensued ... One snake which had been bitten stopped resisting and lifeless hung its head. Suddenly third snake hurry to the battlefield from the thicket. It pounced on the winner - and began a new battle. But Khan's son does not take his eyes off the defeated snake. He thought about his father and of a kind. His family is now like this half-dead snake. Somewhere there is a fight and who will win: Golden Horde or Turks or vice versa? And he and his father did not rise as this snake...

It took some time. The young Khan saw that defeated snake started to move with difficulty and crawled to the water. It reach the river and plunged into it. Defeated snake started move faster and faster. When it crawled ashore - there were no traces of the wounds. Rejoiced the son of Mengli Giray - it was a lucky sign! His Giray family will return its power as same as this snake!

He mounted his horse and rushed into the fortress. He told his father that he saw by the river. They waited for news from the battlefield. Then came the welcome news that the Turks overcame the Tartar Khan Ahmed. At the place where was deadly battle of two snakes the old Khan ordered to build Bakhchisarai palace. The fight between two snakes Khan Girey ordered to palace on coat of arms of the palace. At the gate of the Khan's palace in Bakhchisarai still can look at coat of arms with two fighting snakes.

Fountain of Tears

The main attraction of the Khan's palace in Bakhchisarai is world-famous Fountain of Tears. Its creation is also related to the amazing legend of the love of Khan Krim (Qirim) Giray.

Khan Krim (Qirim) Girey - an outstanding leader and fearless warrior - in his old age fell in love with a beautiful princess named Dilara. This Indian summer love became one of the most important to the Khan that he ever had in his life. But his happiness was short-lived: a beautiful princess prematurely died poisoned by a jealous rival in the harem. Deeply grieved Khan Krim (Qirim) Girey had buried his beloved with the greatest honor and built above her ashes the mausoleum perched at the mausoleum and the fountain. This fountain according to legend was designed to express the painful feelings of Khan (Qirim) Girey about the death of his beloved Dilara.

Legend poetically interprets the symbolism of the fountain: marble flower is like the eye that sheds tears. Tears filled the cup of sorrow of the heart (upper large bowl). Time heals sorrow and she calms down (a couple of smaller bowls). However the memory revives the pain again (the average large bowl). So life goes on - sufferings are replaced by enlightenments and vice versa - as long as people do not end up their way and become close to the threshold of eternity (the spiral symbol of eternity is at the foot of the fountain).

Fountain tears
Fountain of Tears

This is only a interpretation of legend. Master Umer which created this fountain may put into its creation a different meaning. The fountain is decorated with two inscriptions. Upper - the poem the poet Sheikhiy glorifying Khan Krim (Qirim) Giray, the lower the inscription of sutra of the Koran: "In heaven the righteous drink water from a source called Selsebil".

In 1820 during his brief visit to the Khan's palace Alexander Pushkin saw Fountain of Tears. It is noteworthy that from the poet's letters should: Fountain of Tears did not make much impression. Subsequently however Alexander Pushkin creatively reworked his Crimean experiences and wrote his poem "Bakhchisarai Fountain" which was published in 1824 and made Bakhchisarai widest fame.

Under the Tsarist government there were harsh restrictions on where jews could live, what jobs they might take, and so on. The karaim led a campaign to be classified as a Turkic rather than Jewish people, on the not illogical grounds that they spoke a Turkic language. The Tsarist government eventually accepted this argument, and ruled the karaim excempt from these restrictions.

Karaite cemetery Balta Tiymez
Karaite cemetery

Later, the rise of the Nazis made the question reappear, this time rather more urgently. The karaites repeated their success. Already in 1934, the karaite community in Berlin petitioned the Nazis to be exempted from the laws against jews. The relevant Reich agency officially ruled that karaites were not to be considered jews. This was less of a blessing than it might seem, as in the heat of war and genocide, many karaites were mistaken for jews and murdered all the same.

Today, very few are left, and even fewer can speak karaim.

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