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Crimea Tours

Khan-Saray Palace. The Crimean Tatars

Khan Saray PalaceHistory of the region around the present-day Bakhchisarai since the ancient times has been determined by its location on the border of two great historic and geographical zones: steppe and highland. These two worlds have always been in a closest contact. On the one side of this nventional border — in the steppes and foothills — stretched lands of nomads. After the fall of the Scythian State the Crimean steppes were dominated by the Huns, Khazars, Bulgarians, Pecheneghis, Polovtsy. To the south of the steppes lay a settlement zone of dwellers of mountains and South Coast. Local population was a blend of descendants of varied ethnic groups: Tauri, Greeks, Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, Alans. For all they belonged to different races, most of the mountain dwellers were united by their adherence to the Byzantine cultural circle which, to a considerable degree, was characterized by Christian religion.

From Byzantine to Golden Horde.

But let`s, for a while, come back to the Byzantine period. As Constantinople's grip was weakening, a semi independent principality headin Alan princes who had absorbed Greek religion and culture was formed in the area of the modern town Bakhchisarai. And the whole surrounding territory became known as Alania or the Land of Minor Alans.
In the V—VI centuries, to the south-east of today's Bakhchisarai, fortifications - casties and settlements - appeared. Life of the fortified settlements was tightly woven with Byzantine culture, especially after Christianity came from Byzantine to take place of paganism. Up to now, surviving on forbidding bluffs are remnants of towns-
fortresses: Tepe-Kermen, Mangup-Kale, Eski-Kermen, Kachi-Kalion, already mentioned Chufut-Kale. There are still other medieval fortifications in the vicinity of Bakhchisarai, such as Syuirenskaya fortress, Kyz-Kermen, Bakla.

Establishment of Crimean Khanate.

Today, it is difficult to judge about Kyrk-Or's role in economy, but it certainly was the region's centre of cultural and spiritual life. It housed one of the Crimea's biggest and oldest Moslem cemeteries. The believers thought Melik-Ashter, a follower of Prophet Mohammed was buried there. Three Crimean khans (Mekhmed II Girey, his son Saadet II Girey and grandson Mekhmed III Girey) with other members of khans' family were buried there too. Hadji Girei's son, Mengli I Girey, had farther-reaching plans as compared to those of his father's. His objective was to become the khan of the whole Golden Horde Empire, not only of the Crimea. And he did attain it. In 1502, after a ten-year stubborn struggle, Mengli I Girey defeated the last Horde khan and claimed holding his title of Khakan, khan above khans, from that time on. Thus, the capital of the Crimea, at least, nominally, for some time became the capital of the enormous empire stretching from the Caspian sands to the Urals taiga.
At the turn of the 16th century Mengli I Girey had a new khan's palace - Devlet-Sarai - erected in the settlement of Salachik. And next to it rose buildings characteristic of a metropolitan city: a cathedral mosque, khans' family burial vault, (built over the grave of Hadji Girei) and a religious educational institution Zyndzhirly-Madrasah.

The new capital of the new state  - Bakhchisaray - was founded in 1502 on the banks of small river Churuk-Su. Bakhchisaray was the biggest town in the Crimea in 18th cen.

The Unnexion to Russia.

There was a new turn in the fate of the town in 1783, after the Crimea was annexed to Russia. The Crimea was included into the Russian Empire on the manifesto of Catherine II of April 08, 1783 «On Acceptance of the Crimean peninsula, Taman` and the whole Kuban' area under the Rusian State". In June 1783 in Karasubazar, on the summit of Ak-Kaya Mount, Prince G. Potyomkin administered an oath of allegiance to Russia of the Crimean nobility and representatives of all the layers of Crimean population. The Crimean Khanate ceased to exist. At the and of 1783 in the Crimea there were 1474 villages, and was six hundreed thousands of the population of the Crimea.
In 1787, Russian Empress Catherine II went on a trip to the Crimea and visited Bakhisaray To commemorate the empress's, visit, a so-called Catherine's milestone was installed at the entrance to the Khan's Palace and it can still be seen here. The famous portrait of the empress ascribed to the renowned Russian painter Fyodor Rokotov is in the Art Museum of the palace.

The Bakhchisarai Palace owes its fame not only to the Girey khans' dynasty, but to the Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevitch Pushkin as well. The famous «Fountain of Tears», poetized by Pushkin in his poem «The Bakhchisarai Fountain» is still available in the Khans' Palace. Built by the famous Crimean master craftsman Omer in 1764, the fountain originally was placed by the Dilyare-Bikech's mausoleum, but before Catherine's arrival it was moved to the courtyard to its presentday location. The Bakhchisarai Palace and its Fountain of Tears fascinated many visiting  poets and  painters,  such as Vyazemsky, Zhukovsky, Griboyedov, Mickiewicz.
Besides Catherine the Great, other Russian tzars were also fond of visiting the residence of Crimean Tatars' rulers. Traces of their visits can still be found in the inner yard of the Palace. These are fountains erected in honour of Alexander I who visited Bakhchisarai and to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Tzars Romanovs.

An important part was played by Bakhchisarai in the years of the Crimean (Eastern) War. First, as a matter of fact, it was on Bakhchisarai's land that the first bloody battle of that war — Alma Battle — occurred. Second, during the heroic siege of Sevastopol Bakhchisarai housed hospitals and warehouses of the Russian army. Today, a chapel in the old cemetery where Russian soldiers and officers fallen in that war are buried reminds of those faraway events. In our days, Bakhchisarai has turned into one of the Crimea's biggest tourists' attractions. An amazing blend of different cultures, ancient monuments of Christianity and Islam, inimitable oriental motifs and hospitality of
local people add the city its distinctive, one of a kind charm. The Khans' Palace and Catherine's milestone, Zyndzhirly-Madrasah and Svyato-Uspensky (Assumption) cave monastery, legendary fortress Chufut-Kale and mysterious cave towns — all this is it, the old and always young Garden City.

Sergey Tsarapora private guide

Catherine`s the Great Visit to Bakhchisaray

On May 20, 1787 at 6 p.m. Catherine the Great, Russian empress, reached Bakhchisaray and was put up at the Khan-Saray plalce of the Crimean Girayas dinasty. In the grand ball of the Khan`s Palace there was an inscription in Arabic: "Whatever liars and envious people could say, neigher in Spain, nor in Damask, nor in Istanbul you can find anything alike". Grigory Potemkin said to the empress: "In these chambers a few years ago the worst enemies of Your Empress`s Majesty chained their subjects, and you, the most merciful, in the same chambers shower them with good graces and awards. None of the mortals can be compared to you, the only tsarina in the world".

The next day Catherine II visited Uspensky (the Assumption) cave monastery and Chufut-Kaleh Cave Town, examined the monuments, and attended the Synagogue as well as the house of the Karaite headman. "In the former Crimea`s capital we had dinner in the Khan`s Palace, were served coffe and delighted our ear with music and our eye with the movements of the girls performing Turkish dances", recalled Francisco de Miranda, who was a participant of that expedition from Petersburg to the Crimea.

Sergey Tsarapora private guide


Tales of Dervishes

A dervish, according to the encyclopedia definition, is a «Mohammedan mystic, a Sufi followers. Literally translated from Persian, the word means «beggar». «Sufi» originates from Arabian «suf», that is, wool. Dervishes-Sufis wore rough woolen clothes, led austere life and sought direct communication with God. Some researchers believe that Sufism «has evolved as a result of an impulse received by the Muslims from the Christian monks in the Middle East»
A novice of the Sufi order was to go through several steps of spiritual development. First, he was to recant his sins and not to commit them again, then, he tried to leave out all the thoughts about the «mundane», repudiating his property and suppressing all the «earfhy» desires, and was to think only about God. The next step was reaching a state of ecstasy or «mental rapture» through different methods — from silent contemplation to mystic dancing. A Sufi, who reached the highest steps, did believe that he could see God face to face.
Over several hundred years, the walls of the Yevpatoria tekiye saw secret mysteries of dervishes. Nowadays, there has been created the ethnographic centre «Tekiye-Dervish» there. Even a small piece of the ancient tiling of the tekiye's central dome-shaped structure is believed to possess mystic power and bring good luck. It is not in vain that the monument is very popular with extrasensory individuals, parapsychologists, bioenergy therapists and other followers of the paranormal. They all are sure that the site possesses some «special energy".

In the course of their preachment Sufi teachers often made use of stories known as tales of dervishes. Each of these stories is claimed to have, besides its direct meaning, a secret, hidden, one.

Sergey Tsarapora private guide


While passing through a perfumers' row of shops, a garbage man, all of a sudden, fainted and fell down on the pavement. People from all the shops rushed up to him and started spraying him with fragrant water to bring him to his senses. But he was becoming still worse.
Fortunately, a man was walking by who had been a former garbage man himself. Immediately he realized what the matter was and brought something stinking to the nose of the sufferer. The garbage man recovered at once and exclaimed joyfully:

- «Oh, this is real aroma!»


One dark night, a dervish walking along the road heard a cry for help coming from the bottom of an abandoned dry well.
«Hey, what's up?» shouted the dervish looking into the well.
«You see, I am a linguist», answered a voice. «On finding no road in darkness, I got into this pit and now I cannot get out.»
«Steady, friend, let me come by a ladder and a rope», responded the dervish.
«Just a minute», cried the linguist, «you speak like an illiterate man, furthermore, your pronunciation leaves much to be desired.»
«Well, if words are more important for you than their meaning, you had better stay there where you are now, until I learn how to speak correctly", replied the dervish and continued his way.


Nuri Bey was a thoughtful man held in esteem by everybody. He was married to a woman much younger than he was.

One evening when he returned home earlier than usual, his devoted servant approached him and said:
«Your wife, my lady, behaves fishily. At the moment she is in her room. There is a huge trunk standing in her room which formerly belonged to your grandmother. It is large enough to hold a person. She did not allow me, your old servant and adviser, to look into it.
Nuri entered his wife's room and found her in commotion sitting in front of a massive wooden trunk.
«Would you show me what is there inside this trunk?» asked he.

«Is it all because of the servant's suspicion? You don't trust me?
«Isn't it easier to open the trunk without asking about the cause?»
«I'm afraid it is not possible"

«Is it closed?»
«And where is the key?»
She showed him the key and said:
«Tell the servant to leave and you will get it».
Nuri ordered the servant to go out. The woman handed him the key and left, looking embarrassed.
It was for a long time that Nuri Bey was musing. Then he called four gardeners from among his servants. At night, together they took the trunk to the farthest part of the garden and dug it up without opening it.
And from that time on — not a single word was heard about it.


The Crimean Tatars` Culture

The Crimean Tatars are a Crimea's native nation whose genes have absorbed genes of all the nationalities who lived in the peninsula in the ancient times. Their culture also features traces of the peninsula's rich history. The peninsula's location in the intersection of trading roads of Eurasia has played an important part in the ethno-cultural history of the region. Owing to sea traffic and the Great Silk Road, the Crimea has always been in the centre of the civilized world's cultural and economic life.

In the Crimean Khanate period, the culture of the Crimean Tatars reached its peak. Ornamental art was at its high, presented both in monumental, and individual works of craftsmen. Cities of the Crimea hosted numerous workshops of professional artisans: armourers, jewellers, tanners, weavers, carvers in stone and wood, embroiderers, tinkers, potters and others. Their works were valued not only among the Khanate's nobility, but also abroad. Expensive works of art made by local masters given as generous gifts to foreign diplomats were an important component of the Khans' courtesy.
Loss of statehood in 1783 and subsequent events of the 20th century, that is, World War 1, the Civil War, Stalin's repressions and the deportation produced a devastating effect on crafts and folk arts of the Crimean Tatars. The know-how of masters was dying along with them in foreign lands. Starting from 1990s, after the Crimean Tatars coming back to their native land, thanks to the efforts of artists-enthusiasts, a gradual revival of values and traditions commenced.
In 1994, on the initiative of artist Mamut Churlu, an expedition to Sudak was organized. There, a number of unique samples of traditional carpet weaving and old national ornaments have been discovered. On that stage, a project on traditional weaving revival in the Crimea was developed.
In the summer of 2005, Mamut Churlu organized a seminar devoted to the study of ornamental patterns of the Crimean Tatars' embroidery. The seminar participants, representatives of varied nationalities, studied numerous materials brought by the seminar organizer from the museums of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, field expeditions. This seminar turned out to be a starting point of a larger-scale project «Crimean Style". According to Mamut Churlu, the project initiator, the main goal of the project is: «A study, research into, deciphering of old Crimean Tatars' ornaments, learning their language and reviving them in present day's works». The seminar resulted in the emergence of new works in pottery, metalware, wall painting, batik, leather, embroidery and weaving based on Crimean Tatars' ornaments made by craftsmen trained by the seminar.

Sergey Tsarapora private guide