Catherine the Great named this small mountainous peninsula in the north of the Black Sea “the pearl of the most prominent Russian Imperial Crown”. It remains us to discover together why.
Bathed by the waters of the Black Sea, Crimea is required to be discovered by car: freedom of movement is more than necessary in a land where land forms are changing so fast in front of your eyes.
Whether you’re looking for a vacation spot, be it luxurious or rustic, on the seashore, or you want to follow through pages of amazing history, Crimea has it all. And more than that!
There is no wonder that, over time, the peninsula has fascinated a lot of people, becoming a crossroads of cultures ever since ancient times. Ancient indigenous populations, such as bulls or Scythians were mixed with Greek colonists, Roman or Armenian and the Turkish-Tartar and Slavic conquest added some extra drama and exoticism to the place. Experts estimate that in Crimea there are over 12,000 historical, cultural and architectonic artifacts – ancient Greek ruins, medieval sites Genovese, Armenian, Byzantine, Tatar, Russian palaces of the modern era, all in a natural setting that seems to have been taken out of a beautiful dream.
More than 2,500 years ago, just like in the Romanian region of Dobrogea, the Greeks founded settlements in the north of the Black Sea. Taking advantage of the experience of the Greek settlers, natives (descendants of Scythian and Tauric civilizations) had grown familiar with the trade, crafts and arts.
The most important Greek cities were founded by Panticapaeum (Kersh as it is presently known, situated in the eastern part of Crimea), Kerkinitida (Yevpatoriya) and Crimea (Sevastopol). These cities used to gather houses, temples, theaters and educational centers – all these being documented by the evidence on the peninsula. The best preserved archaeological site located in Chersones impresses by its urban complexity that is revealed by the agora and the temples, the defensive walls and restored amphitheater which today hosts cultural events for tourists.
Located on the outskirts of Sevastopol on a rocky beach, the Greek ruins are embellished with the charm of the sunset and is one of the objectives that the visitors of Crimea must not miss.
The coast rivals in beauty with the famous Cote d’Azur and Spanish Riviera. In the western peninsula, wide beaches with incredibly fine sand are stretching along, while the south and east, the high and sharp cliffs support stunning architectural jewels. As you move toward the center of the peninsula, the relief becomes taller, rocky and drier; waterfalls and canyons in the mountains offers the ideal setting for spending active holidays and for practicing extreme sports.
While the north is a large grain-producing plains (in the seventh century BC the Greek colonists turned the peninsula into the granary of Hellas), the buffer zone between the mountains and the sea is hosting grape-vine terraces, from which famous wines such as Massandra and Inkerman are obtained.
A resting halt
Each path towards Crimea begins and ends at Odessa, the second most important city in the Ukraine and a worthy stop for any traveler. From here, the road accompanies the coast, crossing the Dnieper River and after a few hours away by car, it reaches the “the Crimean Autonomous Republic” border, as the huge billboards will warn you. The name appeared and disappeared from the map of Ukraine and the Soviet Union for several times in the last hundred years.
If we attempt to describe how many things can be seen in Crimea it will exceed by far the space for this entry. But you should not missed at any price Stary Krym or Bakhchisaray at least for their Tatar architecture and gastronomy; also United Yalta, which includes, besides the city itself, the palaces and surrounding areas in Livadia, Alupka and Swallow’s Nest. Also, do not miss Sevastopol for the importance acquired during the Crimean War, the Genoese fortress in Sudak and Balaklava for their elegance and exoticism.
No matter who the rulers have been throughout time, the coastal strip exercised a magnet-like attraction on people, resulting in the construction of ports and trade routes. Beginning with the Bosforian kingdom from from Kersh, in the eastern side of the peninsula and ending with the Greek Evpatoria, the region has been ruled by Muslims and Orthodox, who have founded settlements playing a strategic role in terms of military and commercial purpose.
The Imperfect Present
Modern Crimea is undergoing a cloudy present, as that of most post-communist East. It has just been annexed to Russia after the recent war in Ukraine, after decades of being a part of the latter. Even when it was a part of Ukraine, over 60 percent of residents are of Russian nationality, so the political stability has been very fragile. This situation is even more delicate due to the issue of the Tatars and other ethnic groups who want to return after having been deported during World War II.
But regardless of the political instability, Crimea’s charm hasn’t faded one bit and it will always remain a welcoming touristic spot for visitors worldwide.
Photo source: Picture 1: adonis-crimea.com.ua; Picture 2: memolition.com; Picture 3: miriadna.com; Picture 4: geometria.ru; Picture 5: commons.wikimedia.org; Picture 6: airpano.com; Picture 7: pinterest.com