Kertsch, a seaport town of the Crimea, occupies the site of the ancient Panticapaeum, on a tongue of land forming a peninsula of the same name on the strait of Enikaleh, connecting the sea of Azov with the Euxine, one hundred and thirty miles east-northeast of Simferopol. It is regularly and beautifully built, chiefly of stone obtained from the fine quarries of the neighborhood, and possesses great natural advantages for commerce. In 1827, it was declared a free port, and an extensive lazaretto was built, at which all the vessels coming by the Black sea perform quarantine. The number of vessels which touch at it in passing out of the sea of Azov averages four hundred annually, and the number of coasting-vessels is from five to six hundred. The greater part of the inhabitants are employed in commerce. It exports building-stone, and large quantities of salt, obtained from the neighboring lakes ; and its herring and sturgeon fisheries are very productive.
The ancient town of Panticapaeum was the residence and reputed burial-place of Mithridates, king of Pontus. A mound in the vicinity is said to be the tomb of that formidable and inveterate enemy of Rome; but this is contradicted by the most authentic accounts, which represent Mithridates as having been buried, by order of Pompey, in the sepulchre of his ancestors at Sinope. The modern town of Kertsch is of very recent existence, and has risen up as if by magic; and, by its increase, has prejudicially affected some of the other ports. Its population is about twelve thousand.
Caffa, or Feodosia (the ancient Theodosia), is another seaport town, situated at the western angle of a magnificent bay in the southeast of the Crimea. It is walled and well fortified, and contains numerous public buildings, of which the most worthy of notice are the three churches — a Greek, Roman catholic, and Armenian ; two mosques, a spacious and commodious quarantine, and a college, founded by the emperor Alexander, chiefly for gratuitous instruction in the modern languages. There is also a botanical garden, and a museum, which is rich in the antiquities of the neighborhood. The site and excellent harbor of Caffa would seem to mark it out as a place of great trade, but it has formidable competitors in Odessa and Kertsch, and does not seem destined to recover its lost importance.
Caffa is a place of great antiquity, having been founded by a colony of Greeks from Ionia, in Asia Minor. It received its name of Theodosia from the wife of Leucon, king of the Bosphorus, who took it after a long siege, and soon made it a place of great importance. In the middle ages it passed into the hands of the Genoese, by purchase from the khans of the Crimea, and became the seat of an extensive commerce with the East, by the way of the Caspian and Astrakhan. At this time it is said to have had a population of eighty thousand; but, having been taken by the Turks in 1474, its prosperity rapidly declined. Much has been done for it since it came into the possession of Russia, and it is still one of the most important towns in the Crimea, but its population probably does not exceed eight or ten thousand.
Baktchiserai (the "Seraglio of Gardens'')is one of the most remarkable towns in Europe. It is situated on the Djurouk-Su, about fifteen miles southwest of Simferopol. It is the capital in which the khans or Tartar sovereigns of the Tauridian peninsula long held sway, as deputies or tributaries of Turkey, before Russia established herself in the Crimea. Baktchiserai is a place of great interest, both historical and local. The Tartar impress is still strong upon it. It stands at the bottom of a narrow valley, hemmed in by precipitous rocks, and watered by a small rivulet, by no means of the most limpid appearance, and consists almost entirely of a single street, built along the side of this rivulet, and lined with bazars and workshops, in which the Tartar toils, in primitive simplicity, in the production of articles of the very same form and quality as furnished by his forefathers two centuries ago ! The town contains several mosques, which are usually embosomed among trees, and whose min arets rise high above the houses, and is adorned with numerous fountains. The number of houses in the town exceeds two thousand, inhabited by about ten thousand persons—the majority of Tartar blood, the rest Russians, Greeks, Armenians, and Jews. The Karaite Jews, a peculiar section of that people, carry on a considerable trade in common stuff-goods, mercery, and colonial produce.
The main street above alluded to is nearly a mile long, and so narrow that two carts can scarcely pass. Fortunately this is a contingency which does not often arise; and the busy throng that traverses it, which consists almost entirely of Tartars, Karaite Jews, and gipsies, is extremely inconvenienced by the appearance of a wheeled vehicle at all. In mixing with this nondescript populace, Oliphant remarks that his attention was divided between the variety of feature and costume which it exhibited, and the wonderful display of goods exposed for sale in the open shops. These are devoid of any front wall, and are closed at night by the wooden shutters which in the daytime form a sort of counter. Upon this the owner sits cross-legged, earnestly engaged in the manufacture of the article he sells, and only allowing himself to be distracted from his occupation by the arrival of a customer.
From the manner in which these shops are arranged, the members of each craft would seem to be collected into divisions specially appropriated to them. Thus, immediately on leaving the khan, or Tartar inn, and turning up the principal street toward the palace, a bazar is passed in which sheepskin-caps are fabricated. Beyond these come the workers in leather, encompassed by piles of saddles, richly-embroidered belts, tobacco-pouches, and absurd-looking whips, with a large, flat piece of leather at the end of the lash, and a knife concealed in the handle, like the one in the accompanying engraving. Opposite are slipper-makers and tailors ; while the cutlers occupy a great extent of territory, and are famed for the excellent Tartar knives which they manufacture.
"We were so long moving about from one set of these affable shopkeepers to another," says Oliphant, "that it was late in the day before I began to wonder whether we were never coming to a food-quarter. Hitherto, since leaving Sevastapol, we had feasted our eyes only, while our guide had subsisted entirely on pipes. Upon his now suggesting that we should go to a cook-shop, we willingly proceeded in search of one ; and were attracted, by sundry whiffs redolent of mutton, to a large corner-house, whence arose a cloud of fragrant steam. Here a number of people were standing in the open street, diving into huge, projecting caldrons of soup, whence they extracted square pieces of fat, which they devoured with great relish while strolling about among the crowd. Not entirely approving of this al-fresco mode of dining, and fearing that we might stand a chance of being run over while discussing an interesting-morsel, we were glad to discover that it was not necessary to present a ticket of admission to a Batchiserai soup-kitchen : so we entered, and seated ourselves on a narrow bench, behind a very filthy plank intended to serve as a festive-board. Being fully exposed to the street, we were in a most convenient position for the loungers in it to satisfy their curiosity regarding us, and accordingly we were mutually edified by staring at one another.
"Our attention, however, was soon diverted to the head-cook, who brought us a boiled sheep's head in one hand, while with the other he attempted to catch the gravy that trickled through his fingers upon a loaf of black bread. These he set down before us on the cleanest part of the plank we could pick out, and evidently considered that our every want was supplied. We forthwith proceeded with our penknives to discuss the sheep's head, which seemed to have been previously stripped of everything but the eyes ; and, with the addition of some kibaubs (square pieces of fat strung upon a reed), succeeded in accomplishing a meal, which sustained us for the rest of the day: not that it would be possible to starve in Bak-tchiserai; the heaps of delicious fruit with which the street is lined for some hundreds of yards would always furnish an abundant, if somewhat unwholesome meal. Grapes, figs, pomegranates, peaches, nectarines, and apricots, tempt the passenger to refresh himself at every step ; while, as if in gentle remonstrance with his imprudence, innumerable fountains of the purest water gush out of the hillside, murmuring invitations to the thirsty soul which it is difficult to resist. From one of these, which has ten spouts, the sparkling streams fall upon slabs of marble. A continual babbling goes on in every direction as the clear little rivulets seem hurrying away from the filth of the town, determined to lose themselves as speedily as possible in the waters of the Djurouk-Su."
The far-famed palace of the khans occupies one side of a small square at the extreme end of the main street Crossing the moat, a painted gateway with projecting eaves is passed, and the singular collection of buildings which then meets the eye on every side is no less astonishing than delightful. To the right of a large grass-grown court stands the rambling, disjointed palace, with gaudy walls and highly-decorated trellis-work, festooned with vines, and small lattice-windows looking out upon fragrant gardens; while above all is an octagonal wooden tower, with a Chinese-looking roof. On the left are a number of two-storied buildings, with verandahs supported by ornamented posts, and near them a mausoleum and mosque, with two tall minarets — the mark of royalty. A handsome fountain, shaded by willows, stands opposite the private entrance; behind it the court is enclosed by the walls of an orchard, situated on a rising ground, which is intersected by terraces.
Looking beyond the immediate objects, the view is no less striking. The palace seems to be in the arena of an amphitheatre, of which the flat roofs of the Tartar houses — stuck, as it were, in rows against the sides of the mountains — represent the seats.* All over these mountains caves occur frequently, resembling pigeon-holes. Nothing can be more unique than the aspect of the town from the courtyard of the palace, while gigantic rocks, of grotesque shape, are poised in mid-air, threatening destruction to all that remains of the capital of this once-mighty empire.
Entering the principal vestibule of the palace, the celebrated "Fountain of Tears," immortalized among Russians by the poem of Nicholas Pushkin, is seen. This hall opens, by means of arches, to the gardens of the seraglio; and, from it, dark staircases ascend and terminate in narrow passages, which again lead to spacious galleries, brilliantly decorated.
Wandering through the latter, the visiter loses himself at last in a labyrinth of small apartments, scarcely differing from one another, connected by doorways, in which swing heavy satin brocades. He glides noiselessly through them over the soft Turkish carpets, as if treading the chamber of death. There is something appropriate in the mysterious silence which characterizes all his movements, surrounded as he is by a luxury so fresh-looking and real, that it seems as though its possessors had but just vanished for ever from the fairy scenes they had conjured around them. Here are broad crimson divans ; richly-embroidered curtains carefully suspended over the latticed windows; and tapestry of costly satin, elaborately worked, concealing the walls, or hanging quaintly from semicircular projections over the fireplaces — a flimsy splendor, which was not allowed to fade and vanish with its original possessors, but is retained in all its gaudy coloring, as if to mock the memory of those to whose effeminate tastes it once had ministered.
But Muscovite sovereigns have condescended to lodge in the former abode of the khans; and the guide, of course, imagines that the most interesting object in the palace is the bed in which the empress Catherine II. slept. The room of Maria Potoski, however, is fraught with more romantic associations. Here for ten years the infatuated countess resided, hoping to effect a compromise between her conscience and her passion for the khan, by a life devoted to religious exercises, while content to reign, at the same time, supreme in the palace of the infidel. The apartments appropriated to her are luxuriously arranged; and a lofty hall, with fountains plashing upon slabs of marble, bears her name. Adjoining it is a Roman catholic chapel, which was built expressly for her use by the amorous khan.
Many of the rooms are ornamented with representations of birds, and beasts, and creeping things, in every variation of grotesque form; while, as if to compensate for this direct violation of the Koran, fragments of that sacred record are inscribed upon the walls. One of the most singular chambers in this most singular palace is a large glass summer-house, surrounded by a divan, and decorated in a most unorthodox manner, in which a fountain plays into a porphyry basin. It opens upon a flower-garden, at the farther end of which, shaded by a magnificent old vine, is a marble bath, prepared for the empress Catherine by the considerate gallantry of Potemkin, and supplied by cascades from the fountain of Selsabil. The favorite lived enclosed among delicious gardens, in the now-deserted harem, during the residence of his royal mistress in the palace, from which it is approached by a succession of pavilions and verandahs. Attached to it is the octagonal tower; and authorities differ as to whether the khans reserved it for the use of their women or their falcons. As it is exactly like a large wooden cage, no light is thrown upon the subject from its construction. From between the bars a singular panoramic view is obtained of the town and palace. The palace first became the residence of the khans in the year 1475.
"Having seen the former abode of the khans," says Oliphant, "we thought we would now visit their present resting-place. So, leaving the fountains to play and babble in silent halls, and the divans to grace untenanted rooms, and the trees to blossom and perfume the deserted gardens, we entered the vaulted chambers in which the most illustrious khans repose. Here a venerable old hadje held tremulously aloft the dim, flickering light, to enable us to look over the turbaned tombstones. Passing out, we walked through the cemetery, where vines cluster over the crumbling ruins that tell of departed greatness; and all seemed travelling the same road which the occupants of these sculptured sepultures have already taken."
The valley in which Baktchiserai lies almost concealed, terminates in a narrow gorge, containing caverns occupied only by gipsies. Prom this gorge the way emerges upon a dark, mysterious glen, heavily wooded with oaks and beech-trees. A winding path dives into its inmost recesses, and through a maze of tombstones, formed in the shape of sarcophagi, and covered with Hebrew inscriptions. This is the "Valley of Jehoshaphat" — for centuries the cemetery of the Karaite Jews, who still love to lay their bones beside those of their ancestors; so that the sleeping inhabitants of the valley of Jehoshaphat far outnumber the population of Karaites in any one town in the Crimea.
The little path extends for nearly a mile, always surrounded by these touching mementoes of a race who, in whatever part of the world they may be scattered,, still retain the profoundest veneration for a spot hallowed by such sacred associations; The grove terminates suddenly near a frightful precipice, from the dizzy edge of which a magnificent view is obtained.
A few miles distant, the conical rock of Tepekerman rises abruptly from the broken country, its beetling crags perforated with innumerable mysterious caverns and chambers. Beyond, the Tchatir Dagh, with the elevated sea-range, of which it is part, forms the background of the rich and varied landscape.
Following the line of the calcareous cliffs, a point is reached where the prospect in the opposite direction is still more striking. To the right, the dilapidated old fortress of Tchoufut Kale crowns the nearest height, while the monastery of Uspenskoi, built into the face of the overhanging rock, appears as if it had been excavated by the inhabitants of Stony Petra, rather than by monks of the Greek church. Here, too, compressed within narrow limits, lies the old Tartar capital, almost hidden by the gardens which clothe the valley in a mantle of richest green. Lower down, the precipices soften into gentle slopes, and the cultivation spreads over a great extent of country, through which the Djurouk-Su meanders until it falls into the Black sea, that bounds the western horizon.
When the Tartar khans deserted Tchoufut Kale for the lovely vale below, this singular stronghold became again exclusively the residence of the Karaite Jews, who had lived there from time immemorial, and who are naturally bound to it by the strongest feelings of reverence and affection, since it has been alike the cradle of their sect, and the rock upon which they have ever found a secure refuge in times of persecution. Singular as it may seem, perched upon this almost inaccessible cliff is the headquarters of a sect whose members are scattered over Russia, Poland, and Egypt.'
As the population was said to be entirely Jewish, Oliphant remarks that he expected to find Tchoufut Kale filled with picturesque groups of handsomely-dressed men and lovely maidens; but he passed through the archway, and along the streets, to which the living rock answered the purpose of pavement, and still, to his astonishment, not a soul was to be seen! A few dogs flew at him, and obliged him to perambulate the rest of the town armed with stones. It seemed quite empty, for not only were the public thoroughfares deserted, but he could get no answer at any of the doors at which he knocked; so that he was beginning to suspect that the last inhabitant must have recently got some one to.bury him in the valley of Jehosh-aphat, when a husky voice murmured something through a crack in a shutter ; and presently a decrepit, stone-blind old man, who might have been the individual in question, hobbled out with a stick, and offered to conduct him to the synagogue.
This edifice is a plain building, differing in no respect from an ordinary Jewish place of worship. It contains some magnificently-bound copies of the Old Testament in manuscript. The books of Moses only are printed and taught in the schools. The Karaites profess to have the Old Testament in its most genuine state.
The derivation of their name has been ascribed to kara and ite, words signifying, in Arabic, "black dog" — a not unlikely epithet to be applied by Mohammedans to this despised race. A more generally received and probably correct derivation, however, seems to be from the word kara, "scripture" — because they hold simply to the letter of scripture, not admitting the authority of the Talmud, or the interpretation of the rabbis. Like all Jews, they display extraordinary care in the education of their children, who are publicly instructed in the synagogues. About five thousand Karaites are resident in Poland, who acknowledge the old rabbi of Tchoufut Kale as their spiritual chief. They are said originally to have emigrated from the Crimea.
As almost all the Karaites are engaged in trade or manufacture, and as they observe the most scrupulous honesty in their dealings, it has naturally followed that they are a prosperous and thriving community; while, as if an exception had been made in favor of this portion of that interesting people whose unhappy destiny has been so wonderfully accomplished, probably the only settlement exclusively Jewish which still exists is the fortress of Tchoufut Kale. Its population has, however, dwindled down to a very small remnant, since trade has increased, and additional facilities have been afforded for settling in more convenient positions than upon the summit of one of the highest crags in the Crimea. The population of the seaport of Eupatoria is composed mainly of Karaites, nearly two thousand of whom are now resident there — and some of these are wealthy merchants.
All devout Karaites scattered throughout the Crimea, when increasing infirmities warn them of approaching dissolution, are brought to Tchoufut Kale to die, and to have their bones repose beside those of their forefathers in the lovely vale of Jehoshaphat.
There are only two entrances to the fortress, and the massive gates are locked every night. Down a long flight of steps cut out of the living rock is a well of delicious water which supplies the inhabitants, the situation of which, at the bottom of a valley, and far below the walls, would render the impregnable position of the fort utterly valueless in time of war. At this well is usually stationed a man who fills the water-skins borne by donkeys to their master above, neither the consigner nor the consignee accompanying these sagacious animals on the numerous trips which are, nevertheless, so essential to the comfort of the inhabitants.
Following the bank of the ravine, the monastery of the Uspenskoi (or the "Assumption of the Virgin Mary") is reached, where galleries are suspended upon the face of a lofty precipice, beneath the stupendous rocks out of which the chambers are hewn, and out of which also are cut the flight of steps by which they are approached. The monastery is said to have originated at the time of the persecution of the Greek church by the Mohammedans, when its members were not allowed to worship in buildings; In some places the windows are mere holes in the face of the rock, while in others the front is composed of solid masonry. A wooden verandah before the church is supported over the massive bells.
About twenty thousand pilgrims resort 'hither annually in the month of August. Altogether it is a curious place, and harmonizes well with the strange scenery in which it is situated ; so that the monks deserve some eredit for adding to the charms of a spot already possessing so many attractions ; and this is probably the only benefit their presence is likely to confer upon the community.
The ruins of the celebrated fortress of Mangoup Kale, a view of which is given in the engraving on the opposite page, crown the summit of a hill that terminates the vale of Balbeck, on the route from Baktchiserai to Yalta. The uncertainty which hangs over the history of these fragments of former greatness, tends to invest them with a mysterious interest peculiar to themselves. They are strewn so extensively over the surface of the rock as to leave no doubt of the magnitude and importance which once distinguished the city that crowned this mountain-top. They bear the traces of almost every race which has inhabited the Crimea, are pervaded by the very essence of antiquity, and are regarded by the Tartars with the profoundest veneration. And they are worthy of it, for they are their own historians; and an account of their former owners, and the vicissitudes these stones have undergone since they were first hewn from the solid rock, may at a future time be extracted from them by some antiquarian who has made it the study of his lifetime to worm himself into the confidence of such impenetrable records.
Meantime, authorities differ very widely upon this matter. The name is frequently pronounced Mangoute. The latter syllable, signifying Goths, may perhaps lead us to suppose that it was derived from the possessors of that principality, of which this was at one time the capital. The Goths were expelled from the lowlands by the Huns in the fourth century, and still continued to live in an independent condition, defending themselves in their fastnesses from the attacks of those barbarians who successively possessed themselves of the remainder of the Tauric peninsula. According to some authorities, Mangoup remained the capital of the Gothic principality until it was taken by the Turks in the sixteenth century; while others suppose that, after the conquest of the Crimea by the Khazars, it became a Greek fortress, and so remained until it fell into the hands of the Genoese, at the same time with the Greek colonies on the coast. This is probably the correct view, as the greater part of the remains are Grecian. Professor Pallas calls Mangoup "an ancient Genoese city, which appears to have been the last resort of the Ligurians after they were driven from the coast." Still the chapel, which is here excavated from the rock, and the images of saints, which he describes as painted on the walls, may be traces of the Christian Goths no less than of the Genoese; but it is extremely improbable that such is the case.
In 1745, Mangoup was occupied by a Turkish garrison for twenty years, after which it was taken possession of by the khan of the Crimea. It had been for many years inhabited almost exclusively by Karaite Jews. These gradually dwindled away, until they totally disappeared about sixty years ago, and have left nothing behind them but the ruins of their synagogue and a large cemetery, containing tombs similar to those in the valley of Jehoshaphat.
There is very little left of the massive buildings which once adorned this famous town, except the foundations. The lofty calcareous promontory upon which the fortress is perched, is about a mile long, and a quarter of a mile broad. Upon three sides it is surrounded by frightful precipices, while that by which alone it is accessible is defended by castellated towers, placed at intervals in the massive wall. At right angles with it, and intersecting the narrow promontory, are the remains of another wall; and the most perfect building now existing is a square fort built into it, two stories high, and pierced with loopholes, for musketry. The upper edge of the plateau is perforated by small chambers cut out of the solid rock, and approached by stairs from the upper surface. Many of these chambers are from fifteen to twenty feet square, and connected by stairs; but the work of exploring requires nerves rather stronger than people who inhabit houses instead of eagles' nests usually possess; and the steps hewn out of the face of the giddy cliff, Oliphant thought, were more picturesque to look at than agreeable to traverse. Who the dwellers in these singular cells can have been, it is difficult to conjecture; but they were probably inhabited before the town was built upon the rock above.
If the ruins of Mangoup Kale possessed no other merit, they serve at least as an attraction to mount the cliffs upon which they are situated, and the labor of the ascent is amply repaid by the view alone. A correct idea of the configuration of this part of the Crimea is also obtained from the fortress of Mangoup Kale. A precipitous limestone-range extends nearly east and west, parallel to the sea-range; and upon the edge of the stupendous cliffs are perched the forts of Tchoufut Kale and Mangoup Kale. The whole of the country intervening between these ranges is intersected by lovely valleys, and watered by clear mountain-streams ; their banks are highly cultivated, and frequent tufted groves betray the existence of the villages which they conceal. This tract is inhabited solely by Tartars, who seem to cling to their highland glens with the tenacity characteristic of mountaineers. They are a hardy, hospitable race, totally different from their lowland brethren.
No Tartar ever dreams of walking from one village to another; but when he wants to pay a visit to his neighbor, like a true country-gentleman he rides over to him; and if he has not so good a horse as the squire, he has scenery at least which the other might covet, and can beguile the way with a contemplation of its beauties, if competent so to enjoy himself. To the traveller furnished with a government order, the Tartars are bound to provide horses at any village where it may be produced. These are often poor-looking animals, but active and sure-footed, and admirably adapted for the rocky passes which they are obliged to traverse; indeed, they deserve great credit for the way in which they seem to cling to a mountainside, for they are shod with a flat plate of iron, with a hole at the frog, which may be useful in stony deserts for protecting the hoof, but must cause many a slip over the smooth rock. Not content with shoeing their horses in this fashion, the Tartars treat their oxen in like manner. Their singular process of shoeing these animals is well illustrated in the engraving at the close of the chapter, on the following page. The animal is placed upon the broad of his back, and there secured — a man sitting upon the head. The four legs, tied together, thus point straight up in the air, and the smith hammers away at his leisure, enabled by his convenient position to operate all the more skilfully. There is something excessively ludicrous in the operation; though, to judge from the scene presented in the engraving, with the assistant seated upon its head, in all probability the poor brute finds it no laughing matter.
"It was melancholy to think,' remarks Oliphant, "that the inhabitants of these lovely valleys were gradually disappearing tinder the blighting influence which Russia appears to exercise over her moslem subjects. Of late years the Tartars have been rapidly diminishing, and now number about a hundred thousand, or scarcely half the entire population of the Crimea. Their energy, too, seems declining with their numbers. Whole tracts of country susceptible of a high state of cultivation, and once producing abundantly, are now lying waste ; their manufactures deteriorating, their territorial wealth destroyed, their noble families becoming extinct, their poor ground down by Russian tax-gatherers, and swindled out of their subsistence by dishonest sub-officials.
"Ere long the flat-roofed cottages, now buried amid the luxuriant vegetation of clustering fruit-trees, will crumble into dust, and with them the , last remains of that nation who once occupied an important position among European nations. Is the only Mohammedan state still existing in the West to share the same fate as the kingdom of Crim Tartary ?"
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855