Day 10: Bakhchysarai, Ukraine

by - September 03, 2012

Khan’s Palace, Backhchyrsarai
We woke up for our last Ukrainian morning in the town of Bakhchyrsarai (pronounced Bak-chis-a-rai), located about midway between Sevastopol and Simferopol.  The town is the capital of the Crimean Tatars, an Islamic people who are descendent of the Mongols who invaded (and sacked) Ukraine in the 11th century.  The Tatars did not fare particularly well under the Soviets but are currently experiencing something of a renaissance, with many expats returning home.  In the morning we met up with Paul from our tour yesterday and had a walk through the town centre.  It was strange to be passing mosques instead of churches, and the architecture was in general different from the rest of Ukraine.  This was most pronounced at the Khan’s Palace in the town centre, which would have been the centre of government of the Crimea before it was annexed by the Russian Empire - it had been a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire until then.

View from a cave in Chufut Kale
As time was fairly tight (we had a plane to catch at 3pm) we moved swiftly into the mountains around Bakhchysarai to our next location, Chufut Kale.  The word Chufut Kale literally means Jewish fortress and the town is home to another minority Ukrainian group, the Crimean Karaite community.  The Karaites are difficult to define conventionally (though that doesn’t stop people trying) as they are a kind of mixture between Jews and Muslims.  In the modern day, very few Karaites exist (wikipedia says there are only 2500) but in times gone, Chufut Kale would have contained up to 30,000.

Chufut Kale caves
It is a cave city, carved into the rocks and fortified with additional walls.  The views over the surrounding area are superb and it is extremely similar in appearance to the Cappadocia region of Turkey.  At the top of the valley that we walked up we saw a Karaite graveyard where the tomb stones were a mixture of Hebrew, Cyrillic and Turkish text - showing the distinctly mixed nature of the Karaites.  The town itself is very popular with tourists and as we walked back down through the town it started to get busy.  The last sight of the trip was within walking distance of Chufut Kale - a small cave Orthodox monastery.  Apparently there are five of these on the Crimean Peninsular and this is the most crowded, but with time tight we squeezed in just as a service was finishing.  From here Sergey drove us to Simferopol airport where we waited in the tiny domestic departure lounge for a plane to Kyiv where we changed and headed back to London.  It had been a fantastic trip - Ukraine has so much history to offer and the Crimea alone would be a great two week holiday in its own right.  I’m sure I will be back soon.

Orthodox Cave Monastery

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