Chufut-Kale and Eski-Kermen Cave Towns

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view over chufut kale cave town

The ancient cave towns in Crimea are one of the most impressive landmarks of the peninsula and the whole Ukraine. These unique towns, founded in the V-VII centuries, are located in mountains and belong to so-called “Golden ring of Crimea” touristic route. Our article will tell you about Eski-Kermen and Chufut-Kale – probably the most popular cave towns of Crimea.

Eski-Kermen

History
The name of Eski-Kermen cave city is literally translated from Crimean Tatar language as “old fortress”. The archaeologists say that the town has been founded in the VI century by the order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The Byzantine fortress functioned till the end of the XIV century. Since Eski-Kermen has been an insignificant fortification till the X century, its history before this period is little-known. Starting from the X century, the town began to evolve. Eski-Kermen was flourishing in the XII-XIII centuries when it was inhabited by more than 3000 people. Due to the cave town`s location in the mountains, it was one of the last populated places in Crimea reached by Mongol army. In 1299, Eski-Kermen had been assaulted by the troops of general Nogai, and then it never regained its previous significance. In 1399, the Golden Horde army leaded by Edigey demolished the reconstructed fortification and completely devastated the city. It has been never reconstructed afterwards.

Structure of the Cave Town
ancient cave town in crimea
Eski-Kermen town is located on a lowland mountain Mesa, a part of table-shaped mountain plateau bordered by approximately 30-meter high cliffs. The town can boast more than 300 caves and is considered as one of the largest cave towns of Crimea. The town dimensions were 1010×170 m; its territory embraced 8.5 hectares. The casemate towers were carved in rocks or built with stones. There was also a deep well for 70 cubic meters of water for the case of a siege. Caves were used as homes or utility rooms; some of them also served defensive and sacral functions.

Sights
stairs in stone cave town
Those who visit Eski-Kermen town have a chance to see numerous interesting sights. There are around 350 caves in the city itself and around 50 ones outside it. Tourists can also see ruins of a basilica with dimensions 24×13 m built at the end of the VI century and siege well complex with stairs and 20-meter long corridor passing to the cave where drinking water has been collected. The town also has several cave temples with numerous frescos showing Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary. Unfortunately, the frescos were seriously damaged by vandals.

How to Reach
overview of ancient cave town
Eski-Kermen cave town is located in Bakhchisaray region, 5 km in the South-West direction from Krasny Mak village. There are routes to Eski-Kermen from Kholmovka, Zalisne, Krasny Mak villages. All these villages can be easily reached from Bakhchisaray city by bus.

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Chufut-Kale

History
view over chufut kale
The history of Chufut-Kale cave city probably began in the V century when the place was called Fully as stated in Byzantine archives and chronicles. Alans are considered to be the founders of the cave town. However, this opinion contradicts with the fact that Alans have been actually nomads with no desire for building works. So probably they just occupied the town built by some other people. Anyway, there are no historical evidence left about it.
In the X-XIV centuries, Chufut-Kale town turned into a fully-featured fortress with fortification wall and defensive constructions. In the times of Crimean khanate, the cave town became a reservation for Karaites, who were allowed to work in Bakhchisaray but had to spend nights outside the city. In the XV century, 80% of Chufut-Kale population was Karaites. The name “Chufut-Kale”, translated as “Jewish fortress”, appeared in the XVII century. This name is explained by the fact that Karaites have Jewish roots. In 1783, the Crimean peninsula became a part of the Russian Empire and Karaites began to leave the city. By the end of the XIX century, they settled on the whole territory of Crimea so Chufut-Kale became an abandoned place.

Structure of the Cave Town
interior of ancient cave
Chufut-Kale cave town is located 600 m above the sea level on a mountain plateau. Three of four access ways to the fortress are sheer cliffs. The whole city is carved in stone; in some points, it has two or even three floors. The fortress city had two entrances, natural defense on three sides and manmade wall on the fourth side. There were numerous facilities inside the city: armories, storages, barracks, residential units and a mosque. Chufut-Kale also had a small castle, a mint of the Crimean khanate, a school and a product market. In 1731, the first printing office of the peninsula was built on the town`s main street.

Sights
old kenasa
Nowadays, the most part of Chufut-Kale cave town is in ruins. However, the tourists still can see remains of an old Muslim mosque built in 1346; mausoleum of the daughter of the khan Tokhtamysh constructed in 1437; two kenesas (temples) of Karaites; numerous caves used as utility rooms and shelters. There is also an old homestead with an exposition dedicated to the Karaites` culture.

How to Reach
old stone masoleum
Chufut-Kale cave town is located 2.5 km away from Bakhchisaray, in the Eastern direction. There are two ways to reach the landmark: by foot or by jeeps. Tourists can also visit Uspensky monastery and an old cemetery on their way to Chufut-Kale.
Note: Though nowadays the Crimean peninsula is a disputed territory annexed by the Russian Federation, officially it is still a part of Ukraine. We sincerely hope that anyone will have a chance to visit unique Ukrainian caves freely once justice is served.
Photo source: depositphotos.com. All photos belong to their rightful owners.

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