Street view of Bakhchysarai, Crimea.TASS/Alexey Pavlishak
Bakhchysarai (30 kilometers southwest from the Crimean capital of Simferopol) is today a shadow of its former self, as a great city of medieval era, when it was the capital of the Crimean Khanate, one of world's most powerful states between the 15th and 18th centuries. There is, however, plenty to see and do, in this city straight out of the ‘1001 nights’ in Crimea.
1. Buy a bucket of lavender at the walls of the ancient fortress Chufut-Kale from elderly local women who gather the herb from Crimean meadows.
2. Savour local Eastern sweets like baklava, lucum (similar to Turkish delight) or “khvorost” (pastry straws) sitting on a bench in front of the walls of the Bakhchysarai Palace, a unique example of Crimea’s imperial Tatar architecture.
3. Visit an art show at the Bakhchysarai Palace to find inspiration and reach new creative heights, as have numerous great poets, writers, musicians and monarchs in earlier ages. The Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysarai enthralled Catherine the Great and other Russian tsars who visited the place. Foreign guests, too, were not immune to its charms: Austrian Emperor Joseph II was captivated by its magnificence.
Source: RIA Novosti/Konstantin Chalabov
4. Enjoy the view of screened wooden balconies in the house facing the entrance to Chufut-Kale. These balconies were built during the Middle Ages for Muslim beauties who went there to breathe fresh air and watch city life pass by, while they remained invisible to passersby.
5. Learn about the Muslim traditions of the Crimean Tatars during an English-language tour around the Bakhchysarai Palace. Polygamy was a common feature in the Crimean Khanate, where the khan's many wives were kept hidden forever inside a harem within the palace. Their primary activity consisted of secret visits to the dark Sokolinaya Tower in the Persian Garden. The rest of the time they spent reading the Koran, embroidering or chatting with each other over cups of coffee
6. Follow in the footsteps of Russia’s most famous author, Alexander Pushkin, who came here nearly 200 years ago. Pushkin was greatly inspired by his walk around the Khan's Palace in Bakhchysarai during the time of his southern exile in 1820. He wrote the sad, yet glorious poem “The Fountain of Bakhchysarai” afterwards. Pushkin's contemporaries described the poet standing by the “fountain of tears,” a selsebil fountain that was located near the mausoleum of Dilyara, the Khan's favorite wife. He then went out to the garden, picked two roses and put them by the fountain. Supposedly this is how Pushkin started a tradition that continues to the present day: many people place roses at the “source of inspiration,” the Bakhchysarai fountain. Bring flowers with you.
7. Rest for a minute in the rose garden of the palace, sit on a bench and read Pushkin's poem "The Fountain of Bakhchysarai." In a letter to his brother Lev, Pushkin wrote that he didn’t want this poem to be published because “many parts of it are related to a woman who I was in love with for a long time and quite stupidly.” The personality of this lady, the so-called secret love of Pushkin, has been one of the main unresolved questions of studies of Pushkin’s life and works.
8. Check to see if the Bakhchysarai Palace is really a “city within the city.” Have a look at each room, mosque, bathhouse, mausoleum, all richly decorated and painted and finished off with great care and artistry. The main idea in the design of the palace was to epitomize Islamic representations of the Earthly Paradise and each ruler added something of their own to what his predecessors had done.
9. Take a walk to the ancient settlement of Eski-Yurt, the ancient mosques of Orta Juma Jami and Takhtaly-Jami and down to Zyndzherly Medrese, the only surviving Muslim school in Crimea. Under the Golden Horde’s rule in the 13th-14th centuries these places were part of a caravan trade center where you could find everything from silk and spices to weapons and gems. Nowadays souvenir swords and souvenirs are all that are for sale, but you can still detect the pungent smells of eastern spices.
10. Climb up to the upper part of town and roam around the cells inside the cliffs of the Svyato-Uspensky Cave Monastery. The latter is similar to other hand-dug caves such as the Selime Monastery in the ancient region of Cappadocia in Turkey, the Rose Castle in Georgia and the Mount Monastery (Ein-Kerem) in Jerusalem, while simultaneously maintaining its unique character.
Source: TASS/Alexey Pavlishak
The easiest way to reach the peninsula is by plane. Russian airlines Aeroflot, Transaero, S7, Donavia and Utair, and the charter airline Vimavia fly there from all three Moscow airports. The planes are often full, therefore it’s best to book your flight in advance, especially if you want a window seat or to sit together with your companion. The flight takes 2.5 hours. Roundtrip fares from Moscow start at 5,500 rubles (about $110). The cheapest plane tickets to Crimea can be found on jetradar.com.
The only tour company for foreign visitors operating in the south of Russia, including Crimea, at the moment is Southern Comfort - Tours to South of Russia. The company employs tour guides that speak English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and other languages, trustworthy drivers and managers that can organize any tours based on a client’s wishes.
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