If you only do three things:
Take a taxi from Yalta to Sevastopol along the coast road.
The journey takes an hour and a half, but with the road sandwiched between
the Black Sea and the Crimean Mountains, the views are worth it. Visit
the Museum of the Black Sea Fleet to add to the slightly anachronistic
feel of the city.
The flag of the Crimean Tatars
was hardly visible through the morning mist; white clouds stood motionless
on the mountain-tops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, grasshoppers
chirruped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea rising up from below,
spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have
sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now, and
it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more.”
Just two hundred miles across at its widest, Crimea has attracted a uniquely rich list of settlers in the last 3000 years. Its strategic position at the heart of ancient trade routes combined with fecund soil and pleasant climate have convinced Greeks, Romans, the Genoese, Karaite Jews, Mongol Tatars, Turkish Emirs, Ukrainian Cossacks and Russian Empire builders to take root at one time or another on the peninsula.
Simferopol, the inland capital, does not offer too much of interest to the casual visitor, but from the leafy streets of Yalta that wind down to the sea, to the naval pomp of Sevastopol and the 2500 year history of Chersonesus, there is an immense variety of places to visit in the Crimea. The mountains themselves, along the southern coast, offer exceptional hiking and are studded with the evidence of the area’s unique history. [top]
In 1239 the Mongols of the Golden Horde took control of Crimea and settled, becoming the Crimean Tatars. They established a powerful Crimean Khanate that became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century.
In 1736 the Russians, under Catherine the Great, invaded and annexed Crimea outright in 1783. This was the beginning of a long history of Russification of the peninsula. Many Tatars, with their Muslim religion and Turkic language emigrated to Turkey, while Russians and Ukrainians settled in Crimea. Catherine then began a programme of destroying much of the evidence of the once great Khanate, creating the historical impression that Russia had just taken hold of a largely empty piece of land populated by farmers and nomads.
In the middle of the 19th Century the Crimea became the focus of Europe as the Britain, France and Sardinia allied with Turkey against Russia in a battle for control of the region in the Crimea War (1853-56). The heroic defence of Sevastopol 1854-5 cemented it in Russian consciousness as a city of military heroism and symbolic of Russian glory.
In the 1940’s Sevastopol was under siege once again, this time from the Nazis, and once again resisted for many brutal months.
In 1944 Stalin completed the Russification of Crimea in his usual grand manner. On the pretext of their supposed collaboration with the Nazis, the Russians exiled the entire Tatar population, then about 25% of the population of Crimea. Between 18th and 20th May nearly 200,000 people were loaded onto trains and sent to Central Asia and Siberia.
In 1954 Khrushchev, in a moment of bonhomie, gave Crimea to Ukraine. At the time this was not hugely significant; it was simply a change of administrative control within the Soviet Union. A bit like transferring the Isle of Wight from Hampshire to Dorset. On Ukrainian independence in 1991 however, the Russian people of Crimea found themselves living in a separate country from the motherland. In mainland Russia many mourned the loss of a treasured possession, Russian since 1783, and the loss of Sevastopol, twice a “hero city”. As a compromise Crimea has been given semi-autonomy within Ukraine, while Russia maintains jurisdiction over a few small military areas in the naval port of Sevastopol.
In 1989, as the Soviet Union crumbled, Tatars began returning home, largely from Uzbekistan, and now more that 250,000 are back living in Crimea. [top]
in Crimea Today
Yalta is a coastal resort town, yet has no real beach to speak of, rather a series of narrow strips of pebbles between the promenade and the sea. The promenade runs from the Hotel Oreanda at one end to Lenin Square at the other. Lenin still looks down on passers-by, incongruous in his heavy coat standing among the palm trees. There are a large number of restaurants and bars along the promenade, with prices that are well above anything that you find further from the sea front. There is also a growing number of gaudy amusements accompanied by the obligatory euro pop soundtrack. Boat owners tout for business along the promenade and you can charter a boat for a negotiated price that will take you out to the small dolphins that gather in the bay, or take you up along the coast for the day.
The classic hotel in Yalta is the Oreanda right on the promenade, however the best value is the Hotel Yalta, further out and up a fairly steep hill. The massive Soviet built hotel has been completely renovated has a huge array of facilities and every room has a stunning balcony view. [top]
to do in Yalta and around:
Vorontsov Palace at Alupka
Cable Car up Ai Petri Mountain
Near by: The areas around Sevastopol resonate with history from the Crimean War. Both Balaklava and Inkerman were scenes of famous battles. Balaklava itself is worth a quick visit, a small and dozy little town that was once the site of Florence Nightingale’s hospital. We have it on good authority that one of the mountains that meets the sea at Balaklava is hollow and was used to house a highly covert Soviet submarine base. [top]
Khan’s Palace at Bakhchisaray