Friday, July 19, 2013

Crimean Cave Cities:Chufut-Kale


Chufut-Kale is a national monument of Crimean Karaite culture and Tatar fortress in Crimea, near Bakhchisaray. Its name is Crimean Tatar and Turkish for "Jewish Fortress while Crimean Karaites refer to it simply as "Fortress",considering the place as historical center for the Crimean Karaite community.In the Middle Ages the fortress was known as Qırq Yer (Place of Forty) and as Karaites to which sect the greater part of its inhabitants belong, Sela' ha-Yehudim










Researchers are not unanimous as to the time of the town’s appearance. Some of them consider it to be a Byzantine fortress founded in the 6th century. Others are of the opinion the fortified settlement appeared in the 10th-11th centuries. During the early period of the town’s history, it was mainly populated by Alans, the most powerful of a late Sarmatian tribes of Iranian descent. They began penetrating the Crimea from the 2nd century AD. Settling down in the mountainous Crimea, the Alans adopted Christianity. In written sources the cave town is mentioned in the 13th century under the name of Kyrk-Or (Forty Fortifications). This name lasted until the mid-17th century. In 1299 the Tatar horde of Emir Nogai raided the Crimean peninsula. Kyrk-Or was among the sacked towns. Having seized the town, the Tatars quartered their garrison in it. At the turn of the 15th century, Tatars settled Karaite craftsmen in front of the eastern line of fortifications and built a second defensive wall to protect their settlement, and thus a new part of the town appeared.



In the 15th century the first Crimean Khan, Hadji-Girei, realizing the fortress’ advantages, turned the old section of the town into his fortified residence. After the defeat of the Golden Horde, the Crimean Khanate became considerably stronger. The significance of Kyrk-Or as a stronghold declined, and the Crimean Khan Menglis-Girei moved his capital to Bakhchisarai. The old town remained a citadel of Bakhchisarai and a place of incarceration for aristocratic prisoners. In the mid-17th century Tatars left Kyrk-Or. Only Karaites remained to live there due to anti-Jewish restrictions for stay in other towns of the Crimean Khanate. Tatars considered Karaites to be Jews, hence the town gradually acquired the name of Chufut-Kale, which in Turkic meant “Jewish fortress” with negative and scornful meaning.

After the Crimea’s conquest and its inclusion into the Russian empire government granted Karaites privileges, permitting them to live anywhere in the empire. From that time on, Chufut-Kale became deserted. By the mid-19th century the town ceased to exist.