Ancient Chersonesos Taurica

Located on the shores of the Black Sea, rubbing shoulders with the modern suburbs of the city of Sevastopol in the Crimea region of Ukraine, Chersonesos Taurica is an archaeological site of an ancient Greek colony which was founded around 2,500 years ago. At that time, this scenic part of Ukraine was called Taurica by the Greeks and Romans, and evidence of occupation by these two influential powers is found in a number of places in the region. This particular settlement is believed to have been established by settlers from Heraclea Pontica (in Asia Minor) in the 6th century BC and was a thriving and strategically important city in its time.

With the majestic St Vladimir’s Cathedral on a hill overlooking the ruins, the excavations give some indication of the size and prosperity of the city, which has come to be referred to as the ‘Ukrainian Pompeii’, as well as the ‘Russian Troy’. The name Chersonesos, however, is simply the Greek word for ‘peninsula’, describing its location.

Chersonesos has a long and fascinating history, which saw a line of princes, or tyrants, depending on who is telling the tale, coming and going, dynasties rising and falling, some events being lost in the annals of history, others being passed on orally, and yet others recorded for future generations. Chersonesos eventually came under Genoese control in the early 1200s, with the town being sacked by the armies of Nogai Khan (a great-great-grandson of the notorious Genghis Khan) in 1299, before being destroyed by Edigu (a Mongol emir of the Nogai Horde) and completely abandoned a century later. It was in the late 19th century that the St Vladimir’s Cathedral was built and it is an attraction in Sevastopol in its own right.

Visitors to Chersonesos Taurica will note the remains of the defensive wall, which measures hundreds of meters and served as a barrier to protect the people of the city. Among the buildings within these protective walls are a Greek temple, a Roman amphitheater and a range of buildings reflecting Roman, Greek and Byzantine culture. Among the many graves in the burial grounds of the city are some which reveal burial practices from cultures other than Greek, with stones and memorial items marking individual tombs. Cast in 1778 from cannons confiscated from Turkish troops during the Russo Turkish War of 1768-1774, the bell of Chersonesos is suspended between two stone towers and is an attraction to be included in a visit to the ruins.

In an effort to preserve this historical site, which is in danger of being overrun by the encroaching suburbs of Sevastopol and is threatened by coastal erosion, Chersonesos Taurica is under state protection. It has been nominated to go on the Ukrainian Government’s World Heritage List as well as being noted by the Global Heritage Fund on their report entitled “Saving our Vanishing Heritage”. Clearly, Chersonesos Taurica deserves a spot on your itinerary when exploring the many treasures on offer in Sevastopol and the Crimea region.