Ancient Origins of the City of Kerch

Founded more than 2,600 years ago, the city of Kerch is located on the Kerch Peninsula in Crimea, and is considered to be one of Ukraine’s oldest cities. Archeological discoveries in the area reveal that it was inhabited as far back as the 17th century BC, but its recorded history can be traced to the 7th century BC, when immigrants from the Greek city of Miletus established a settlement on Mount Mithridat, a prominent attraction in Kerch today. At that time, the city was named Panticapaeum and it served for a time as the capital of the Kingdom of Pontus founded by Mithridates I in 291 BC.

Strategically placed on the intersection of trade routes between the Ukrainian steppes and Europe, Panticapaeum continued to grow rapidly as a commercial center, even minting its own coins for trade. The city was destroyed by the Huns in 375 AD, and from the 6th century came under the control of the Byzantine Empire, changing hands a number of times thereafter until, in the early 18th century, the Turks built a fortress on the shore of the Strait of Kerch, which links the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, in response to the growth of the Russian military in the region. In 1790, Admiral Fyodor Ushakov led Russian naval forces to defeat the Turkish fleet at what came to be known as the Battle of Kerch Strait.

For a time, Kerch regained its importance as a trade and fishing port, until it was devastated by British forces in 1855 during the Crimean War. By the late 19th century Kerch had grown once again, with a number of industries being established, attracting work-seekers from other areas. The First World War and Russian Civil War had a negative impact on Kerch, but the city recovered and expanded its industries. Kerch suffered the consequences of heavy fighting between Soviet Army and Axis forces during the Second World War, also referred to as the Great Patriotic War. The atrocities committed by the Germans against the citizens of Kerch were documented in the historic Nuremberg trials. The city was designated as a Hero City by the Soviet Union in recognition of outstanding heroism during the Great Patriotic War. A memorial at the Adzhimushkay catacombs in Kerch serves as a reminder of those who lost their lives defending the city against occupation.

Noteworthy sites in and around Kerch include the ancient settlement of Pantikapaeum; the first century Church of St John the Baptist; the 18th century Fortress of Yenikale, the Great Mithridates Staircase; the Obelisk of Glory; and Kerch Fortress.