Monthly Archives: October 2013

“Exotic” trek around Koktebel’s bay in Crimea

KoktebelThe Crimean resort of Koktebel near Theodosia on the Black Sea is situated next to an extinct volcano named Kara-dag, meaning “black mountain“. Translated from Crimean Tatar language Koktebel means the Land of Blue Hills. According to some scientists Kara-dag was active about 150 million years ago. Volcanic eruptions have created bizarre rock shapes that hang over the sea and create a picturesque sea view. There are many legends about Kara-dag! From a giant monster like Loch Ness, who lives somewhere in the depths of the sea under the cliffs, to Aliens who settled inside the mountain. Nothing has ever been proved but the mystery and the legends make the place sound charming as well as interesting. There are unique plants and animals in the local nature and you can see these if you walk along a specially protected footpath. This, I will go into more detail some other time.

Some time ago, on the sandy beaches of Koktebel and Kara-dag you could find a lot of Gems  Koktebel  like carnelians, chalcedonies and agates. These unique sandy beaches that used to attract lots of tourists, have now disappeared after the sand was removed to use with cement for building. As the landscape was violated and the sea which does not forgive such abuse a beach has never appeared since. Tons of gravel had to be brought in order to form a beach and save the resort. Today, this massive mountain is a Nature Reserve, created to conserve the extraordinary natural beauty that surrounds it but the unique beach in Koktebel with all it’s gems has been lost forever.

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The village of Koktebel has long been loved by Russian  Koktebel artists and writers who used to come here for a holidays. The Russian poet Maximilian Voloshin lived here for a long time in the early part of the last century and today his house is a museum. His contemporaries described him as a person of extraordinary charisma. During The Civil War in 1918, he harbored two enemies in his house, trying to reconcile the warring parties and to save his country from further bloodshed. Besides the beautiful verses that he penned, he also painted gentle watercolors of the Crimean hills that he loved so much.

The combination of the blue sea with gray- yellow steppe hills creates a unique natural topography, which is impossible not to love. To enjoy the beauty of this wonderful landscape I went with some friends for a trek around the Koktebel bay. Our journey took us to some beautiful small coves along the Black sea coast from Koktebel to another resort called Ordzhonikidze.

2 Chameleon (2)After walking along the Koktebel embankment we climbed up the hill along a trail from where one can see a panoramic view of the village and the mountain range beyond. From up here you can clearly see Cape Chameleon, disappearing into the sea which constantly changes its color depending on the weather and its “mood”. From here you can climb higher up the mountain named Kuchuk-Enishar, where you will find the grave of Maximilian Voloshin, who wished to remain in the Crimean hills forever. By tradition, all visitors bring a shingle pebble and place it on the headstone in memory of the poet. From this hill you can admire the typical “wild” beauty of the Crimean landscape.

With Cape Chameleon looming on our right, the road lead us into a cozy bay, which for many years was used by many tourists who loved to spend holidays there as campers as well filmmakers who found the unusual landscape ideal for shooting westerns and other romantic movies. Several years ago, the Crimean Tatars decided to lay claim to this unique land and established a tent there, where they held a sit in protest. To save the bay from unauthorized developments, the Ukrainian authorities declared this bay called Tihaya bay also known as silent bay, a nature reserve.

It is important to mention here, that Silent bay is also the birthplace of the Crimean and Russian nudist colony. Traditions have been laid a hundred years ago when poets, artists and other representatives of the arts, came to holiday in Koktebel, trying to forget the stress of urban living and relax as naturists. Traditions are still alive today and in the bay between the two towns there is still a nudist beach, which has recently been moved closer to Ordzhonikidze.

3 Tihaya (11)Our journey along the rocky coast took about four hours to 4 Tihaya buhta (2)complete with small stops for lunch and some swimming. For those of you who would like to repeat this “walk” I would recommend a change of clothes and your most comfortable footwear. You have to enter the sea and paddle around two of the five capes you will have to circle around. The first cape we rounded through the water was quite easy and enjoyable as it also nice and sunny. 

4 Tihaya buhta (12)Skirting the next cape we were almost up to our waists in water and being repeatedly covered by large waves. Mind you it was a stormy afternoon and the only alternative would have been going over the mountain goat path which could have been dangerous.

Skirting the other capes, after our unwelcome sea dips, we finally reached Cape Kiik – Atlama, meaning, jump the wild goat, from up here we could also see where the town of Ordzhonikidze was located. The holiday history of this town is not so remarkable. During the Soviet era, the neighborhood of the town, in the literal sense of the word, was “stuffed” with military industry and for obvious reasons, the town was not so well known. But in the last few years it has become a very popular holiday destination for many tourists because of the smooth sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and wonderful weather.

Unfortunately, in 2013 the usual Indian summer in Crimea during September did not materialize and only lasted a matter of a few days. The weather was unpredictable this time but “There is no bad weather in nature.” Have fun if you ever visit this area and enjoy a course in landscape therapy whether it will be sunny or stormy. 

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The wonderful world of Theodosia, scarlet sails, romance, seascape and balloonists

TheodosiaIn part one, I told all about ancient Theodosia the town that was born some 25 centuries ago. Theodosia has 2265 hours of sunshine and a swimming season of 114 days. It boasts a Mediterranean climate where the average temperature throughout the year is positive and storms are occasional. There are 15 km of golden frayed shell beaches, which shimmer and sparkle in the sunlight and lots of vineyards producing some of the best sweet dessert wines made in the tradition of the ancient Greeks.

Fountain of Aivazovsky Talking about Theodosia, we have to mention the artist Ivan 7 Dobryi geniyAivazovsky, one of the best marine painters in the world, who lived in this town and left his art as heritage to Theodosia. Coming from the Quarantine, the ancient part of town along the Italian street, I passed the old avenue of sycamores, where in 1890 a fountain was built to commemorate the fact the Ivan Aivazovsky brought water to the town. It boasts a bronze figure of a woman who looks like the wife of the artist holding a bowl with water pouring out of it. The story goes that Theodosia was always short of water, it is a known fact that during dry summers, barrels of water were delivered from the town of Sevastopol by steamers. Aivazovsky diverted the Subozhsky spring, (which was owned by his wife) directly into the town and built a fountain there in 1888. Grateful inhabitants erected this monument in honor of this event. The monument was destroyed during the WW2, but more recently has been recreated by local sculptors and now adorns an alley of the Jubilee Park.

Holiday resort of Theodosia in CrimeaThe Aivazovsky Art Gallery The Aivazovsky Art Gallery is located on what was once known as the Catherine embankment, which has now been renamed Aivazovsky Avenue. Winged griffins above the facade of the building have protected it from evil and bad news for more than one hundred and fifty years. A bust of this Master seascape painter looking out to sea has been erected in front of the Museum as a monument to him with the inscription “From Theodosia to Aivazovsky”. The Gallery built entirely by funds provided by the artist in 1845, was the only museum dedicated to just one artist in the whole of the Russian Empire. Ivan Aivazovsky donated 400 of his paintings to the town. When I entered the main hall of the gallery for the first time, I was impressed by the huge canvas on the wall, where nothing but waves were painted on, called “Among waves.” You have to see it! No other artist has managed to paint waves so realistically. All his other unsurpassed pictures of sea views create a mood of excitement and joy. Only true art can influence a person this way. His masterpieces are in many museums around the world. His famous “The Ninth Wave” is exhibited at The Hermitage museum in St.Petersburg.

 Arkadia cafe Aivazovsky did a lot for his beloved town of Theodosia. The Museum of Antiquities on Mount Mithridates named in honor of the Bosporus King Mithridates IV was built at his own expense. Amphora’s and statues, ancient coins and marble gravestones, are all on display in this, the oldest provincial museum in the Russian Empire. It was destroyed during WW2, but has now been re-built as a modern historical Museum.

Alexander Grin MuseumIf you walk up from the seashore, pass the Art Gallery, you Alye parusawill reach a square with a newly erected circular fountain and on the end of a building facing you, the image of a sail ship has been embossed very heavily all over the facade of the building, which houses the Alexander Grin Museum, the writer of romantic novels. He used to live here and “gave hope to young lovers dreams” in a beautiful novel named “Scarlet Sails”. The novel tells of a captain Grey arriving on a ship with “scarlet sails” to meet a young girl named Assoil. There is now a hotel with the same name “Alye parusa” meaning “scarlet sails” on the Aivazovsky Avenue but it has no connection to the story as neither Assoil nor the Captain ever existed. A beautiful park surrounds this modern hotel and hopefully one day it may remind people of Alexander Grin’s book.

8 Kariatidy (2)Along the promenade, which was named The Catherine embankment one hundred years ago, you can admire the magnificent wealthy 18th-century mansions that were built by the wealthy. Most visitors love taking photos of these mini palaces which are mostly designed in the Greek and Italianate style. In old postcards of years ago and some old pictorial books about Theodosia, I noticed Catherine Avenue looked absolutely stunning with luxurious and ornate houses that depicted the architectural masterpieces of that time. Unfortunately, only some of them have survived to the present day and during the holiday season, from June to August, strolling along the promenade, you will hardly be able to see the old buildings behind the rows of tall trees and souvenir stalls of the market. In September, when the town is free of tourists, it begins to live again as a quiet provincial town and a very a different atmosphere reminiscent of it’s past reigns over it again.

In 1475 Theodosia was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, who named the town Keffe, some time ago the town started to fade but a new era began when Crimea was conquered by the Russian Empire in 1771. Catherine the Great visited the town in 1787 and Emperor Alexander III had voted and offered to help make the town the main port of Crimea that is why they built a Railway in 1804, the town regained its original name, and once again become the Greek “God given” Theodosia.

After that rich people came to the resort and started investing a lot of money in it’s 7 Kariatidy (1)construction which changed the face of Theodosia. The town became a popular resort on the coast with the building of private beach areas for the rich, manor houses and summer residences. Dacha “Milos” was built in 1911 in the style of an ancient Greek temple with statues and busts of ancient gods, a reminder to the founders of Theodosia’s original inhabitants. A copy of the statue of Venus de Milo is installed in a round gazebo on the corner of a building which has now become a symbol of this town.

Stambouli DachaFurther along the Avenue there are a few more very beautiful Mansions, built before the Soviet revolution. A very unusual lodge called “Stambouli Dacha” designed in a Moorish style with delicate domes, terraces, towers and elegant minarets was built by a Turkish tobacco manufacturer, named Joseph Stambouli as a summer residence for his beloved wife. Unfortunately, before the revolution of 1917 he had to flee back to Turkey abandoning this lovely building but it has been preserved in spite of the many wars in this area and has over time been used for various purposes. It is now a museum and cafe.

The Crimean peninsula was part of the Soviet Union and at that time had a lot of military industrial enterprises specializing in missiles and Space. The first Soviet cosmonauts were trained in Theodosia as well as many of the missiles built here took part in the Cuban missile crisis with the USA. All around the vicinity of the town there were a lot of military installations and most places were designated as exclusion zones. Hence the reason why Theodosia was not known as the famous seaside town it is today. In 1954 under the generous Ukrainian Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev the Crimea was given as a gift to the Ukraine.

But all of these events have played a positive role in the history of Theodosia. There are a lot of pristine nature reserves and unique natural landscapes. The very clean environment and healthy air encouraged the building of many sanatoriums. Unique prevailing winds made the region a favourite for hang-gliders, Para gliders and hot air balloonists. The Theodosia State Museum of hang gliding, opened in 1990 is a unique museum and the only one in the whole of Europe; only three other similar museums exist in the world. Thanks to developments and research at the institute for space exploration, Theodosia became home to ballooning enthusiasts from all over the world.

 Theodosia has many beautiful traditions. In addition to the International Wine Festival, they celebrate the birthdays of Aivazovsky and Grin. Also, each holiday season ends with a beautiful festival of ballooning followed a massive firework display over the town centre. 

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“Theodosia” The town named “ God given “

Panorama Theodosia seen from the mountain Tepe ObaThe town of Theodosia on the Black Sea coast of Crimea is one of the oldest towns, founded by the Greeks from Miletos in the 6th century BC. Theodosia is 25 centuries old, that’s older than London, Paris and some other European cities. The Greeks called the town “Theodosia”, which translates to “God given” in English .

In the 6th century BC Greeks built temples similar to those of the Acropolis in Athens, “Theodosia” The town named “ God given “unfortunately nothing has survived to this days but many valuable artifacts, such as statues of ancient gods and gold ornaments were found during excavations in the 18th century, under the direction of the artist Konstantin Aivazovsky, who lived in Theodosia during that time. The world famous “Theodosia earrings” are currently exhibited at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.

Genoese fortressIn the 3rd century AD, Theodosia became part of the The Bosporan Kingdom which was an independent state on the east side of Crimea, now known as the Kerch peninsular.

In the 4th century AD it was totally destroyed by the invasion of the Huns, a group of nomadic people who first appeared in Europe from East of the Volga river.

“Theodosia” The town named “ God given “In the 5th century AD it came under the control of the Byzantine Empire, the predominantly Greek speaking part of the Roman empire in late antiquity whose capital was Contantinople now known as Istanbul.

 In the 6th century AD the Khazars from an empire known as Khazaria possibly today’s Khazakstan occupied the town for a very long time.

In the 13th century AD it was conquered by the Tatars a native people from the Volga region of Russia.

However, the most blooming period in the history of Theodosia was in the 14th and 15th centuries, when Genoese traders now Genoa in Italy entered into an alliance with the Golden Horde, a Mongol state established in Russia after the break up of the Mongol empire, and actually bought part of the coastal zone along the Black Sea in Crimea which included Theodosia and made the area self-governing.

The oldest surviving monuments in Theodosia are the remains of the Genoese fortress of the 14th and 15th centuries in an area called Quarantine, originally the centre of town but now the oldest part. The Genoese renamed the town Kaffa and the whole of Crimea was named as the “island of Kaffa”. Kaffa is also was mentioned in many chronicles like “pearls of the sea” as a pearl of the Black sea.

At that time the town was an important port on the Black Sea coast of the Crimean peninsular, located on the Silk Road from Italy to China. The Genoese made Kaffa a prosperous trading town with a population of about 70 thousand people. It was one of the most populous towns on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. There was even a Bank, many beautiful houses, palaces and magnificent temples with fantastic fountains.

In the 1345 AD troops of the Mongol army of Jani Beg besieged the Genoese fortress, but his assault was not successful as his troops began to die from the disease known as the “Black Death”. It has been assumed that Jani Beg’s army catapulted infected corpses into the Kaffa fortress in order to weaken the defenders. Unfortunately, infected Genoese sailors sailing back to Genoa introduced the Black death into Europe.

The disease rapidly spread across Genoa and then across most of Europe by ships and caravans. Later special barracks were built for the inspection of all incoming ships in the area of Theodosia known as Quarantin, a word still in use today to separate and restrict the movement of well persons who may have been exposed to a communicable desease. In the same area of the town there was a big Black Death cemetery, this part of town still retains the name Chumka, which means Black Death in Russian.

Genoeze fortressFrom the top of the hill of Tepe Oba which covers the town from the south west, you get a view of the Genoese fortress from the Middle Ages which looks like an amphitheater. Several remains of the Genoese fortress can be seen in the old town, the towers, the walls, temples of the 14th century, some churches and the remains of a moat. A tower “Theodosia” The town named “ God given “know as the “Dock tower” still standing today protected the eastern part of the town and the entrance to the Harbour and was used as the sea gate of the city. There is also a unique bridge still in very good condition, the only XIV century bridge still in use today in the whole of Europe. Finally there is a monument on the edge of the fort next to St. John’s Church, of “Theodosia” The town named “ God given “Athanasius Nikitin, a Russian merchant who visited Kaffa in 1472 and one of the first Europeans to travel and document his visit to India via 3 seas.

The hill Tepe Oba starts in Sebastopol and ends by the Cape of St. Elias, stretching into the sea and surrounded by Theodosia Bay to the south, with a very rocky shore and small bays . A Lighthouse has been built on the site of the old church of St. Elias and according to legend, was funded by a merchant who was twice shipwrecked there.

On the north-west side of Tepe Oba we have “Lysaya” the bald mountain , which also has a Theodosiamythical legend. Because nothing ever grew there, it was named Lysaya meaning bald in Russian, fortunately, it has now been planted with pine trees and is bald no more.

From the old quarter of Quarantine, as you walk down the old streets on the approach to the port area of the town, you reach a very interesting park. It does not look “Theodosia” The town named “ God given “particularly special but has an unbelievable history. On the land of Morsad, that’s how they named this park, one of the largest on the Black Sea coast, a huge slave market existed in medieval times. It is well known locally that a significant proportion of the income of medieval Kaffa was the slave trade. According to legend, the famous Ukrainian Roxolana who was stolen by the Tatars was sold here, Roxolana, later became the legal wife of Suleiman the Magnificent and her children formed a long dynasty of rulers during the Ottoman Empire, she has remained in history as one of the most influential women of the Middle Ages. In 1817 in the same area of this park an extraordinarily beautiful temple The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built but nothing remains today after it was destroyed in 1933 by the communists. Now the park is decorated with cute woodden sculptures made by local craftsmen from old trees which were never uprooted.

From the Morsad area, a very old Italian street exists where there is a Old Italian streethistorical building of the old Azov-Don Bank and today still performs its original purpose, as the Bank. Sculptures of Greek titans like that of Atlas, stand on each side of the door supporting balconies above, these have been newly restored since the originals were never preserved.

The Tower of St. ConstantineThe Tower of St. Constantine in the city center is another surviving monument of the medieval Genoese fortress used in the defense system of Kaffa.

That’s it about old Theodosia. Next time in Part two I will talk about another totally different Theodosia of the past 100 years.

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