“Air Town” – in such a way one of the contemporaries of A.S. Pushkin named Chufut-Kale. It seems that the houses and walls of this medieval town, like eagle nests, cling right to the impregnable cliff located on the plateau of the mountain spur dominating three deep valleys.
The very nature prepared an impregnable construction site, and the man erected a town here, strengthening the natural protection with fortifications. In XIII century the fortress was inhabited by Alans – the most powerful of the tribes of Iranian origin. They were engaged in farming, livestock breeding and craft, traded with the neighboring and distant countries. On the fertile lands of the surrounding valleys they grew fruits and grapes.
Soon, however, Tatar troops of the Golden Horde captured the fortress; male warriors were, as usual, killed, and the rest of the population enslaved. Capturing the town, Tatars placed a garrison in it and called it in their own way – Kyrk-Or (“Forty Fortifications”). Appreciating the fortress, the first Crimean Khan, Haji-Giray, in XV century turned it into a fortified residence, creating a safe haven during the khans’ struggle against the Golden Horde for independence.
After the relocation of the Crimean khans into the new capital – Bakhchisaray – Kyrk-Or remained the stronghold of the capital and the place of imprisonment of noble captives. Lithuanian ambassador Lez, Polish Hetman Potocki, favorite of Ivan the Terrible, Vasiliy Gryaznoy, languished at various times in this prison.
Russian ambassadors Vasiliy Aytemirov and Prince Romodanovskiy spent for three years in the khan’s prison. But the most difficult trial was endured by the Russian governor, favorite of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, Vasiliy Sheremetev. Sheremetev spent twenty-one years in the prison; four khans changed during this time in Bakhchisaray, but the prisoner refused to buy the freedom for the price which was too expensive for Russia – for it the cities of Kazan and Astrakhan were required.
Only courage, indomitable will and love for Russia helped the patriot to endure many years of a heavy bondage. Sheremetev was repurchased in 1681 by his relatives, and he returned to his homeland as a helpless, crippled, blind old man.
From the middle of XVII century Tatars began to leave Kyrk-Or; only Karaites stayed to live there. Tatars considered them Jews, so the town from then on became known as Chufut-Kale, which means “Jewish Fortress”. And Karaites lived there for more than two centuries.
After annexation of the Crimea to Russia, Karaites declared themselves its followers, and soon the tsarist government recognized that Karaites were not Jews and gave them privileges, in particular, allowed assignment of officer ranks in the Army. Now they could live throughout the empire.
Since that time, Chufut-Kale started to empty. Residents left the severe plateau moving to Bakhchisaray, Simferopol, Yevpatoriya. In 1852, last inhabitants of Chufut-Kale left.
Literature: P.Ye. Garmash. Guide to the Crimea. – Simferopol, 1996.