The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Tuesday, October 27

Bakhchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye)

Today my friend Barb and I are off to Bakchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye). I just love the sound of that word. Apparently it means "garden palace." It was the capital of the Tatar Kanate dynasty from the 15th to the 18th century. Here a highly developed Islamic culture ruled the area. I know nothing about it so I am excited to be here. .

Fortunately, the Khan's Garden Palace has managed to survive the ages and Soviets destruction.
We arrive on a day that is bright and warm. Traveling here in October spares us of the hordes of tourists that come this way in summer months. In fact as we enter the main gate we are surprised to see so few others. It almost feels like we are having a private tour with attendants friendly and escorting us along the way.
The Palace is actually a compound composed of buildings clustered around a central court yard. While it is not as extensive and grand as Granada in Spain, it does have those wonderful turrets and intricate carvings of Islamic architecture.

Each building had its own function. Some were official buildings where ambassadors from far away could be received or other important matters handled. Others were living quarters where the the extended royal family lived and relaxed. There is even an entire building (only one of four to survive) dedicated to the harem.
I imagine life five centuries ago while walking through the maze of interlocking rooms or pausing at a fountain for a moment of reflection or soaking in the cool breeze of an outside garden tucked in a nook between buildings.

Here are a few pictures that will help you to imagine a little about people who lived so differently than we do.
A lovely fountain sits in the center of an even more lovely rose garden.

Ornamentation adorns buildings.

Intricate designs on ceilings are incorporated into rooms.

A typical passage way connecting different parts of the Palace.
A sitting room in the Harem.
A nook with a fountain.
The famous Fountain Of Tears. The advances of an ancient ruler were shunned by a polish beauty. His greif was so intense that carftsmen built this fountain as an outlet for his tears. Water drips from side to side portraying the duality of life - good and bad, joy and sadness and so forth. Russian writer Alexander Pushkin was so moved by the story that he wrote a poem about it. in 1823. To learn more about the fountain, go to
Gold woven into material for royal garments.
Intricate carvings are everywhere.

Later that day, Barb and I take off for the 6th century cave city of Bakchysaray. I sure am glad I have gotten use to more walking. Today's hike is challenging. The first 20 minutes is a steep climb as we wind up the side of a mountain. I gasp, "It feels like a 30 degree angle." But like the tortoise in fables, I slowly make progress.
As we come around a bend, an amazing church reveals itself. It has literally been carved into the limestone rock along with cubicles for the monks. The Upensky Monastery got started by Byzantine monks in the 8th century. It was closed by Soviets, but since Ukrainian independence, monks have come to reclaim it.

As if on cue, the bells in the tower start to peal out a call to worship. Priests and lay people slowly climb the steps as if worship has already begun. I pause to listen and allow the devotion to God to surround me.

Our hike is just beginning. Next stop are the foot hills of the ancient Cave City - Chufut-Kale. Historical records are unclear, but people have probably lived here since the 6th century. The list includes Christianized Samaritans, Tatars, Turks, and the Jewish Karaites, a small sect

The steep climb to the the first caves is difficult, but I make it. Although no one, but Barb is around, I cheer my accomplishment.

Here are a few pictures of the vistas.

With dusk approaching, we scurry back down the hillside and discover that going down is almost as difficult as going up. But sights and accomplishments fill my memory. Say it again, "Bakchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye)." - a garden palace and cave city. Places filled with history. What a privledge to be here.


  1. A great description of that day, Jud, and you have some really beautiful pictures. Especially of the palace. I will have to get them from you. It was so nice sharing that day with you.

  2. Wow, Crimea is just so different from the rest of Ukraine. I don't see any part of my now-familiar eastern Ukraine in these pictures! It's like a totally different country.

  3. There is just something very alluring about old architecture and most of the times there is a story about how it came to be! Islamic culture is so beautiful too.