July 01, 2005

The Defense of Sevastopol

Sevastopol, Crimea is a city layered in history. The remains of the ancient Greek city of Khersones are here, as are those of the medieval Byzantine fortress of Kalamita, known now as Inkerman – Turkish for “cave fortress.” Roman legionnaires also walked these lands. In the middle ages, Genoese traders took note of the area’s excellent natural harbors and placed a fortress here. The paths of Byzantine, Italian, Tatar and Turkish merchants – as well as many others – all intersected here; cultures mixed, they built churches and mosques, harbor fortifications and warehouses.

At the end of the 18th century, the lands of the Crimean Khanate became part of the Russian Empire. Empress Catherine the Great, like many of her predecessors, appreciated the strategic significance of this place by the sea, whose steep and jagged coastline was easily defended. And so, in 1783-84, a port was built here and Catherine gave it the Greek name of Sevastopol – “city worthy of veneration.”

Catherine, born a German princess, was inspired by the ancient dream of Russia’s tsars, who considered Moscow to be the Third Rome, protector of Orthodox lands. And this idea was the basis for yet another: that Russia had a claim to the Second Rome: Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire and once known as Constantinople.

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