Bakhchisaray: The glorious Khan’s Palace and more!
In Bakhchisaray, the must-see is the Khan’s Palace (“Hansaray”) that dates back to the 1500s. It was the center of the Crimean Khanate (a Muslim Tatar state) and remained a political-cultural-religious hub for the Crimean Tatars until 1944 when Stalin sent the populace into exile. Today the palace is a museum consisting of an extended stand of buildings, gardens, fountains, and minarets.
Bakhchisaray’s Khan’s Palace has been nominated to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage site and is the only extant palace of the Crimean Khanate. The only other two Muslim palaces in Europe are Spain’s Alhambra and Turkey’s Topkapi Palace. Although visitors can enter into the palace’s courtyard for free, a fee is charged to enter the buildings. Visitors can tour on their own or as part of a guided tour (English language tours can be arranged).
The Khan’s Palace also has romantic allure. Its Fountain of Tears was made famous by Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Fountain of Bakhchisaray”. One of the last Tatar rulers, the cruel Qirim Giray Khan, lost his young wife, and in his grief had a marble wall fountain built “so that the rock would weep, like him, forever.” The fountain is adorned with a white and a red rose to honor the two lovers.
There are other gems to find in the medieval winding streets of Bakhchisaray, a sun-drenched town located about an hour south of Simferopol. The town is host to a number of restaurants specializing in Crimean Tatar cuisine. There is also the USTA Workshop with its traditional Crimean Tatar crafts, most notably pottery and intricate silver jewelry.
Currently being restored is the Madresy, an ancient Muslim school. The grave of Ismael Gasprinky, a beloved Crimean Tatar journalist, poet, and political activist, is also located in Bakhchisaray, and a small museum in his former home is open to the public free of charge.
For visitors willing to do a little uphill walking, a 20-minute trek past the Khan’s Palace is the Uspensky Monastery (a cave-church and Orthodox Christian monastery) that is built into the limestone cliffs. This is free of charge, but donations are appreciated.
For the more ambitious visitor, the famous cave-city Chufut Kale is a further 25-minute walk (mostly uphill) from the monastery. Dozens of caves have been dug into a plateau, which affords a great 360-degree view. Former settlers also built fortress-like stone walls, installed a massive gate, and constructed a mausoleum and prayer house. A small entrance fee is charged.
Bakhchisaray is a short trip from Simferopol and Sevastopol – go by train, bus, or private car. If arriving by bus or train, grab a marshrutka (mini van) with the sign “?????? ?????” (Old city). It’s a short, inexpensive ride. The best time to visit is in the spring through the fall. Colorful flowers will be in bloom in the spring and summer, and the fall will be cooler. Be sure to wear comfortable footwear, for you’ll do a lot of walking in beautiful Bakhchisaray. Also, be sure to have your camera charged and ready for a stimulating photo adventure!
By Cheryl S. Pratt, a Peace Corps Volunteer. Text and opinions herein are the author’s only and do not reflect in any way the position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.