Staryy Krym: Step Back Centuries
Visiting Staryy Krym in Crimea is like grasping a bit of history in your hand. In fact, the name of the entire peninsula (Crimea) came from this town’s name. Staryy Krym means “Old Crimea”, an adaption of the centuries’ old name of Eski Krim, given to the town by Turkish inhabitants.
Although today quite modest, Staryy Krym once boasted being the center of the Crimean Yurt, a branch of the mighty Golden Horde. In the early 1200s the Golden Horde (including the formerly nomadic Tatars) swept through Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Crimea. Crimea became part of a huge empire that stretched from China in the east to beyond Kyiv and Moscow in the west, and Staryy Krym became capital of the Crimean portion of the empire.
Staryy Krym was also a major stopping point on the ancient caravan routes that wove their way around the Black Sea, resulting in a vibrant mix of nationalities—Armenians, Turks, Genoese, Tatars, and Russians. In its 13th- and 14th-century heyday, Staryy Krym was such a prosperous, powerful city that contemporaries labeled it the “second Baghdad”. Alas, in the early 1500s, Staryy Krym began its slow decline as the Crimean Khanate’s focus shifted to the up-and-coming Bakhchisaray.
What tops the must-see list? The monastery of Surb-Khach (Holy Cross) in the hills outside of town. Founded by Armenian refugees in 1338, the monastery’s stone buildings are being restored from centuries of wear and tear, along with reconstruction of beautiful religious details destroyed by the Soviets when they ruled Crimea. The Surb-Khach monastery is amongst the oldest Armenian sites in Crimea. Tours are free of charge. Monks still reside here, so portions of the property are not open to the public. Visitors can drive or walk the paved road that pleasantly winds uphill for two miles to the monastery. A cookhouse nestled in the forest behind the monastery prepares food for the monks and also sells light refreshments and tea to hungry travelers.
The oldest mosque in Crimea is located on Halturina Street in Staryy Krym, a short walk off the main street of Lenina. Ozbek Han Mosque was constructed in 1314 by the Tatars. It has been restored and is in use today. Next to the mosque are the ruins of an ancient medresy (Islamic school) built in 1332.
Other sights in Staryy Krym include the Alexander Green Museum, a tiny three-room house that Green (also known as “Grin”) lived in at the end of his life (1932). Some say his books (e.g., Scarlet Sails) have timeless appeal on the level of such writers as Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson. The museum is at 52 Karl Liebknekht Street, a narrow sidestreet parallel to Lenin Street. Donations appreciated.
Today, this quaint town is overshadowed by its Black Sea resort neighbors of Feodosiya, Sudak and Koktebel. Should Staryy Krym be left to obscurity? No! It is definitely worth a day trip. Reach it by bus or car (Route P23). For visitors arriving by bus, be prepared to do lots of walking to take in the sights, for there are no mini-van routes (“marshrutkas”) in Staryy Krym.
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.