Extract

Crimea: the Heartland

Bahçesaray: an Ottoman world in miniature

The Crimean khans founded their capital in the fertile foothills of the Crimean Mountains in the 15th century. This was the nucleaus of the land known as Cim Tartary. The garden palace of Bahçesaray is a glorious reminder of the khans’ 350-year reign

  • A view of Bahçesaray, c1840, by Carlo Bossoli (1815–84) This is one of 54 Crimean views from ‘The Beautiful Scenery and Chief Places of Interest throughout the Crimea’ (London, 1856). The lithographs in this article are from a copy in the Buccleuch Collection at Bowhill, in Scotland. One of Europe’s finest topographical artists, the Lugano-born Bossoli grew up in Odessa. His views are based on paintings made before he left Russia in 1843

Only 20 years after Mehmed the Conqueror captured Istanbul, Crimea became an important, but autonomous, part of his burgeoning Ottoman Empire. After 1475 the Crimean khans, descendants of Genghis Khan, increasingly came under Ottoman sway. They started building their capital and palace at Bahçesaray (literally Garden Palace) around 1530, and went on adding pavilions and baths, courtyards and gardens for 250 years. The town turned into a miniature Ottoman city, their palace into a miniature Topkapı.

Bahçesaray’s small size belies its significance. The palace is a unique gem – the only one of Ottoman design to survive outside Istanbul. And Crimean Tatars have exerted a strong influence on Turkey, first as mounted archers vital to the expanding empire, and more recently as prominent figures in the arts, educational reform and Ottoman historical research.

Not much is left of the town Bossoli painted here, but the Turkish connection – and the Tatars’ Turkic language – have survived Catherine the Great’s annexation, Stalin’s Terror and exile of the Tatars, and recent upheavals in Ukraine and Russia.

Bossoli shows the palace as a harmonious assembly of low buildings round a spacious courtyard. On the left, walled gardens lead from the octagonal Falcon Tower to the pavilions of the harem and the audience hall. On the right are the minarets of the great Friday mosque and the monumental tombs of the rulers.

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Issue 49, April 2013 Travels in Tartary
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