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Chufut Kale

By foot (one hour), by car (15 mins, with strong axles)

Standing guard over Bahçesaray are the ruins of the old hilltop city of Chufut Kale (Qale), literally the Jewish Fortress in Turkish, perhaps the most famous of the fortified clifftop settlements in the foothills of the Crimean Mountains. In medieval annals it is called Kırk Or, or Kırk Yer, and it protected the flourishing Golden Horde town of Eski Yurt, which grew up on the old trade route connecting the ports of southwest Crimea to the plains (now covered by the industrial new town and station of Bakhchisaray)

Toktamış, leader of the Horde, took refuge here in 1390 after his defeated by Tamerlane. The 14th-century türbe (mausoleum) of his daughter Canike Hanım – or Nenkecan, as she is known by Tatars today – is a haunting reminder. It stands on the plateau outside the walls of Chufut Kale, truly a tomb with a view.

In later centuries it was home to a remarkable Turkic-speaking Jewish population known as the Karaim, who worshipped in kenesa rather than synagogues, and had a deep, shamanistic respect for trees. The Karaim population of Chufut Kale did not survive the Nazi occupation of Crimea during the Second World War, despite efforts to safeguard them as ethnic Turks. A very pretty kenesa has been restored, and a Karaim community in Yevpatoria survives and flourishes in a small way.

The fortress offers a wonderful sunset view. The strenuous climb takes about an hour, but it can also be reached by car. Take a picnic.

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Issue 66, December 2023 Turkey’s Centenary Issue
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