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The Tulip Period in the Ottoman Empire is associated with more hedonistic pastimes than fortress-building, so the fact that it was Sultan Ahmed III who ordered this ambitious 18th-century Ottoman fortress is something of a revelation. Yenikale – the New Fortress – guards Kerch Strait at its narrowest point at the entrance to the Sea of Azov. Nearby is the ferry crossing between the Kerch and Taman peninsulas (now linking Ukraine with Russia).
The fortress was built against the growing threat of Russian and Cossack raids launched from Taganrog (birthplace of Chekhov), on the northern shore of the Sea of Azov. Its Turkish–Tatar garrison was a thousand-strong and equipped with a fleet of twelve 60-gun ships. Excavations have revealed a remarkable ceramic water-supply system. The railway line now divides the lower part of the fortress, on the water’s edge, from the impressive walls on the hillside, but there is nothing to stop you clambering up to them.
In 1819, Henry AS Dearborn writes in his book A Memoir of Commerce and Navigation of the Black Sea: ‘Yenikale, or as it is frequently written Jenikale, is situated at the extreme end of the Bosporian peninsula, on the southern shore. It has a good roadstead which ships often come to, and wait for favourable winds, to pass through the straits. The town contains about two thousand inhabitants. The fortress from which the the place has derived its name, Yenikale being composed of two Turkish or Tartar words signifying The New Castle, stands upon some high cliffs, above the town, and is twelve miles distant from the opposite shore… In one of the towers of the citadel is a fountain; and the source from whence it is derived, supplies a conduit on the outside, near the base. The water flows in by aqueducts from a spring, four miles distant, and falls at the bottom of the tower, into the cavity of an ancient marble soros. This soros is of one entire block of white marble, of the weight of two or three tons.’
Today the fortress may seem modest, especially after the gigantic Totleben Fortress, south of Kerch, and this is not the Cimmerian Bosphorus at its most scenic. But it is interesting as one of the few surviving historical Ottoman landmarks on the Kerch peninsula.
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