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Reading list | Sevastopol

Sevastopol is a handsome seaside city with the look of a tiered wedding cake: a northern Neoclassicist’s version of a Mediterranean city, with sudden flourishes of Soviet heroism. Despite its formidable defences, visible in Bossoli’s 1840s view of the port, it was twice flattened by European bombardment – French and British in 1856, German in 1942. After each horrific siege, it rose again, but in the 1950s, as thousands of labourers from all over the Soviet Union finished rebuilding it to Stalin’s taste, it vanished for almost five decades into a Cold War fog, a “closed city” seen only by the Soviet navy (and no doubt spies) until 1997. It is still home to the Black Sea fleets of Ukraine and Russia. The city was the dreamchild of His Most Serene Highness Prince of the Holy Roman Emperor, Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, 'probably husband of Catherine the Great' [(*Simon Sebag Montefiore*)]( In a letter to his empress Potemkin called Akyar, its old Tatar name, 'the finest harbour in the world'. 'Let Kherson (the name of the ancient Greek port) of Akhtiar be the southern capital of my Sovereign,' he wrote. How very different things looked 50 years later, after the horrendous bombardment of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. Algernon Percy's *A Bearskin's Crimea* includes William Russell's firsthand account of the Russian hospital after the fall: 'Of all the pictures of the horrors of war which have ever been presented to the world, the hospital of Sebastopol presents the most horrible, heart-rending, and revolting…'
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