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Cornucopia’s travel guide

Sevastopol: 'the best harbour in the world'

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…'
What you will see

Potemkin’s gift to Catherine the Great, ‘the greatest harbour in the world’, Sevastopol makes an ideal base from which to explore Crimea’s west coast, and the mountainous southwest corner of the peninsula.

Only recently opened to visitors, the city, with its population of under half a million, remains military in character with many monuments to the city’s two sieges (in the Crimean War and WWII). A large round building, the Panorama Museum houses an astonishing 360-degree panorama of the first of these (and a smaller version on the outskirts depicts the WWII siege). Another excellent museum devoted to Crimean War memorabilia has recently opened in the Mykhailivska Battery.

Getting there

Simferopol Airport is little more than an hour’s drive. A railway runs south-west from Simferopol to Sevastopol.

Getting around

Sevastopol is a very good city base from which to explore southwest Crimea. Traffic is never an issue; the roads are excellent. To find your feet in Sevastopol itself, use the online guide Sevastopol In Your Pocket . Nearby is the valley and village of Balaklava that receives a steady stream of visitors. And on the hills and river valleys north and west of the city are the poignant battlefields. But Bahçesaray, Simferopol and even Yalta are all in easy reach for leisurely day-trips.

Boat trips round the complex of docks show the history of the town in its ships. Not far from the centre are the remains of the Greek city of Chersoneos, where later Vladimir the Great of Kievan Rus’ was baptised, leading to the Christianisation of Russia.

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