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Excursions

Mangup Cave Town

Mangup Cave TownThe Feodoro principality, whose capital is known under name as Mangup - Feodoro, left a bright trace in the Crimea`s medieval history, rich in white spots. This state cannot be found on the medern world map: it disappeared more than five hundred years ago, victimized by the invaders. It is hard to identify the reason of an nondecreasing interest to its history: whether it is the small state`s tragic fate, its heroic fight against the powerful enemy or numerous mysterious landmarks of the Feodoro`s history.

In the south-western part of the inner range of the Crimean Mountains, between Bakhchisaray and Inkerman, striking monuments to medieval epoch - Doros - Feodoro - Mangup of Crimean Gothia.

The fortification constructing on the Mangup plateau started in the second half of 6th century at the time of Byzantine emperor Justinian the First (Justinian the Great). That area was about 90 hectares.

In the center of the plateau there was erected one of the biggest Christian basilicas in Taurica, which only yielded in its dimensions to those of two most significant Chersonesus basilicas. The floor of the temple was multicolor mosaic, the walls were covered with frescoes. During the 1912 excavations, a limestone slab bearing a fragment of an inscription with the name of Justinian the First was discovered. As it was found out, the fortress served not only as a military post, but as an important ideological centre of the local people conversion to Christianity.

Starting from the second half of the 7th century, the Khazars occasionally raided the peninsula, gradually moving from the Bosporus onto its western part, their influence becoming more notable nearby Chersonesus in the early 8th century, when Khazars captured Mangup.

In the second half of the 9th century Byzantine renovaited its control over this area untill the mid 11th century, when the central part of Empire was invited by the Turks-Seljuks. In the 9th - 10th centuries the construction of a large town was begun. There is no mention of Mangup in the 11th - 13th centuries. But with time, Mangup subdued a sizeable territory of south-western Crimea and part of the southern maritime lands (from Alushta to Balacalva). thus a large faudal principality of Feodoro was formed, with a capital of the same name.

During the Mongol-Tatar invasion the Mangup principality managed to retain its independence. It survived, although it lost part of its territory where the Mongol-Tatars settled. And in the 15th century the Genoese seized some maritime possessions, including the territory of today`s Balaclava and the Chembalo Fortress.

The period from the early 15th century till the moment of the parincipality`s fall (in 1475) was the time of its greatest political and economic upsurge. This time is reflected in some written sources. It is assumed the first Feodoro princes descendend from Trabzon nobility - the Armenian family of Gavras, who appeared in the Crimea as early as the 12th century as Byzantine governors.

In the early 15th century Feodoro was ruled by the energetic and intelligent Prince Alexei. He heade the principality till 1434, most intensive fortification works, palaces and church construction took palce and foreign trade grew in scope. To achieve this, he had to fight for access to the sea and a need arose to rebuild the Kalamita (now Inkerman) Fortress, which existed during the early Middle Ages. Alexei also manged to take he Chembalo Fortress away from Genoese, and it passed into the possession of the Mangup principality.

Alexei`s actions caused alarm in Genoa. To save face and return the lost fortress, Italians equipped a squadron of 20 gulleys with 6,000 soldiers, commanded by the famous Genoese military leader, Karlo Lomelino and set sail for the Tauric shores. The Genoese burst into Chembalo, seized and torched Kalamita. Prince`s son, Alexei, was taken prisoner. Then the Genoese moved east along the coast, sacking settlements, destroying fortresses of local fuedal lords and subjugating those who endeavoured to resist.

Kalamita Fortress, however, was returned and rebuilt. Soon after these events, Alexei died and the principality was ruled by his sons Alexei II (1434-1456), whom the Genoese released, Olubei (1456-1471) and Isaac (1471-1475). In 1471 Prince Isaac visited Kaffa (now Feodosia) and concluded an alliance with the Genoese. At that time the Feodoro principality had important political relations in the northern Black Sea maritime region.

The Mangup dynasty`s high prestige did impress Moscow Great Prince Ivan III, and to strenghten his ties with the descendants of the last Byzantine dynasty he even tried to marry his son Ivan to the daughter of the Mangup Prince. The respective talks were conducted in 1474 by Nikita Beklemishev, the first Tussian envoy to the Crimea, who visited Mangup and was received by Prince Isaac, the then-ruler of Feodoro. All the issues of the marriage to come had been settled, but the Moscow delegation which arrived later, could not get to Mangup, as it was circled by the Turkish siege.

The Rurkish siege lasted for half a year and followed the same scenario that had been used twenty-rwo years before at the walls of the Byzantine`s capital. According to a laconic definition of an eye-witness of the event, the main reason of the Turks` success was: "Cannons decided everything". These words are fully applicable to the Mangup siege as well. Two heavy cannons threw 42- and 35-santimetres granite balls, weighing respectively 100 and 65 kilogram, from a distance of 200 metres. A horrifying roar of cannons a psychological effect on the Feodoro inhabitants as most of them knew about this, the - then latest, weapon only through hearsay. Nonetheless, the city stood up to the enemy. A detachment of 300 Moldavia`s was sent by Stephan III, the Moldavia`s ruler, the last Mangup Prince Alexander`s brother-in-law, to assist the defenders. Very likely, an anti-Othman defensive alliance was concluded between Moldavia and Feodoro. A similar alliance was to be signed with Hungrian king Matey Korvin. Among the city defenders were Muscovites too. Thus, among the fallen in the battle was prince Ivan Vladimirovich, the great-grandson of prince Stepan Vasilievich, the founder of the Golovins family, who was visiting his Mangup relatives when the siege commenced.

The fall of Mangup was mentioned with bitterness in the Russian Chronicles. The courageous principality was regarded as an example to derive inspiration from in the liberation struggel against the Golden Horde ruling in Russia.

The next three hundred years after Feodoro annexion Mangup had served as a Turkish fortress, an administrative centre of a district that included lands formerly owned by the principality. Its garrison abandoned it after 1774, when Kuchuk-Kainardji Treaty put an end to the Crimean Khanate vassalage from Istanbul. In the last decade of the 18th century the Karaite (Jewish) community left the city, and it became completely desolate.

Many mysteries of Doros-Feodoro-Mangup have been solved. But, majestic and stern, it proposes ever new riddles reminding of its past among the ruins of the ancient city.

Sergey Tsarapora private guide