An Antiquity of One's Own

Ruins are among the most powerful elements of the built environment in Russia's southern empire. For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Tavrida itself was seen, from a certain perspective, as one sprawling, glorious ruin. The province was strewn with burial sites, churches, fortifications, and cities that had fallen into various states of disrepair, suffered catastrophic destruction, or otherwise been subsumed within deep layers of soil and rock. 

The presence of architectural monuments, ruined and otherwise, played nearly as important a role in the toponymy of the region as geological and hydrographical features. Cliffs and streams, clearings and ancient walls and burial mounds: such features lent their names to the places they shaped. 

They did more than that. For much of the tsarist period, the surest way to navigate the rocky and tumultuous southern coast was by following rough directions and goat paths, calibrating one's course according to rocky outcroppings, views of the sea, and ruins.

Claims to these ubiquitous and treacherous sites were empowering. Knowledge of them was valuable, even vital, to any claim to possession of the peninsula. This narration explores this idea in greater depth and maps the archaeological politics that helped define the significance of Crimea from a global - as well as an intensely local - perspective.

Related GalleryUvarov's Antiquities
Related CollectionKeppen's Antiquities
Related article: Kelly O'Neill, "Constructing Russian Identity in the Imperial Borderland: Architecture, Islam, and the Transformation of the Crimean Landscape," Ab Imperio 2 (2006): 163-192.