Eski-Kermen – a cave city in the Crimea

The cave city of Eski-Kermen – an interesting medieval monument in the Crimea

The cave cities are the most interesting phenomenon of the Crimean peninsula. Created by the joint efforts of man and nature, they left a lot of mysteries to the distant descendants of their creators. Tourists often come here to try to solve at least some of them. Abandoned ancient fortresses serve as a background for films and objects for hard work of archaeologists, who alone can return the stone soul and life. One of these fortifications is the cave-town Eski-Kermen in the Crimea.


Where is the cave city in the Crimea?

The cave city is located on a plateau 14 km south of Bakhchisaray. The village of Krasny Mak is the closest to it. Not far away are also Ternovka and Zalesnoye. Another famous cave city Mangup-Kale is situated 4 km away from the plateau of Eski-Kermen.

Eski-Kermen on the map of Crimea

History of appearance: a Byzantine fortress

The cave city of Eski-Kermen photo

All information about its history is obtained by archeologists. In written sources no mention of it was found, although it was quite large, well fortified and had an active trade. Its real name is also unknown. “Eski-Kermen” is a later Tatar name, it means “old fortress”.

The cave city of Yeski-Kermen (photo 1)

Approximately the cave town arose in the VI century, during Byzantine domination, existed until the turn of the XIII-XIV centuries, when it was destroyed by the Mongol-Tatar invaders. The inhabitants were engaged in agriculture and trade. In case of danger, it could give shelter to the population of the nearest unfortified settlements, because it was excellently protected – it was not easy to take it by storm. But it was destroyed in the battle, as the remains of two dwellings were examined by archaeologists. Both were burnt, and the skeletons of a family – a man, a woman and a child – were found in one. All had been felled with sabers, as evidenced by the damage to the bones of the skull.

Now Eski-Kermen is a protected historical and archaeological monument. You can visit it without restrictions, but overnight stays, making fire, any excavations (even just a violation of the integrity of the soil) and especially the tourist creative work of the series “Vasya was here” are prohibited. In popularity in the Crimea, it is second only to Chufut Qale.

Mountain film trials in the cave town

The unusual appearance of the premises of this ancient settlement attracted the attention of cinematographers. Unfortunately, the popularity of the monument did not contribute to the popularity of the cinema – the area was passed off as any other region. The views from the cave “windows” are often seen in Soviet and Russian adventure films, and in the “9th Company” by F. Bondarchuk, the plateau of Eski-Kermen played the role of the mountain of Afghanistan.

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General description of the fortress

The cave city of Eski-Kermen photo 2

At its time the fortress Eski-Kermen was supposed to be a first-class stronghold. The sheer cliffs of the plateau had already served as an excellent defense. The city had man-made fortifications as well – walls with rock foundations and several gates. The remains of a tower, almost traditionally called the Maiden Tower (Kyz-Kule), are preserved at the top of the plateau. Scientists believe that there is a distortion here, and the name should be Kez-Kule, from the word “eye”, i.e. “watchtower”.

Probably, such distortions led to the appearance of “maiden towers” in almost all Crimean medieval fortifications. There was also a siege well – a very deep well with stone stairs, at the bottom of which a spring formed a small lake. There is water here until now.

Today you can not see the Eski-Kermen fortifications. Presumably, they were demolished back in the VIII century, after a failed uprising against the Khazars. However, the stone stairs, foundations carved in the rocks, and, of course, the caves survived. Some of them are of natural origin, in some places, they were carved in the limestone by human hands. Scientists believe that the townspeople did not live in such grottoes, but used them as outbuildings, defense installations, workshops, churches and tombs. They could also play the role of cellars for the above-ground dwellings.

What is Eski-Kermen interesting?

The cave city of Eski-Kermen photo 3

Now you can see the “main street” of the city, from which in different directions depart underground casemates, go down into the siege well, visit the churches of the Assumption of Mary and the Three Horsemen (probably dedicated to St. George, and got its name from the extant frescoes depicting the horsemen).

You can also see numerous pits for storing grain (provided with ventilation; stocks in case of siege could be stored here for several years), and on the slopes – feral bushes of grapes, once cultivated by city dwellers. Now Crimean breeders are trying to restore the varieties.

For the convenience of tourists in different places are hung posters with descriptions of the main sites. There is also a general map of the settlement. Eski-Kermen is accessible both with and without a guide, but you should be especially careful if you visit it on your own, because you might get lost in the caves.

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Photos of Eski-Kermen are very famous, but tourists prefer to make their own, which is allowed without any restrictions, as well as to make a video. The beauty of the view and the mystique of the ancient city dispose to that, which enjoys all the visiting travelers who have decided to conquer the ancient beauty of Crimea.

How to get to the cave city?

While planning your excursion you should know how to get there. The cave city of Eski-Kermen is unreachable for transport – it is prohibited to find anything on wheels there. You will have to take a bus from Bakhchisaray to the village Krasny Mak and then walk from there. Public transportation to the village also runs from Simferopol, Sevastopol and Yalta.

Some travel agencies organize transportation of tourists in jeeps to the bottom of the plateau, but still have to climb on foot. By car from Bakhchisarai you will have to overcome such a way:

To get to Eski-Kermen by car from Sevastopol you can do it this way:

Tips for tourists

  • Address: Krasny Mak village, Bakhchisaraysky district, Crimea, Russia.
  • Coordinates: 44°36′40″N (44.610981), 33°44′23″E (33.739607).
  • Phone: +7 (978) 701-38-44.
  • Official website:
  • Opening hours: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Visiting prices: for adults – 100 ₽, for students – 50 ₽.

Most vacationers tend to visit the cave city of Eski-Kermen on the Crimean peninsula. The reviews of those who have been there contribute to the growing popularity of the ancient settlement. After you see a short video about it.


The cave city of Eski-Kermen

Much of the Crimean mountains are composed of soft rocks. This contributed to the formation of a large number of karst caves. The people who built artificial grottos contributed to this as well. Thus, on the Crimean peninsula had several cave towns. One of the most interesting is called Eski-Kermen.

The old fortress

In Crimean Tatar the word “eski” literally means “old” and “kermen” means “fortress”. The cave metropolis is located in the southwest of Crimea, two dozen kilometers from Bakhchisaray. By the standards of antiquity it was really a megalopolis, as the area of urban development reached about eight hectares. With a width of 170 meters the settlement was a little over a kilometer long. The city was built on a plateau 30 m high.

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The ancient city is located on the unapproachable cliff

The ancient city is located on the unapproachable rock

Now Eski-Kermen is a protected zone. It is a part of the exposition of the Bakhchisarai Museum. Nearby there are the villages Ternovka, Kholmovka, Zalesnoye and Krasny Mak. From there start the walking routes to the reserve plateau. Just five kilometers from Eski-Kermen there is another ancient cave city that is called Mangup-Kale.

From the depths of centuries

In the 6th century AD the Byzantines settled in these places. They built a fortification on the mountain. For almost three hundred years the settlement was on the second role. Its population actually consisted only of the soldiers of the garrison. And only in the X century there was a tendency to grow. Over the next two hundred years the number of inhabitants grew to 2,000. Construction of the vast plateau was conducted systematically. A regular network of streets and neighborhoods appeared on the mountain.

The massif is pierced with caves and passages

The mountain massif was riddled with caves and passages.

The flourishing of the city was caused by the change of its status. The Cathedral was opened in Eski-Kermen, where the ruling bishop served. The pulpit, which was found by archaeologists in the temple near the central gate, is a proof of that. During this period, the ancient basilica was greatly expanded and rebuilt. Relatively wide streets were a rarity for a medieval town. They were even used by carts. This is evidenced by the ruts from wheels and traces from hooves, carved in stone over hundreds of years.

Golden Horde ruler Nogai dealt a devastating blow to the welfare of Eski-Kermen. In 1299 his army captured the city, ruined and destroyed it. The former greatness could not be restored even many years after the departure of the invaders. In 1399 the Mongol army under the command of Temnik Yedigei completed the destruction. Temnik in the Golden Horde commanded a detachment of 10,000 soldiers. It turns out that the number of enemies many times exceeded the number of inhabitants.

Tracks from carts

Wagon tracks.

This was the last battle of the cave citadel, after which it has never been rebuilt. Only the satellite town of Cherkes-Kermen remained, situated on the northern outskirts of Eski-Kermen, at the foot of the mountain. The small ancient settlement existed almost until the end of the XX century. In the Soviet Union it was known as Krepkoe village. This settlement with its ancient history was abolished in 1977.

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Scenery for a thriller

Even today Eski-Kermen makes a spectacular impression. Sometimes it seems that this is not an archaeological site, but a giant set for a sci-fi movie. Some cave complexes resemble huge skulls with black empty eye sockets, others look like medieval knight’s helmets. Stairs leading nowhere, roads with ruts, as if hewn in the stone, and mysterious tunnels, leading into the dungeons – this is Eski-Kermen. No less impressive are the alien panoramas that open from the plateau.

At times, it seems that it is not the city, but the scenery for a sci-fi movie

Sometimes it seems that it’s not the city, but the setting for a sci-fi movie.

In total, there are about 350 natural and artificial caves in the city. There are about fifty more in the vicinity. It really is a real cave metropolis. Some grottoes are located in several floors. Some were used as fortifications, others as temples, some for living and household purposes, storing food, keeping cattle. They all appeared in the period from the XII to the XIII century.

The length of the plateau is more than a kilometer. The constructions occupy only a part of the territory. A typical house of the citizen had two floors and was surrounded with a stone fence. The first floor served for household needs, on the second floor lived. In the city were developed crafts – there were blacksmiths, potters, jewelers, stonecutters, tanners. Wine-making flourished – niches with drains called tarpan have survived. Wine was fermenting in them.

A hand-made miracle

You can start your acquaintance with Eski-Kermen from the temple of the Three Horsemen. It is located on the road that leads to the plateau. It is hard to imagine a more bizarre church. At first you might think that this is just a huge gray boulder about four meters in diameter. And it really is a fragment of rock, but it’s hollow inside!

View from the cave city

The view from the cave town

A small wooden door with a golden cross leads to the temple. Behind it is an oval room with a window covered with shutters. The wall is decorated with a long fresco depicting three horsemen – hence the name of the temple. One of them is easily recognized by the spear with which he strikes the serpent. There is no doubt that it is St. George the Victorious. There is an inscription under the painting, which says that the holy martyrs were depicted for the salvation of the soul and the remission of sins.

Life in the Middle Ages was full of dangers, so it is impossible to imagine any ancient town without fortress walls. Eski-Kermen is no exception. The main gate leading inside the fortress was situated right in the rock massif. Behind them was the first defensive wall. Steep ledges of the plateau itself served as an ideal defense, so the walls were built only where there were loopholes for the enemies. The defensive line included caves with loopholes. The fortifications built over a thousand years ago, are in very good condition.

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The way to the cave city is from Bakhchisaray

The way to the cave city lies from Bakhchisaray

In Eski-Kermen there are a lot of cult constructions. On the main street in the eastern wall there is a spacious cave temple. Inside you can see benches, font and tombs. Because of its size, it is called the Great Cave Temple. On the territory of the city you can see the ruins of the basilica of the VI century and a number of cave temples – the Temple at the city gate, the complex “The Judicatory” and the Church of the Assumption, decorated with frescoes.

From the coastal towns to Eski-Kermen they organize excursions

From the coastal towns to Eski-Kermen there are organized excursions

The fortress has a siege well, which is a complex engineering structure. In fact, it is an inclined excavation with a stone staircase with 89 steps. It leads to a 20-meter horizontal tunnel which leads to a cave where there was drinking water. The well was in working order until the end of VII century. Walking around Eski-Kermen you involuntarily realize how much time and labor it took to turn the mountain into a thriving city.

How to get there

There are several ways to get to Eski-Kermen. If you go by car you have to turn left at the 37th kilometer of the road Simferopol-Sevastopol, behind the village of Siren. On the outskirts of the village Tankovoye you must turn right and reach the village Krasny Mak. Here you will see the monument of Lamenting Mother. Here you are to turn to the right and drive more 5 kilometers along the dirt track.

The second option is to use the public transportation. From Bakhchisaray, Sevastopol and Yalta there are regular buses to the village Zalesne. There is a path to Eski-Kermen. Its length is about 4 kilometers. The walk will take no more than an hour. You can also go to the village Kholmovka. In this case the distance to the cave city is slightly more – about 7 kilometers.

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