The Sudak fortess

The Sudak fortess


The Sudak fortress is an unique complex of monuments of medieval archeology and architecture of 3d – 16th centuries. Total space of the fortress is 27.9 hectares. The vast majority of architectural objects which are hosted on this teritory are included into the State Register of immovable monuments of Ukraine.

According to the text of marginal note of 13th century in the margin of a church book, Sugdea fortress was founded in 212. Anonymous author who lived in Sugdea in 1296, wrote in the short Lives (Synaxarion) book’s margin the following text: “Was build a fortress of Sugdea in 5720 [212], and passed 1084 years from the foundation of Sugdea to this day, that is till 6804 [1296]”. The same date is in two more notes of Synaxarion that are dated respectively with 1312 and 1411-1412. It is the only written source, indicating the existence of the city in 212.


On the edge of 2d-3d centuries almost the entire mountain Crimea has joined the Bosporus. To control the territory and to fight piracy there were established numerous fortified refuges – both on the coast and in the depths of the peninsula. Some of them may have been intended for stationing of units Bosporus’ soldiers. One of such points was Sugdea. Great space on the northern slope of the Fortress Mountain in the 3d century was surrounded by walls, not reinforced by any tower. Drawing of plan of defense walls approaches to a half-circle. The outer and inner shells of masonry were built of yellow kapsel sandstone in more or less regular border technology of stack with limestone concrete. A space between the coats was built with rough stone in clay mortar.

Outside the fortess, from the side of the port, in order to ensure the defense from the sea there were built several quite powerful towers. Technique of towers’ building is professional. Internal masonry of towers was made in the diagonal technique, indicating familiarity of performers with the basic principles of classical Roman construction. Masonry of the walls was made on lime mortar, masonry technique of outer coat is similar to armor fortification on the northern slope. The interior space of the fortess has remained unbuilt, being as a shelter in case of military danger for the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. With further development of the town the cultural layer of the original fortification was almost completely demolished, although the findings of this period are not unique, they can be found on most of the settlement’s territory, and in the waters of the port bay.

Life on the territory of the original Sugdea has finally extinguished in about 330’s. Quite for a long time it remained deserted and gradually destroyed. Its renaissance has begun only in the second half of the 7th century on the ruins of the abandoned late antique fortress. Advantageous geographical location was an important factor for Sugdea’s rapid development of the area. In the port bay of Sudak – Limen-Kale in the second half of 7th century a port has started to function. The artifacts of early Byzantine times affirm that. They have been found during archaeological investigations in the port part of the town and on the shelf of the port bay. In contemporary written sources first mention of Sugdea has been found in the anonymous cosmograph of the 7th century of Ravenna, where there were enumerated main port points of the Black Sea coast.

In the second half of the 7th century in the northern Black Sea coast the power of Khazar Khaganate extends. Nomadic Iranian- and Turkicspeaking tribes, penetrating the peninsula, gradually settled there, including the territory of the restored Sugdea fortress. During the archaeological research there were found ample evidence of penetration of alien population. Once under the influence of Byzantine politics and culture, it quickly shifted to a sedentary lifestyle and swelled the population of early Byzantine city. Their religious beliefs and the way of life were also Byzantine. Despite the ethnic diversity of the population and the possible presence in the region of Khazar administration representatives, Greek remained the main language, religion was an orthodox Christianity.

Byzantine government made efforts for Christianization of pagan population of the town. At the beginning of the 8th century Sugdea already has the episcopal cathedra, that in the medieval sense gave Sugdea a city status.

The Byzantine Empire for a long time had friendships with Khazar Khanate. The political situation on the peninsula for several centuries was quite stable. Research of fortifications reported no significant alterations during this period. Almost to the end of the 10th century there were used fortifications of late antique time. However, since the beginning of the 8th century territory of ​​the city and its adjacent zone actively built up with housing and religious buildings.

After the collapse of Khazar Khaganate at the end of the 10th century Byzantine Empire strengthens its position in Tauris. Sugdea becomes the center of Byzantine military administrative unit fema, but already in 1059 it was annexed to fema of Kherson. Byzantine administration was taking steps to restore the fortifications of the city. At the turn of the 10th – 11th centuries they were amplified by numerous towers, made with the use of limestone concrete. There were actively rebuilt houses and religious buildings.
The 10th – 13th centuries the period of the highest development of the city that became a significant commercial center of Tavrika and all North Black Sea. Since the late 11th century it falls under the protectorate of Polovtsians, who demanded to pay tribute to guarantee citizens’ protection against external enemies. In 1204, after the fall of the Byzantine State Sugdea has become a part of Trabezon Empire and, for a while, the scene of trapezundsko-Seljuk military and economic confrontation.

On 27th of January 1223, under the walls of Sudak Mongolian troops first appeared. Population in fear of invaders has left the city. December 26th 1239, after a campaign in the north-eastern Rus, there was the second Mongol army near Sudak. With the formation of the Golden Orda State, Sudak falls in dependence of it. The new government leaves the form of administrative structure of the city unchanged, it is also interested in trade relations of Sudak, which reached the Iberian Peninsula and Egypt.

The Mongol conquest of Eastern European steppes, especially in the initial phase, has led to significant movements of population from east to west. At the peninsula and near the walls of Sugdea have sought for refuge and shelter people from the Polovtsian steppes. Archaeological research of the necropolis, left by this population, illustrates the process of gradual Christianization. Clusters of large masses of people in a limited territory with almost no means of livelihood led to flourishing trade with Polovtsian slaves, which has been the most significant center for nearly 100 years was Sugdea.

From the second half of the 13th century at markets of the Black Sea coast have been increasingly penetrating traders from Western Europe, mainly from two north Italian cities – Venice and Genoa. They were attracted by favorable terms of trade with the Far East and Central Asia countries, established here after the formation of the Mongol Empire. Around 1260 Genoa established a large trading factory Kaffa (modern Feodosiya), which was located 50 km east from Sudak. In Soldaya (this way Sudak was called by Italians) traded their rivals – Venetians.

At the end of 13th – the beginning of the 14th century the process of re-building of defensive installations has been activated, especially in the central area of ​​outer defense line, but the level of construction technique was very bad. Fortifications of Sugdea of 13th century were more like a high stone wall than the fortess’ walls, because they were built on clay and mud mortar. They could scare only a squad of riders, but for professional troops they were not an obstacle.

In the first half of the 14th century Golden Orda governors of the Crimea under the pretext of religious struggle have expelled Christian population from the city and ordered to demolish the fortess’ walls. Finally they were demolished during the reign of Khan Uzbek.

In the Golden Horde after the death of Khan Berdibek (1359), the struggle for the throne has begun, and Genoa has successfully taken an advantage of that. On 19th of July 1365 Genoa’s squad, according to one of the written sources “occupies the height of Sugdea”. Restorage of urban infrastructure, fortess’ walls and public buildings has started. Originally Genoa has built a citadel on top of the mountain, and much of the city surrounded by a ground rampart. Restorage of a trunk defense began no later than in 1385.