Calling all history lovers! Sevastopol, Ukraine

| November 3, 2010

Cox & Kings’ Product Manager for Europe, Mike Fleetwood visited the Crimea region in Ukraine on a trip in association with Ukraine International Airlines.

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The Crimea region has long fascinated visitors from both Western and Eastern Europe due to its warm temporal climate, grand coastal palaces and fascinating history. Sevastopol has had a varied history with two sieges within the last two centuries, which completely destroyed the city on both occasions. Fully reconstructed in the 1950's, the city has recently been in the headlines due to the renewal of the lease to 2042 of the Russian navy base, which serves their Black Sea Fleet headquarters. Evidence of this, is seen with the various cruisers, rocket boats and submarines which are stationed here.

The Great Patriotic war is deeply embedded in the Russian and Ukrainian consciousness due to huge losses to civilian population and the Red Army. Visitors to most Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian cities will have seen memorials with the eternal flame dedicated to the fallen and during our time in Sevastopol, we witnessed the changing of the guard at one of these monuments. Conducted every half an hour by local schoolchildren aged between 13-15 in military uniform, it is seen by the local population as a constant reminder to the current inhabitants of the city of the sacrifice of their fore fathers.

Apart from the memorial to the Second World War causalities, Sevastopol also has a significant monument to the early siege of the city, which took place during the Crimean War.

The "Panorama of Sevastopol" is a historic monument dedicated to the heroism shown by the defenders of Sevastopol during the siege of the city by the combined French, British and Turkish forces. Taking over 3 years to create by the celebrated Russian artist, Franz Alekseevich Roubaud, it was opened to the public in May 1905 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the siege. Measuring over 115 metres long, 14 metres high and with a relief model of 1,000 sqm, the panorama highlights events of one day during the siege, the 6th June 1855 when the defenders of Sevastopol successfully repelled the attack of French and British forces. There are over 4,000 figures on the panorama and it allows you to focus on certain sections of the battle with the main historical figures such as the Russian, French and British commanders evident on the canvas.

Unfortunately, another siege on the city, this time by Von Manstein's 11th Army in 1941 to 1942, destroyed large segments of the canvas. The post-war years brought up the issue of the panorama renovation. After reviewing the existing fragments, a group of seventeen Moscow artists decided to repaint the panorama on a new canvas, which was unveiled in 1954, the centenary of the defence of the city.

Located 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre are the remains of a large Greco/Roman town called Chersoneses. With panoramic views of the Black Sea, the site has numerous archaeological excavations taking place but presently only about 30% has been discovered.

Anybody visiting Sevastopol should also spend some of their time exploring the neighbouring town of Balaclava. A closed city to foreigners for over 40 years due to the underground submarine base, the town has under gone a renaissance since the fall of the Soviet Union with its scenic harbour now lined with smart cafes and hosting numerous international yachts.

5 minutes’ drive from the town, you will come upon the valley of Balaclava, the scene of one of the British Army's worst mistakes at Balaclava, with the ill-fated, Charge of the Light Brigade. Here cavalry from the Dragoons, Lancers and Hussars of Lord Cardigan Light Brigade made their disastrous charge against the Russian guns. Flanked on three sides by cannon and shot, the brigade suffered terrible losses and has since caused countless debates of the conduct of the superior officers who ordered the action.

Anyone viewing the valley and the site of the charge will be moved to remember the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson concerning the action:

Half a league, half a league
Half a league onward
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred

Forward, the Light Brigade
Charge for the guns' he said
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Sevastopol is one of the most interesting places I have visited in Europe. In one day you can visit a top secret submarine base, Greco/Roman ruins, one of the worlds largest Panoramas, Russian battleships and the site where Harry Flashman bravely charged with the Light Brigade at Balaclava.

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