Located high in the limestone mountains above Bakhchisaray, this system of naturally-formed caverns and man-made fortifications was last inhabited by Karaims, a Judaic tribe/ sect.* Less than 7,000 Karaims are alive in the world today, about 70 of them in the Bakhchisaray area. They were settled there by the Tatars, who’d had the run of the place for several centuries after taking it from the Byzantines who took advantage of the natural landscape and built the very first defensive post here in the 6th century.
Though now Chufut-Kale is just a historical artifact in semi-ruins, at one point this mountain settlement could house up to 4,000 people. The caves were used for defense and military purposes only, but behind the walls of this fortress was a proper town with a complex system of aqueducts, roads, temples, two-story houses and refrigerator-like food storage facilities.
The 4-kilometer round-trip hike to Chufut-Kale is worth the effort not just for this one-of-a-kind ancient town, but also for the gorgeous views of the Crimean Wilderness Reserve that open up from the top of the plateau, the alpine meadows on its slopes and the Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption, carved in the side of a mountain on the way to the caves.
*I welcome any clarification on this from the dear readers. Our tour guide mentioned something about Karaimy being Jewish but not really Jewish, just of Judaic faith, but then maybe they were indeed “blood-Jewish”? and anyway it was hard to pay attention while climbing 2 km up a mountain.